The Importance of Intergenerational Relationships

Posted On: January 23, 2018

by Charles “Ebbie” Alfree III, Director of Advancement 

I started working for a senior living community in January of 2017; my first time to work in a senior community and for an organization that solely serves seniors. In my first year I have come to admire our residents and have formed friendships with many of them.

Through these friendships, I have heard many stories about raising families, navigating successful careers, and traveling with friends…ultimately, the joys of living a good life! We also discuss many topics ranging from art and music to current national and local events. I love our conversations and listening to them recount their adventures and how different life was 50 to 70 years ago.

Often our residents spend time with the children from the nearby grade school. Sometimes the students sing for our residents or they work together on activities. There are times when the students just visit, and the children and our residents share stories. Many of the same stories our residents have shared with me.

As the students are learning more about the past, a time when mail was delivered to your home, not to a smart phone in the palm of your hand, our residents are learning more about life today for young people.

Our residents and the students enjoy the time they spend together, just as most people do when visiting friends. However, I have noticed some of these relationships seem to go deeper. Although the world and technology might have changed since our residents were children, some of our residents and the students seem to have a natural connection.

According to the article What Age Gap? Building Intergenerational Relationships by Stephanie R. Davidson, Ph.D. and Beverly Boals-Gilbert, Ph.D., the first three stages (trust vs. mistrust, autonomy vs. shame and doubt, and initiative vs. guilt) of Erik Erikson’s theory of the eight stages of psychosocial development from infancy to adulthood seem to link well with elders and the life changes they are experiencing.

Drs. Davidson and Boals-Gilbert state that through regular visits with individuals, both children and seniors become more trusting of others; while children are trying to establish their own autonomy, seniors are trying to maintain theirs; and children are actively using their imaginations and taking more initiative, which can inspire elders to feel freer to articulate their thoughts more fully.

In some situations, this connection can help seniors and children to easily engage and bond. The interactions can allow seniors to recall their youth and feel young again, and the youth gain a personal account of the past, helping them to gain a better understanding and appreciation of an earlier time. Both are having an enriching experience.

I’m sure most of our residents and the students are not focusing on the great profundity of the times they share together, because they are just having fun. Having fun is also an important aspect of these relationships…maybe even the most important!  

 

Printed in the Daily Local News on January 22, 2018