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The Importance of Intergenerational Relationships

Too often in our modern society, older and younger people keep to themselves. Rather than spending time together – as was the case years ago – people of different generations have become increasingly isolated as social media and other digital forms of communication become ubiquitous.

Unfortunately, both older and younger people lose out when they fail to interact with each other. In recent years, research has highlighted the importance of intergenerational relationships and how uniting people of different ages can positively affect communities.

Among intergenerational influences, relationships between grandparents and grandchildren play a critical role. New research has shed light on how interactions between children and their grandparents help both older and younger people. With the holiday season approaching, strong relationships play an even greater role in overall happiness and satisfaction.

Intergenerational Bonding

When young people spend time with older people, good things happen. Bonding between generations provides a number of benefits, including learning new things and being exposed to a variety of different experiences.

In addition, children can gain a new sense of purpose by spending time with older adults, and children may develop an enhanced ability to understand their own aging. For older adults, interacting frequently with youngsters can help ward off isolation and feelings of loneliness, and such interactions may provide cognitive stimulation as well.

For individuals of both older and younger generations, spending time together may reduce feelings of sadness, and it may help build self-esteem and self-worth.

The Importance of Grandparents

Boston College researchers have found that close relationships between grandparents and their adult grandchildren serve an important function: reducing symptoms of depression in both age groups.

Looking at data collected over 19 years, the study found that close relationships between grandparents and grandchildren indicate strong family ties in general, but such relationships also have their own unique benefits. And as people live to older ages, those benefits gain even more importance.

By interacting with younger relatives, grandparents gain exposure to different ideas, media and trends they might otherwise miss. For grandchildren, older family members can offer practical wisdom through their life experiences.

Only the relationship between parents and children eclipses the importance of the bond between grandchildren and grandparents, researchers note. Many children are raised by grandparents, and today’s elders play a more active, involved role in children’s lives than ever before.

Benefits for the Community

It’s clear that intergenerational relationships provide a variety of benefits for older and younger people. But they also benefit the community at large, research indicates.

Such relationships provide vital support for elders. In return, today’s older adults are healthier than in the past, and they can serve as a critical resource for people of all generations. Parents of young children also benefit, as intergenerational relationships can help reduce their stress, workload and feelings of overwhelm.

Support for both older and younger generations means support for entire communities as webs of relationships – and resulting benefits – continue to grow.

Cultivating Relationships

For young people fortunate enough to have grandparents who are living, bonding with older generations takes little effort. Simply call up or visit your grandparent and start talking more. Ask questions about their lives, and tell them about yours.

If your grandparents are deceased, you may need to move out of your comfort zone to get to know some elders. Consider contacting a senior living community in your area for volunteer opportunities or connections to individuals who would enjoy spending time with you. Alternatively, think about people you know through your church, work, friends or family members.

Once you connect with an older person – whether a family member or a new friend – you can take advantage of a variety of methods for getting to know each other and sharing experiences:

  • Explore your common interests. Start by engaging in conversation about your lives and the activities you enjoy. Do you share a love of photography? Music? Perhaps you both enjoy classic movies and can watch together.
  • Start from a place of respect. In some cases, people of different generations may dismiss older or younger people as too out-of-touch or too caught up in current fads. Listen respectfully to what your new friend has to say.
  • Bridge any gaps. Make an effort to communicate in a nuanced way that can help you both overcome differences in your knowledge and expectations.

By taking steps to form a closer relationship with older and younger friends and family members, you can expand your knowledge, boost your happiness and help support a stronger community.