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Fostering Inter Generational Interaction

Fostering Inter Generational Interaction

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Published by Toby P. Newstead

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Published by: Toby P. Newstead on Jul 09, 2009
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COMM 350
Fostering intergenerational interaction:communication between the old and the young
By: Toby P. Newstead
Our elders are the keepers of our heritage and tradition. And, our children are ourfuture. Not so long ago these two age groups had a special relationship; our eldersinstructed our children in culture, social acceptances, and wisdom. However, withthe recent increase in mobility and the fragmentation of the extended family, thereis an ever-increasing communication gap between our elders and our children.Cross-generational interaction within the family is becoming less common. It isbecoming more common for the very young and the very old to be cared for outsidethe home in professional care facilities that further exacerbate the generationalcommunication gap. This paper will demonstrate that the relationships that havebeen lost due to the fragmentation of our families can be recreated throughcommunity programs, school programs, and innovative care facilities, and howcarefully fostered cross-generational interpersonal communication benefits both agegroups and the community at large.
FAMILIES ARE CHANGING – OUTLINING THE PROBLEMA multi-generational household offers the opportunity to distribute the care of children among many adults; a live-in grandmother is present to help care for hergrandchildren. A multi-generation household also offers the opportunity to distributethe care of aging adults; a live-in adult grandchild is present to help care for hisaging grandfather. In the 1920s about 50% of families in the US included at leastone extra adult, such as a grandparent, or older aunt or uncle. Today it is estimatedthat only about 3.5% of families have an extra adult living under the same roof 
In referring to “our families” this paper, and the author, refer to western, primarily North American families.
Newstead(Powell & Arquitt, 2001, p.421). The changing family composition is resulting in lesscontact, and less interpersonal communication between our elders and our youngchildren.Our families have become nuclear. Our families have also become mobile. Itis now common for the nuclear family to uproot from where previous generationshave lived in order to follow careers, opportunity, and adventure across countriesand continents. It is less common to live in close proximity to ones extended family(Chamberlain, et a., 1994). This is a striking point, considering that proximity is thesingle most important factor in determining the depth and positivity of interpersonalrelationships between grandparents and their grandchildren (Folwell & Grant, 2006,p. 10). The mobility of our modern families is increasing the communication gapbetween our elders and our children.Our families move around more than they used to, they also fragment morethan they used to. Divorce rates are increasing, and divorce can result in lesscommunication between children and their grandparents (Folwell & Grant, 2006).Divorce can also mean triple duty for single parents. Currently in North Americamore than half of all mothers work outside the home (Cornille, 2007, p. 631). Inaddition to holding down a job, it is estimated that the average woman will care forher own children for 17 years, and will care for her parents for 18 years(Chamberlain, et al, 1994, p.194). Not so long ago, before our families moved sooften and so far, and before it was so common for our families to disintegrate,elders in the extended family would contribute to the care of young children, andgrandchildren would contribute the care of their elderly grandparents. As it is, manyof our children and elders now receive the care they need in professional, agespecific care facilities, where valuable cross-generation interpersonalcommunication is absent.COMMUNICATION BETWEEN THE YOUNG AND THE OLDCross-generational communication is complicated. Kuehne and Collins (1997)identify three main hurtles to interpersonal communication between the very youngand the very old. The first is stereotypes and stigmas; negative stereotypes about2
Newsteadgrouchy old people, or delinquent youth often stand in the way of openinterpersonal communication between young and old. The second is a difference ininteraction patterns. Because youth are often not brought up with elders inproximity they are not used to the way elders tend to interact, and vice versa. Ayoung person may be comfortable talking while playing a videogame and munchingon a snack, but this may come across as rude to the elder with whom the youth isattempting to communicate. The third hurtle to intergenerational interpersonalcommunication, as identified by Kuehne and Collins, is an unusual power balance. Itis inherent in most cultures that elders have a certain power and authority thatyoung children do not. When elders and children that do not have a previousrelationship attempt to communicate there is an underlying unbalanced powerdistribution; the elder has more power than the child, but the extent of the elder’spower, their role as a disciplinarian, for example, is not clearly defined (Kuehne &Collins, 1997). These three hurtles to cross-generational communication requirepractice to overcome. Only children and elders that communicate acrossgenerations often will become comfortable and adept at doing so. The negative stereotypes identified by Kuehne and Collins as the first hurtleto interpersonal communication between the elderly and the young are formed at avery early age (Chamberlain, et al.). But, where interpersonal relationships arefostered between these two age groups, negative stereotypes decrease. Thepatterns of communication set in the early years of a child’s life will stay with him. If a child is comfortable talking to an older person, he is more likely to talk to olderpeople in the future and to become ever more comfortable doing so. The opposite isalso true; if a child is
comfortable talking to an older person, he will usuallybecome less comfortable in cross-generation communication and more likely toavoid such interactions in the future (McCann, et al., 2005).People of differing age groups communicate differently, and “youngAmericans clearly see three separate age groups, and view them as having differentboundaries” (McCann, et al., 2005, p. 304). We are divided into distinct age groups,and communication across these age groups is not easy unless it is practiced, butall too often, cross-generational communication is non-existent. Many children aregrowing up with minimal exposure to other generations, and many of the oldermembers of our communities are isolated by age as well (Conyers, 1996). This is3

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