Young and old together: Why kids and the elderly benefit from close relationships

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Parents Jeff and Heather Anderson know how important it is for their children to have loving relationships with their grandparents and elders. Their kids are lucky to not only have biological grandparents Carl and Rosalin Anderson, but also an honorary grandparent in their neighbor, “Grandma Margie.” Heather believes that, through these friendships, the grandparents teach the children non-judgmental love, while the kids bring happiness and youthfulness to the relationship.

It’s estimated that one in five people will be 65 or older by the year 2030, but sociologists say that’s a good thing, because it gives young and old the opportunity to love, support, and learn from each other. Karen Wrolson values these types of relationships too, and she even took at-risk youth from Wisconsin to visit elderly veterans in order to foster friendships between young and old. Wrolson explains, “Old people need, I believe, a purpose and to feel that somebody needs them, that they can make a difference.” For the elderly, spending time with younger people “alleviates some of their worries about where the world is going. It’s not in jeopardy as much as they think if they never connect with the younger generation,” Wrolson says.

Stephanie Mihalas, a psychologist and clinical professor at UCLA, says there are many benefits that come from friendships between children and older people, including hopefulness, a sense of belonging and security, and more. Mihalas says that older people have “a sense of intrigue about the world and history that excites children intellectually. Older people are also oftentimes very grounded in a chaotic world where peers are often judgmental. Old people can provide a sense of stability that everything is going to be OK. With time, with confidence, one can move through difficult situations. A teen can look at older persons and see that, in fact, their life is OK.”

Mihalas also says that mentoring is a big part of these relationships, and the benefits are mutual for both young and old. Family therapist Dr. Fran Walfish agrees: “Feeling worthy — having something of meaning to contribute, everyone wants to have that.” How do you encourage your children to build relationships with their elders? Share with us!

Deseret News, 1/16/14

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