As we approach the holiday season, we will begin to partake in family gatherings and reconnect with people we may not have seen in person throughout the pandemic. During this time, there could be multiple generations of family members under one roof, creating the opportunity for us to engage in conversations with our multigenerational loved ones. Studies show that reciprocal intergenerational transfers including instrumental and emotional support from children may improve older adults’ subjective health status and lower depression. (Chiou, Wu, 2020). What are the benefits of connecting with your family members? And how can you provide more meaning in the conversations you have?
Benefits of Intergenerational Connections:
- Broader and new perspectives – Having diverse age groups in your relationships can help you expand your perspective. There may be a stereotypical impression that the older generation is rigid or old-fashioned in their beliefs and thoughts, but these interactions can open each side’s perspectives. While the younger generation can provide new ideas, the older generation can bring years of experience to the conversation. (Coxwell, 2020).
- Reduce stereotype and preconceptions – Interacting with different generations helps decrease beliefs, preconceived notions, or stereotypes people may have about other generations. One study by Cornell showed that programs with intergenerational components along with education on the aging process helped reduce such prejudice (Kelley, 2019).
- Positive attitude about aging –An AARP survey shows those who have close intergenerational friendships are more likely to have a positive outlook on aging overall (AARP Research, 2019).
Digging Deeper into “Small Talk”
- Recognize small talk as a first step, not the end all – A simple question has the potential to expand a conversation in more ways than one. Small talk lays down the foundation for a more fruitful conversation to follow where we can truly learn more about each other (Psyche, 2021).
- Open questions and follow-up questions – Formulating questions based on previous responses is key to digging deeper. Close-ended questions (i.e. “yes” or “no” questions) often restrict the potential for the conversation to continue. When thinking of open-ended questions, ask yourself “who, what, when, where, why, or how?” (Psyche, 2021).
- Take turns sharing about yourself – Oftentimes we may see it in Japanese cultural values to prioritize asking questions rather than sharing about ourselves. Take turns as you speak instead of one side being spotlighted/dominating the conversation. Not only does opening up about yourself establish trust with who you’re communicating with, it encourages the other person to open up about themselves. Only open up what you’re comfortable sharing (Psyche, 2021).
Tips for Intergenerational Connections
1. Acknowledge different vocabularies
Younger or older, people may be unfamiliar with word choices the other group uses normally. There may be acronyms that are understood by certain generations, or media references that may only be relevant if you have seen specific shows or heard certain songs. It’s okay to ask questions if you don’t know. Be patient and learn from each other.
2. Acknowledge differences and find common ground
Note that people may have different preferences and experiences. Rather than focusing on the differences, try to find common ground and timeless topics that are relevant to all generations.
3. Ask specific questions
Rather than “How have you been?” or “What have you been up to lately?” maybe consider asking specific questions such as, “How is your pet doing?” or “How is your garden coming along?” to help expand conversations.
4. Be open to different thoughts, perspectives, and ideas
How they want to engage/meet may be different from your preferences; find ways to meet in the middle. Some may prefer in-person while others prefer phone calls. At times you may need to speak slower. There may also be physical limitations (like decline in hearing, etc.) Make sure to remain flexible and patient.
5. Practice nonverbal communication
Use body language to show that you are engaged in the conversation such as nodding, eye contact, etc. Consider limiting distractions like looking at your phone, as they may take away from the interaction.
While the pandemic may have taken away many of the regular interactions we have with others, consider reaching out to your loved ones keeping the above information in mind to enhance the quality of your relationships.
AARP research. (May 2019). The Positive Impact of Intergenerational Friendships. Retrieved from https://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/research/surveys_statistics/life-leisure/2019/friendship-across-the-ages.doi.10.26419-2Fres.00314.002.pdf
Chiou, A.; Wu, H. (2020). Social media usage, social support, intergenerational relationships, and depressive symptoms among older adults. Retrieved from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0197457220300860
Coxwell, K. (2020). Friendships Across Generations: The Powerful Benefits of Younger Pals. Retrieved from: https://www.newretirement.com/retirement/friendships-across-generations-the-powerful-benefits-of-younger-pals/
Foulkes, L. (2021). How to have more meaningful conversations. Retrieved from: https://psyche.co/guides/how-to-have-more-meaningful-conversations
Kelley, S. (2019). Education, interaction with older people reverses ageism. Retrieved from: https://news.cornell.edu/stories/2019/06/education-interaction-older-people-reverses-ageism