Saturday, July 10, 2010

Intergenerational Partnerships Change Negative Stereotypes About Older Adults (Research)

Frances Shani Parker accepts flowers from Yvonne Butler-Woods at the Revelation Lutheran Church Senior Celebration. Keynote speaker, Ms. Parker spoke about intergenerational partnerships and the impact of negative stereotypes about older adults on children.
(Note: This is not her speech.)                                 
A former school principal, I encourage intergenerational experiences between students and older adults. I feel so strongly about them that I include a chapter on school-nursing home partnerships in my book "Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes”

At my school, we had students complete pre and post surveys as part of their nursing home visits. We asked them what their expectations were about nursing homes and the residents who lived there. Fourth graders told us they thought residents would be boring, slow, and nosy, trying to get into their "business." These were only a few of the negative stereotypes they had already developed about older adults. Students also participated in several classes on aging and eldercare before their visits. They learned how to perform, analyze, record, and disseminate scientific research. The lessons we created were integrated into the regular school curriculum supporting academic standards. This teaching approach is called service-learning.

Of course, students were amazed at how their opinions changed when they took the same surveys after returning to school from their visits. In addition, they witnessed dementia firsthand and developed a healthier understanding of aging, illness, caregiving, and acceptance of others' differences.

A research summary reported in “Medical News Today,” Source: Jamie Hanlon, confirms that negative stereotypes about the elderly can be present in children as young as three. The study reported that children with fewer contacts with seniors had more negative stereotypes about them. While children also learn negative stereotypes from the media and from observing how others treat seniors, they can learn many positive lessons about older adults through their early personal interactions with them.

The negative biases children embrace can impact them through the years in ways that are damaging in how they treat older adults, perceive themselves, and in how they perceive aging. Perhaps you have noticed some young people exhibit a strong lack of tolerance or empathy for seniors. I certainly have. Unfortunately, these youngsters may grow up to become the negative stereotypes they believe. Positive intergenerational experiences involving young people and older adults are wonderful win-win opportunities. 

Frances Shani Parker, Author

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