I’ve been thinking how to be helpful in a situation that you may have encountered, too: The possibility that some young adults might not really know very many old folks. Their attitudes are positive, their intentions toward us are beyond reproach and their knowledge about older adults fairly accurate. But what may yet be lacking are firsthand interactions with elderly folks—both a foundation and capstone for mutually beneficial relationships.
I sometimes wonder how many twenty- or thirty-somethings have experienced in-depth friendships or relationships with older people. And then I think about our responsibility—we oldsters—in helping bridge that possible gap. This may be especially true for young adults who are choosing professions in which they interact and care for older adults. So it might be important for us to help these well-intentioned people increase their capabilities and their self-assurance about the value of their work. To feel accepted, respected and successful in their caring professions.
Unfamiliarity with older adults might be completely understandable. My hunch is that a great many young adults haven’t had a wide variety of life experiences with family members, neighbors, colleagues who are old. These “Millennials” may have had few in-depth conversations with older adults. Their older family members might live far away or be otherwise distant. They may have been raised in youth-oriented neighborhoods, or work in settings that don’t normally include older adults. They may not be part of intergenerational gatherings—e.g., churches—where seniors are present in significant numbers. And the mindsets they carry about oldsters like us could be shaped by the limited stereotypes of film, television or social media.
We who are older could accept the responsibility and privilege of helping young adults understand more fully what it means to be an elderly person. We don’t have to wait for young adults to seek us out—we can take the initiative! This could be enjoyable—bringing our generations together, with our best intentions and our greatest assets in tow.
It’s possible that we could help foster mutual understanding if we:
• Answered young adult questions with transparency about our present conditions and attitudes.
• Gently corrected misstatements about older adult realities.
• Asked insightful and respectful questions about their lives.
• Remained open to a better understanding of young adult life in these times.
• Kept our story-telling about the past concise and purposeful.
• Accepted direct or implicit invitations to serve as mentors, coaches or advisors.
• Paid attention to the present and future challenges that face this generation.
• Displayed good humor, quick intellect and continuing curiosity about life today.
• Reflected openly about misgivings and missteps we faced during our lifetimes.
• Listened well, lingering on the thoughts of young adults before commenting.
• Prayed for them by name.
• Noted with appreciation their specific skills, experiences, attitudes or wisdom.
• Thanked them for their questions and concerns about us.
• Occasionally invited young adults into our conversational or social circles.
In these and other actions, we should keep in mind the reason we hope to be more fully known: To enhance the well-being and success of young adults! As younger generations come to know how we live—and live fully—they may gain insights into their own lives, including their eventual aging. They might make fewer relational mistakes with people our age. They could find the places where our generations have common hopes and values. They could discover and develop helpful capabilities, and broaden their firsthand knowledge of older adult lifestyles. They could continue to relate to our generation with skillful care, accurate knowledge and soulful appreciation.
And as these things occur, they will experience our full acceptance and respect!
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