When is the last time you had a really meaningful conversation with someone from a different generation? And who was it with?
Was it with a grandchild? A niece? Your own parent? A neighbor? Or maybe even the person standing next to you in line at the store?
While these types of connections happen every day across the United States, they probably aren’t happening enough.
And that’s a shame, given that research suggests these intergenerational connections are actually really valuable to people of all ages.
For instance, in 2018, the AARP conducted a national survey of grandparents to learn more about this intergenerational relationship and what it means to older adults. Almost 90% of grandparents reported their relationship with their grandchildren is good for their mental well-being.
However, the survey also found that distance was the number one barrier to seeing grandchildren more often, with over half of grandparents reporting they have at least one grandchild who lives more than 200 miles away. Sixty-one percent of grandparents reported wanting more information about connecting with their grandchildren and staying relevant in their lives.
I first heard about these findings at a conference last summer, when I met Kerry Byrne, PhD, a fellow aging and family caregiving expert who has developed a special interest in intergenerational connections, and in the grandparent-grandchild relationship in particular.
Partly due to her own experience living abroad and trying to keep her children close to their grandparents, in 2019 she founded The Long Distance Grandparent, a website dedicated to helping grandparents and grandchildren connected, even if they live far from each other.
I find this topic of intergenerational connections fascinating. Among other things, it has a role in countering ageism!
So I invited Kerry to join me on the podcast, to talk about how older adults can stay more connected to people of different generations, whether that’s with grandchildren or with people outside their family.
If you are a grandparent yourself, or just want to learn more about why intergeneration connections matter and how you can foster them in your own life, I hope you’ll take a listen to the podcast, or read through the transcript.
Both are available on the show notes page, which you can find here: 102 – Interview: The Importance of Grandparents & Intergenerational Connections
5 Practical Ways to Have More Intergenerational Connections
Here are five specific things Kerry suggests that older adults can do, to foster more intergenerational connections:
1.Set a resolution to connect.
At this time of year, many people focus on making healthy resolutions about nutrition or exercise. But Kerry recommends you create a connection intention. (That’s actually very important for your health too!)
Set a goal for how often you will connect with someone from a different generation. Brainstorm a few ways to do this, and then pick one and commit to it.
For instance, you could commit to sending one handwritten letter or postcard per month to someone younger (or older!) in your family.
Setting an intention to connect will benefit you and also the recipient of the connection.
And be sure to consider creating a reminder in your phone, or writing it down in your calendar. This makes it much more likely that you’ll do it (and stick with it).
2. Get involved in an intergenerational initiative in your community.
Another great option is to look for intergenerational initiatives in your community. For example, many primary schools welcome the participation of grandparents or older adults as volunteers in the classroom.
Generations United, a not for profit focused on intergenerational programs, policies and strategies has catalogued over 700 programs across the US. You can check out the directory here to see if there are programs you can volunteer within your local area.
Encore.org is another organization worth checking out, as they focus on leveraging the skills and talents of experienced adults to improve communities around the world. They have a program directory you can find here.
3. Make efforts to strike up conversations with someone from a different generation.
This could be something to try at your next family gathering: make a special effort to learn something you didn’t know about a person from a different generation.
Or, you could decide to chat with a stranger while you are out for coffee in your local community.
When doing this, Kerry recommends you be sure to do a lot of listening. People will appreciate that you’re taking the time to hear about someone else’s day or life.
4. Interview someone from a different generation in your family.
One of the best ways to develop closer bonds with someone from a younger generation is to interview them. This is a truly wonderful way to have one-on-one time with a grandchild and to make them feel extra special. Showing an interest in what they like and what they care about, by interviewing them, will be a gift for both of you.
If you live far away from your grandchild or family member, you can complete the interview over the course of a few video calls.
If you have the chance to interview them in person, Kerry recommends trying an application that can be downloaded on your phone or tablet called StoryCorps. This app was developed by a nonprofit with a mission to preserve and share humanity’s stories to build connections between people. It allows you to record the interview, provides example questions and records the interview, all within the application.
5. Plan a trip with a member of your family from a different generation.
“Skip-gen” travel with grandchildren is becoming more popular, and for good reason. But you could also plan a trip with a nephew or niece, or other younger family member.
Some grandparents take their grandchildren on a trip when they turn 10 to mark the first decade of life; this can be a fun tradition to start in a family.
If you want help planning a special trip with a grandchild, check out Road Scholar, a not-for-profit organization that creates experiential learning opportunities for all ages.
They have an entire program and series of trips focused on grandparents taking their grandchildren on various adventures. On their website, you can search for trips by age of your grandchild and location. For example, you might find you can take a 6-day trip that’s all about magic, or about learning marine biology, or even focused on paleontology. Trips take place across the US, and the world.
What Will You Do Next to Connect With A Different Generation?
As Kerry and I discuss in the podcast, there are just so many advantages to fostering more connections between generations.
It’s good for health, it’s good for families, it’s good for communities, and it’s good for society. Plus, it can be a powerful force to counter ageism, especially when grandparents remain more closely connected to their grandchildren.
So I hope you’ll listen to the recent podcast episode, or read through the transcript. Again, they are both available on the show notes page, which you can find here: 102 – Interview: The Importance of Grandparents & Intergenerational Connections.
And if you are a grandparent, I recommend visiting Kerry Byrne’s site The Long Distance Grandparent, where you can find lots of ideas, practical tips, and inspiration, such as this free PDF with easy tips to bond with your grandchild at a distance.
Here’s to more intergenerational connections for 2020 and beyond!