Better Together

Bridging the Generation Benefits All

In the 2009 animated film “Up,” an enthusiastic young Wilderness Explorer becomes an unexpected stowaway on an older man’s journey, and along the way, the two develop a heartwarming friendship. The final scene beautifully illustrates the bond the two have developed, depicting them eating ice cream, counting cars, and enjoying one another’s company. 

While the story is fictional, the duo’s experience mirrors what research has shown: intergenerational relationships offer myriad benefits for both age groups. Children and young adults gain an additional positive role model and the possibility of cultivating a new interest, older adults can find purpose and connection while giving back in a meaningful way, and both groups get to talk with, learn from, and share ideas with someone who has a different perspective and life experiences. 

These benefits are no secret: according to a national report released in 2017, more than 90% of adults surveyed acknowledged the benefits of intergenerational relationships for all involved. Generations United, which was founded in 1986 to advocate for children, youth and older adults, also reports that 2 in 3 Americans would like to spend more time with people outside their age groups - so it’s no wonder that organizations and groups around the country have implemented programs to purposely foster these connections.

One non-profit organization, Seniors4Seniors, connects high school students with senior adult mentors, who develop a relationship with the student and share their life experiences. Some programs are even more immersive; St. Ann Center in Milwaukee, Wisc. provides care and services for people of, quite literally, all ages, with participants ranging in age from 6 weeks to more than 100 years old. Not only do the children and adults interact socially throughout the day, they also participate in a variety of activities together, including art, exercise, and music. 

Residents at Friendship Village in Schaumburg also experience the multitude of benefits of intergenerational connections through robust partnerships the vibrant retirement community maintains with local community groups and organizations, including not-for-profits and schools.

Through one longstanding relationship with a Schaumburg elementary school, students have performed regularly at Friendship Village and residents have volunteered at the school, to name just two of the many activities that have taken place. Two years ago, Friendship Village residents even got to take virtual reality tours of various destinations worldwide, led by a group of students from a local junior high school! 

The retirement community’s intergenerational Art of Friendship show has featured artwork by Friendship Village residents, art therapy interns, and local grade school and high school students; residents also regularly volunteer in the community, such as a pre-pandemic trip to Children’s Home and Aid in Schaumburg to visit and sing with the children and drop off donations of essential daily items. Friendship Village also supports opportunities for youth by funding scholarships for outstanding local graduating high school seniors through its Friendship Senior Options Foundation.

Experts offer some tips for the successful cultivation of intergenerational relationships, whether it is a grandparent spending time with a much-loved grandchild, a mentor sharing wisdom and life experience with a mentee, or retirement community residents enjoying a visit from local elementary school students. 

  • Let the younger generation take the lead - ask them what they would like to do and choose activities that encourage confidence by building on their strengths. This could include playing music, making art, doing a craft, coding, working in a garden, or creating a podcast or video together. Perhaps the younger person can even record the older adult’s life story. 
  • Encourage the children to ask questions - older people have a wealth of knowledge and experience to share! You may also wish to opt for some activities that allow the older generation to share this expertise. 
  • Can’t get together in person? Get creative! Grandparents have embraced new ways to connect with their grandchildren throughout the pandemic, whether it is reading a story, singing songs, or working on homework together during a video chat; taking a virtual “tour” of a museum, or watching a live stream concert together, or playing board games online. 
  • Read a picture book or chapter book that celebrates intergenerational friendships and talk about the themes, such as creativity, generosity and acts of kindness. You may even want to come up with an act of kindness of your own!

Developing and maintaining strong intergenerational relationships confers enormous benefits (and fun) for all!

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