Psychological research has advanced the notion that children benefit not only from the relationship they have with their parents, but also from other adults that they build positive and caring relationships with; adults who motivate, encourage, educate, and advise them. Thus, the emergence of mentors, guidance counselors, and other roles adults take in the lives of young people. But research has also shown that the interaction between children and older adults can significantly benefit the aging community as well. Susan Curnan, Brandeis professor and Executive Director of the Center for Youth and Communities says “the key is pairing great potential with great experience.”
An article published by the Stanford Center on Longevity states “In promoting the well-being of the next generation, older adults experience fulfillment and purpose in their own lives.” Social development psychologists describe the final stage of emotional development is reached around the age of 60. Aging seniors often have trouble finding a sense of purpose and fulfillment in their later years and pairing them with youth can help them find that.
The mutual benefits that both children and seniors get from interaction with each other is evident in many different programs and facilities that bridge the gap between the two age groups. Intergenerational relationships have been shown to:
- Decrease the fear that children have of aging and the elderly
- Provide a sense of purpose to both children and older adults
- Offer both age groups an opportunity to learn new skills
- Alleviate the void of missing or distant grandparents/grandchildren
- Reduce loneliness and isolation, and decrease the likelihood of depression in seniors
- Help children discover talents and skills
- Give seniors an opportunity to pass on practical and emotional wisdom
Though these are only some of the benefits that stem from children and older adult interaction, it is quite clear how important the intergenerational relationship can be. While the definite benefits are clear, one of the underlying advantages of these relationships is a greater ability to build a positive outlook on life and to limit focus on the negative. For children, this can result in a happier, more successful and enjoyable life. For aging adults, their perspectives of life can drastically switch from being unfulfilled and pointless to full and meaningful.
As Erik Erikson describes the “generativity” phase of human development, he commits to the interest that older adults develop in guiding the next generation. A sense of desire sprouts in this age group share time, experience, education and love. This gift loops back around to the younger generation that grows to be inspired by and grateful for the calm, patient, guiding hands that helped guide them maneuver through fearful and confusing ages.
Intergenerational relationships do not have to be between grandchildren and children. Children and seniors paired together can easily develop critical relationships that add value to each other’s lives and help each other move positively forward into the next roles in their lives.