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Intergenerational Programming - Impact On Families

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The behaviors that have been demonstrated over time in intergenerational programs have not systematically been examined in the context of family settings. However, there is increasing anecdotal information reported by caregivers, teachers, intergenerational program participants, and families that the behaviors described in intergenerational programs are being observed within the family. This section, therefore, will present some of the observed behaviors of participants within an intergenerational program setting and show how they translate into relationships within the family.

For the young child, prekindergarten through grade three, it has been observed that participation in intergenerational programs often results in an increase in the ability to stay on task, a decrease in anxiety, less crying, more smiling, and overall more relaxed, happy, and cooperative behaviors (Larkin and Newman 2001). Within the family, the young child seems more secure in relationships with older siblings and less fretful in new situations and with new people. The child seems more willing to wait and less prone to moments of "I want and I need now" behaviors. This is perhaps because the child feels more confident that his/her needs will be met.

For the school age child as a result of intergenerational experiences there is an increase in social and academic skills, added competence and self-confidence, and evidence of values that demonstrate caring for others. The impact on family relationships of these experiences for school age children, as reported by parents, includes an increase in cooperation and understanding, a decrease in sibling conflict, more sibling cooperation, and greater willingness to be helpful in household responsibilities. Often, a child with intergenerational experiences is viewed as more accepting and respectful of parents, grandparents, and older generations in the neighborhood.

For teenagers, the intergenerational experience can motivate a willingness to talk with parents about problems, a willingness to be part of the family, and an acceptance of differences in the family and in the community. Additionally, those teens with experience in intergenerational service activities (i.e., visiting with older adults) often develop a sense of social responsibility that converts into a social activism and involvement in community projects. Many youth develop leadership skills that enable them to help solve family problems and assist siblings with difficult personal or academic issues. The intergenerational service experience helps a youth recognize differences and inequities in society that can prompt an acceptance of family differences. Teenagers involved in providing intergenerational community service or in being the recipient of mentoring or tutoring by older adults speak about an increased willingness to communicate with parents and grandparents. These youth refer to increased compassion and understanding of the plight of older generations. "I never realized that Mr. G is a survivor of two wars, the Depression, and the loss of his wife and home. He is amazing and I have tremendous respect for him. I bet there are many other people like him in his generation," states a sixteen-year-old friendly visitor of a ninety-year-old man living at home.

For college youth the intergenerational experience as a mentor or as a service provider to frail or isolated older adults has created a career direction in aging. It often elicits memories of special childhood experiences with elder family members. Triggered by these memories, many youth reconnect with their families' older members and restore the bonds that may have been lost during adolescence.

For the single parent mother whose experience with an older adult may be as a family friend, as a caregiver for her child in childcare, or as a mentor or tutor in school classrooms, there are dramatic stories of a greater ability to cope with family stress, reduced personal anxiety, and more confidence in talking with friends and family rather than paid professionals. These mothers typically refer to the older adult caregiver as a friend who listens to their problems, loves their children, and from whom advice is accepted. Working mothers report increased energy and comfort in knowing that someone acknowledges their plight, encourages them and helps them address some of their social, financial, and family problems. Mothers often refer to the caring and experienced older adult as a friend who helps them enjoy their role as mother. "I now feel confident enough to talk with my son's teacher without feeling defensive and frightened. M., our family friend, has helped me see that my learning impaired child has lots to give," explains the mother of a learning-disabled seven-year-old son.

From the older adults who have been involved in intergenerational experiences as the receiver or provider of intergenerational services we learn of an increased ability to understand and accept the behaviors and motivations of young people in their own families and communities. There is a decrease in their stereotypes about youth and an increase in their awareness of problems confronting the young. Older adults often report on how being aware of the positive effect they have on young people often boosts their own self-esteem and improves their interaction with their own families, especially grandchildren. Many familial interactions for older adults have assumed new meaning as they share some of their intergenerational experiences and insights.

For frail older adults, typically in institutional settings, who are recipients of youth services, there are reduced feelings of isolation, an improvement in activities of daily living, (the ability to care for oneself), and a rebirth of interest in socializing and communicating with family members. The relationship with a visiting young person often ignites their interest in socialization and stimulates cognitive functioning that yields a higher level of communication with their family. "I think I understand my teenage granddaughter better now that K. has become my teenage friend. I am learning a lot about these kids and it is fun," claims an eighty-five-yearold resident in a long-term care residential setting who has a weekly teenage friendly visitor.

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