As an educator, I am constantly offering suggestions to young people, particularly when I teach health lessons.
While I spend a lot of time speaking about issues specific to youth, from social relationships to media literacy and drugs and alcohol, I also spend time talking to them about the issues of the elderly.
My intent is two-fold. Young people have a tendency to think very much in the here-and-now and, thus, lifestyle choices that don’t bring very specific and immediate changes tend to be ignored. Using examples of long-term poor lifestyle choices (i.e. the health of older people) does tend to get their attention a bit more, but just a bit.
My second intent is to encourage young people to understand more about the elderly and perhaps be more compassionate and attentive. There is a family component to this, getting young people to pay attention to their grandparents or perhaps even their parents in some cases. For many elderly, the sun rises and sets on the grandchildren and rarely interacting with them or being overtly ignored by them is hurtful and isolating.
Young people are not necessarily aware of the importance of their presence in the lives of grandparents.
They do not have the life experiences to understand such emotional attachments and everyone who matters to them in the “here-and-now” world is at their fingertips – their parents and their friends. Developing compassion and consideration for the elderly is a learned behaviour that requires recognition and reminders, especially if there is physical distance between the two generations.
When my children were in their early teens, we lived 8,000 kilometres from their grandparents. We made sure they spoke to their grandparents every week on the phone and each summer we’d put one or two on an airplane to spend a month with them. Those were precious moments for both generations.
But looking at it from the other side, I recognize now that those times together were even more important for them than it was for my children. The anticipation of their arrival, the efforts made to entertain them (lots of outdoor activities), and the fun they had together provided an enormous incentive for the grandparents to be fit, healthy and happy themselves. Frankly, it kept them young.
My children enjoyed their summers with grandmom and grandpop, but in retrospect, I recognize how much more it probably meant to the grandparents than to the boys. As my parents aged, and the boys spent their summers earning money for school, there was a definite loss for both sides as the opportunities to spend time together diminished. The weekly phone calls remained a staple, and their grandparents phone number remained on their list of ‘10 favs,’ but being together physically was limited to a few holiday periods when the whole family travelled to visit.
We have a Grandparents’ Day in our school, an opportunity for the two generations to come together and share some special time. It’s a day when I like to remind students just how important it is for them to be a regular part of their grandparents’ lives and a time to remind the grandparents just how important it is for them to be an influence in the lives of their grandchildren.
As parents, the more we can support that relationship, the healthier and more rewarding for both sides.
Graham Hookey writes on education, parenting and eldercare (firstname.lastname@example.org).