‘Bookend’ generations: Why we need to encourage teenagers and the elderly to talk

Clayesmore’s Assistant Head, Pupil Development, Helen Christmas, writes about the benefits of inter-generational interactions for both young people and the elderly.

The role of the grandparent has come into focus again over the last 10 – 20 years as couples turn to alternatives to expensive child care and the older, retired generation find themselves regenerated to being in loco parentis once again. This is, of course, what used to happen before our society exploded and when life was spent geographically and emotionally in family units.

However, it is also interesting, but perhaps not surprising, that with this change in the role of grandparents has come new research into the positive effects of relationships between the elderly and the young. A recent article by Catrin Hedd Jones, Lecturer in  Dementia Studies at Bangor university explores the idea that the ‘bookend’ generations (the elderly and the young) have much to offer each other. Perhaps this explains why there are increasing numbers of institutions which combine early education centres near or in residential homes.

So, it was with this in mind that Nazareth Lodge Residential Care Home and Clayesmore School have set up their visiting schemes. Sixth Form students visit every week and spend time with the residents talking about their experiences, but more often listening to what they see as fascinating accounts of the lives of their older companions.

Ben, a 17-year-old-regular, talks animatedly on the way back to school about the fact that the frail resident who sits dwarfed by the wings of the armchair can remember the First World War, the emancipation of women and the impact of rock and roll!

Driving the minibus back to school on Wednesday afternoons, I am proud of the teenagers who not only volunteer their time, but also who have come to recognise that these moments with residents who are four or five times their age are precious to the residents and to them.

Teenagers do not always get a good press (and never have done), but this weekly meeting on Wednesday afternoons proves what those of us who work with teenagers already know: that they are capable of surprising us!  It also reminds me that the wisdom and knowledge of the older members of our society is not something that should be kept secret.

However, it is not only the older students who are temporary part of the Nazareth Lodge life. Children from our Pre-Prep school come to entertain the residents. The 6-year-olds who sang at Christmas delighted the residents and we hope that this will become a regular event also at other times of the year.

This is such an important initiative for the students of all ages and we hope that the residents of Nazareth Lodge enjoy their weekly visit from the youngsters. What everyone gets from the visits is, perhaps, intangible, but it is essential.