Children / Elderly Intergenerational Cooperation

Posted on December 14, 2007

Literature reviewed also identified a large range of outcomes from intergenerational practice for young people, old people and the broader community. For individuals, these included increases in self worth, less loneliness and isolation, new connections and friendships, academic improvements and more positive perceptions of other generations. For the broader community, benefits include the building of social networks, greater diversity of contact, breaking down of stereotypes, and enhancing of culture in particular communities. (Community Building Through Intergenerational Exchange Programs- NYARS, Australia)

We are an individualistic society with economic measures of success and worth. Or, perhaps better said, we have room to move towards a society of compassionate, sympathetic people with inclusive and balanced ideas of value and worth.

We tend to marginalize matters which do not contribute to “the economy”. We bring up children instilling them with not only healthy concepts of self-worth, but self-serving and unsympathetic attitudes. They receive care and attention but are not encouraged to learn the counterpart: caring and attending. Thus our children sadly come to believe that there is only one world that matters, or even exists: their own.

They are not usually aware that others have needs. Pressures ensure that while growing up, activities must contribute to the economic viability of their future, or fit in with the tight parents schedule. It seems like there is no space in this competitive world (or in the overly competitive future that we imagine will exist) for altruistically motivated activities. Not, we think, until children have achieved economic stability, at which time they may deiced to act on whatever altruistic urges have survived upbringing. It is simply too fearful to risk falling behind the pack with non-economically derived goals and ideals.

Children, before socialized by the confused world, have an undiminished capacity for sympathy and to connect with others on a human to human level. These are priceless virtues to be encouraged and practiced.

Alongside this generation of children we have the elderly, and for the purpose of this article we are considering the elderly in public nursing institutions whose lifestyle largely depends on state policy. I imagine that most of these people would have rare contact with the very young.

The elderly are not economically useless – as they are thought to be. Although they can no longer contribute in a direct economic sense, they have lived the lives we are yet to live, they can offer something inextricably and unexplainably valuable to we younger people and our children. The cynically pragmatic will note that this value cannot be quantified. But sometimes the elderly need only be present to influence with their experience and pass on a lifetime’s learning and hindsight.

Yet, the elderly are isolated from society, to varying degrees. More so than they should be, at any rate. They are still part of life, though treated as though they already belong to the world of the dead. They could do with more contact with the young. The innocent incorruptible smiles of children and their helping hands must mean a lot to those confined by age and budget.

Here exists a perfect opportunity to improve the human condition. It is not economically obvious, cannot be predictably quantified in terms of GDP; will not attract FDI and thus is no Chicago school economist’s guarantee to raise the happiness of all man through economic growth and progress. But still….

The elderly have some thing valuable for children and the children have something valuable for elderly. Why not bring them together? Why not have preschools or primary schools or all schools located near public aged care facilities, so that for small periods here and there, the children may learn to love and care for fellow human beings in need – and the elderly might enjoy their ailing years, knowing that they are loved and needed by the flowering jewels of humanity: it’s children.

  • volunteers mentoring students in school
  • older and younger people coming together to find ways of reducing fear of crime in their neighbourhood
  • young volunteers providing services to older people – helping them go to the shops, reading to them, visiting, running errands
  • older volunteers supporting young parents
  • toddlers visiting people with dementia in residential setting
  • older people working with students on a school history project
  • people from different generations working together to transform a waste area into a neighbourhood park.

Intergenerational projects can take many forms. Some examples are:(Centre for Intergenerational Practice)

Children must be protected from the idea that children should be protected from real life, the life where other beings suffer. Protected from reality, or shown only a partial, perfect, made up reality, children loose their capacity to face and deal with reality. The fantasy must stay real into adulthood, and thus the problems ignored by the fantasy stay real.

Read through some information provided by existing intergenerational programs. Don’t you think it should be a part of public and private education, and nursing? A nationally sponsored intergenerational program would be the ultimate prevention for many unsavory side effects of they way we run our society today, and may influence the positive evolution of social concepts. Prevention is the best cure, as they say.

Community Building Through Intergenerational Exchange Programs- NYARS, Australia

A great video on Generational Union

Janez Drnovsek, President of the Republic of Slovinia, on his Movement for Justice and Development website (full of good ideas!)

Matthew Kapalan (lots of practical ideas and research)

Macklin Intergenerational Institute