Young woman and senior woman drinking coffee together

Forming Intergenerational Relationships: Why It’s Beneficial for Seniors & Tomorrow's Youth

Intergenerational relationships unite today’s youth with members of past generations who may be 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 or more years older. These relationships can extend beyond family ties — the traditional grandparents and great grandparents — and reach into neighborhoods, schools and social organizations in any city across the world.

It is common that members of each generation stick together and form friendships within their same age group. But, there are social and health benefits of a teenager or 20-year-old befriending a 55-year-old and vice versa.  From learning new skills and passing on precious wisdom and institutional knowledge to simply enjoying a classic movie or playing a board game, intergenerational friendships and mentorships can encourage, inspire, entertain and, most importantly, save a life.  

According to a study from Stanford University, aging adults can play a critical role in the lives of younger people and offer resources that cannot be found in a book or on the internet. Laura Carstensen, the Stanford psychology professor behind the study, noted that seniors develop problem-solving and emotional skills that younger people can benefit from. The study goes on to say that “older people’s qualities and their affinity for purpose and engagement position them to make critical contributions to the lives of youth who need help the most.”

The bond between multigenerational friends isn’t just a one-way street that benefits the younger population. While youth gain a mentor, the older parties garner inspiration, understanding and respect. In an Experience Life magazine article titled The Value of Intergenerational Relationships, one of the “older” subjects interviewed for the story mentions how her friendship with someone more than 10 years younger than her helped her follow up her passion for writing. Theresa Carey, in her late 30s, discusses how younger people are constantly exploring and experimenting in their lives and calls that passion and driving force contagious.

Intergenerational relationships provide seniors with a sense of fulfillment and improve their self-worth, which can circumvent the reoccurring problem of feeling lonely.

The skills that each generation offer can also be a benefit. Whereas the younger generation may learn about a craft that is no longer in practice, the older generation can learn about and be introduced to new forms of technology.

Mentor Programs

Multiple organizations offer mentoring programs throughout the country, making it easy for a younger generation member to find someone that can mentor them. The National Mentoring Partnership focuses on fostering relationships between youths and seniors. The partnership would help those interested in finding the nearest mentor organization and can help match them with someone in need of their skills and services. In several studies, mentorship programs haven proven to be a valuable tool. Studies also show 55% of at-risk young adults with mentors are more likely to apply to college, and those with mentors are more likely to volunteer and hold leadership positions.

Foster Grandparents

Senior Corps is a federally funded organization that supports the Foster Grandparents Program, a service for volunteers 55 and older. Its central focus is helping seniors stay active by serving younger generations within their community. Foster grandparents don’t adopt children and do not house them. Instead, they individually spend time with children and young adults and help them via one-on-one tutoring and mentoring while providing emotional support and additional care. Each week, foster grandparents spend 15 hours to 40 hours of their time working with the program in various locations. Foster grandparents focus on being a central part of a child or young adult’s support system.

Whether volunteering as a foster grandparent and mentor or just making a friend with someone younger than you, an intergenerational relationship is a worthy cause to commit to. An important thing to remember is that younger generations also exist within your family tree. An intergenerational friendship can include your very own grandchildren and great grandchildren. Get to know the younger generation on a more personal level and discover what you may learn about them and yourself.

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