The Benefits of Intergenerational Relationships for Seniors and Youth

The beginning and end of our lives are times of love, family, and spirituality. These times are the bookends of life and provide a necessary framework for the joys of life, including the rest, growth, and connection to loved ones. Due to the elderly and the youthful having similar rhythms in life, they have a special connection to each other. Both prioritize the wonder of play, whether it is through the exploration of toys or gardens. Often, we divide our communities up by age – our schooling, hobbies, and communities. However, the wisdom of the elderly and the joyous nature of the youth help build a richly complex community that supports all. This special connection fosters amazing benefits to both generations while they explore their cyclical relationship to time.

Community Connection

The value of community cannot be understated as it is interconnected with the value of civilization.  Margaret Mead was once asked what she considered the first sign of civilization.  The common answer at the time was the use of tools, for example, fishhooks or clay pots.  However, Mead stated that the first sign of civilization was the sign of a healed femur bone.  Mead went on to say, that in the animal kingdom if you break your leg or cannot run from danger or get food or water then you perish.  An animal does not live long enough to heal a bone. The presence of a broken femur that has been healed is evidence that someone had been helped.  Someone dressed the wound, fed the person, and tended to them through their recovery.  Therefore a community that helps other people, even when they are injured is where civilization began. Ira Byock says that we are at our best when we serve others or be “civilized”. Through this lens, we can consider that civilization and the beginning of humanity are experienced through our service to others and our commitment to our community.  Regardless of whether our communities are injured, disabled, infants, children, adults or elderly, they all have a place and they are all deserving of care. Building the connection between the elderly and the youth is pivotal to our community and civilization – the elderly provide wisdom and experience to the adults and love and care to the youths.  The adults provide shelter, food, and resources to the elderly and the youth.  And the youth provide joy, love and are representative of the future.  Each generation has its place in the circle of life and each brings its value. One cannot discount the joy that we received from children, the effort and care from adults, and the wisdom of the ages from the elderly. Each generation has its place and each makes a better community and a better civilization.

Benefits to Youths

There is clear research and evidence that illustrates the value that the elderly have on youths.  The benefits that a close caring relationship of an elderly adult has on a child is:

  • Through grandparents, children have a better sense of who they are and where they have come from including their family history and ethnic roots
  • A reliable, caring adult helps children develop life skills, and builds self-esteem and confidence, and social skills (including an ability to withstand peer pressure), and can even have better grades in school
  • They experience the unconditional type of love of a grandparent
  • Children can get undivided time and attention from an older adult that tired, busy parents often cannot give them
  • A safe mentor and confidant
  • Through sharing in an older adult’s interests, skills, and hobbies, children are introduced to new activities and ideas.

Benefits to Elders

The benefits to older adults of a close connection with the young include:

  • Grandparent status – You get all the benefits and joys of parenthood without the drawbacks
  • Second Chance – Many people have regrets in their later years about mistakes they made as a parent. A new grandchild a fresh start and a second chance.
  • Active, involved older adults with close intergenerational connections consistently report less depression, better physical health, and higher degrees of life satisfaction.
  • Co-mentorship – elders can teach children about history and children can teach elders about contemporary culture
  • Our children are our legacy and elders can make a difference through the support they give their grandchildren.

The benefits of intergenerational relationships begin and end with love. The love and care youths receive from elderly grandparents or mentors will stay with them and inspire them forever. This is an incredible legacy elder can leave behind. And the joyous playfulness that a child brings into an elderly person’s live can inspire a change of perspective and seeing the world through new eyes.

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