How do we define these categories? Well, when we wrestle with this sort of question in gerontology, we must first distinguish between chronological definitions of youth and older adult, psychosocial definitions, and then, for example, economic and legal definitions as well as emotional, biographical, or spiritual definitions. Depending on what definitions you’re working with, “youth” and “older adult” - or “senior”, “elderly”, etc. - can be pretty fuzzy categories.
While “Youth” could include anyone who sees themselves in this category, it’s essentially, anyone between say 10 and 20 years of age. In other words, not infancy and not early childhood but, say, from puberty to adolescence - the teen years.
On the other hand, while “Older Adult” includes anyone who sees themselves in this category, it’s essentially, for our purposes, anyone from say the end of middle age or middle adulthood to late adulthood, beginning then as “young” as 55 and going right to the end of the lifecycle.
Is There a Gap Between the Two Categories?
Yes, obviously, in terms of sheer numbers of years each has spent on the planet. The age gap - that is, the chronological age gap, - between both groups is greater than between youth and either infancy or early childhood on the one hand and between older adult and middle adulthood or late, late adulthood on the other.
More important than the age gap is, though, the generation gap. At least one or maybe 2 or 3 generations can exist between youth, as we’re defining it, and older adulthood, and that number seems to be increasing as we have more and more a living population that spans 4 and even 5 generations. And it is the generation gap that would seem to lead, in many ways, to less likelihood for youth and older adults to have interests in common and to share comparable sets of values and worldviews. Each has been shaped in significantly different times - historically, economically, technically, socially, etc.
Where there is one or more generations separating people, however - in this case, separating youth from older adults - then the potential for distrust and misunderstanding, for mutual ignorance and suspicison with respect to the other, is theoretically even greater. This is the sort of thing we mean by “barriers”, then, and why we have conceived of this project in the first place.
By the same token, there is in my view also much potential for connection, positive connection, between youth and older adults. It exists in many circles, many communities, families, and cultures already, perhaps particularly in rural areas, such as we have many of here in our own Atlantic Provinces, and we must keep these examples in mind when we are tempted, perhaps when looking at life from an urban angle, to see only the gaps and the barriers.
One image that comes to mind is in relation to the phrase you’ve heard of - “the sandwich generation”, where people are having to think about giving care to their aging parents while they’re still caught up with raising their own children. They are alike in that each is one of the pieces or layers of bread that make up the sandwich in question!
The prophet Isaiah writes of a time when “your young men shall dream dreams and your old men shall have visions”. For each group, in its own way, by not being in the mainstream of society, by not being committed to the routine of employment, by being removed from the direct activity of raising a family, running a home, towing the company line - this carries with it a kind of freedom. Free to envision other ways of being together as a society, an age-irrelevant society, where the energy and hopes and insight of youth can be teamed with the experience and wisdom and perspective of older adults to blaze exciting new trails into the coming decades of challenge and change.
It is from this vantage point that Intergenerational Communication begins..