“Children give back “joy, youthfulness, happiness.”
~Lois M Collins
“The presence of children CAN alter overall life satisfaction or improve day-to-day emotions, and it may bring an increased sense of meaning and purpose to people’s lives.”
Adults (school officials and staff, counselors, church/youth directors, etc.) and children give each other hope, experts say. They trade wisdoms – one gained by time and experience, the other unsullied and innocent. Theirs is a nonjudgmental and often cherished friendship.
These treasured friendships are especially helpful to teens who need guidance but won’t always listen to their parents. “Elders need, I believe, a purpose and to feel that somebody needs them, that they can make a difference,” Wrolson said. Kids and teens get hope from seeing longevity and hearing about victories, adventures and even scrapes. The old get hope, too. “It alleviates some of their worries about where this world is going,” Wrolson said. “It’s not in jeopardy as much as they think if they never connect with the younger generation.”
- Someone to admire
A good relationship with older people gives something to youths they will not find elsewhere.
- Not alone
Both adults and kids benefit from a sense of belonging, hope, feelings of security, something to look forward to and a feeling of being part of the “pack.” Stephanie Mihalas, a psychologist and a clinical professor at UCLA, works with both intact and dysfunctional family relations. “I think that old people carry a lot of knowledge and wisdom that are different than their peers’ and can transmit it to young children,” Mihalas said. “They have a sense of history that can be transmitted – and 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.” She believes that “lots of very deep mentoring relationships are fostered with older people. You can rely on and trust them.” And kids bring vibrancy to old friends. “The benefit is mutual.” She’s seen old people who were losing hope about their lives but had it rekindled by youthful relationships. Mihalas said more is known about the benefit to teens than to young kids, but no one doubts that the reach across generations at the very least “feels deep and healthy and securing,” she said.
Children who don’t have old people around naturally may be drawn to seek them out, from volunteering somewhere with old people to hanging out with peers’ grandparents. “You hear a bit of a sense of loss with some teenagers who say they never had a grandparent, don’t know what it’s like. They’re not sure what they’re missing, but they know it’s something.”
Intergenerational relationships are a great way for children to get a sense of history, context and perspective, said Jennifer Chung, parenting expert, mom and co-founder ofKinsights.com, an online mentoring and advice portal. “I’ve seen family friends help teenagers through a rough time at school, grandparents give insightful friendship and advice, and uncles get their nieces and nephews to try a new activity,” she said.
- Who am I?
Kids need older people in their lives to complete full self-identification, said Dr. Fran Walfish, a family psychotherapist in Beverly Hills, Calif., and author of “The Self-Aware Parent.” They round out young people’s understanding of “who I am,” providing both continuity and longevity. In a good relationship, an old person can also meet a child’s need for someone to idealize and to want to be like. That wide-eyed acceptance and affection is also enormously valuable to the elderly, she noted. “Feeling worthy – having something of meaning to contribute, everyone wants to have that.”
Anyone can be a “giant,” large in heart and passion and influence, but often they are older people, such as grandparents, educators, coaches, and other school officials (individuals who are around children the most; spending quality time) who change and uplift and show the power of perseverance.
“There’s opportunity to interact and engage and maybe make a little bit of difference.” They need someone who will listen and care and make time for them. “For young people and also for us older people, the world is full of messages that tell us we don’t have value, we’re invisible, we’re a speck of sand on the seashore. The result is ‘why try?’ thinking. Why not check out and game 24/7 or do some other distracted thing? I think those are things older individuals can teach.”
- Joyful connections
“There is a far greater depth and value to conversations with outside influences.”
Many times, kids do things only because Mom and Dad said to not do them. However, if that lesson comes from a source that is seen as a friend and not as a parent, they often are more apt to listen to it.