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Generation gap: Build the bridge with empathy
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Generation gap: Build the bridge with empathy

Experts discuss effective methods of bridging the generation gap between grandparents and grandchildren to establish a harmonious relationship
Bridging the generational gap proves useful for the mental and emotional health of older people
Vaidehi Hariharan and her grandchildren have been able to bridge the generation gap

Many older people find joy in taking their grandchildren to participate in various activities or reading them bedtime stories. Grandparents also often come to the rescue when children disagree with their parents. While the relationship can be blissful, misunderstandings can crop up, thanks to intergenerational gaps. Bridging this generation gap is crucial for better bonding.

One’s upbringing, values and exposure to the world can set varied expectations. Here are some ways to bridge the generation gap between grandparents and grandchildren when one exists.  

Bridging the generation gap requires an open mind

Dr Satish Kumar CR, consultant, Clinical Psychology, Manipal Hospital, Bengaluru, defines a generation gap as differences between two generations’ belief systems — morals, values and ideas between generations. This is an invariable phenomenon in every family due to the environment they have been exposed to and raised in. “Keeping healthy relationships requires finding a way to navigate these differences of opinion,” he stresses.  

Some older people have a long way to go to comprehend the changing times, but some are actively taking the initiative to understand generation gaps in families. Vaidehi Hariharan, 78, is a retired teacher from Bangalore who has three granddaughters, aged 12, 24 and 29. Interacting with them has given her a better understanding of the current times and how her granddaughters’ peers perceive ideas. “As long as I keep an open mind and create a safe space for them, we continue to share a close bond,” she says. When asked what they discuss, she says everything under the sun has become a topic of conversation. “The oldest one shares her thoughts about marriage while the youngest tells me about her classes. They also enjoy listening to stories about my childhood,” she shares.

Speaking to Happiest Health, Hariharan mentions that a striking feature of generational difference is technology development. Keeping up with the times has been made easier by her 24-year-old granddaughter. “I learned how to use mobile apps and new gadgets,” she says. She can order food and place deliveries through her phone without having to depend on anyone.

Addressing intergenerational trauma

Simply put, when the effects of a traumatic event are passed on to future generations, it is called intergenerational trauma. According to Dr Kumar, this is one of the reasons for the generational gap between families.

Intergenerational trauma stems from elderly people having experienced or been raised in an oppressive environment, who end up projecting it onto future generations. “People’s morals, ethics, values and belief patterns can differ across generations. The younger generation might consider their elders’ thoughts outdated. On the other hand, grandparents can find the little ones spoiled, culturally ignorant or lacking in respect. This can cause mental and emotional distress and they can end up with anger management issues,” explains Dr Kumar.

According to Neeta Shetty, a psychotherapist and life coach from Mumbai, grandparents and grandchildren often disagree on topics such as inter-caste marriages, relationships, careers and education, as well as same-sex relationships. “Older people need to be open to the realities of the current day. They still need to go a long way to accept the present scenario and make peace with youngsters and their choices,” she says.

Dr Kumar adds that the difference of opinion occurs when an elderly person works towards influencing the grandkids due to the belief that the youngsters don’t follow a system or culture to their liking. This toxic projection can impact grandchildren’s academics, jobs and even their relationships with peers and adults, according to experts. “The generation between, which is mainly their parents, must do its part in bridging the generation gap,” he says.

Holistic ways to address the generation gap

Shetty observes that some older people still find it difficult to adapt to new values and beliefs, leading to a bigger disconnect with grandchildren. “Understanding their grandchildren’s generational beliefs is key to bridging the generational gap. Grandparents should also socialize with peers who are also on the same wavelength,” she says.

Experts list out steps that grandparents can take to bridge the generation gap with their grandchildren:

  • Be open to new ideas – While it is true that the elderly have a wealth of life experiences to share and learn from, they must also try to understand the generations after them and their stance on values to relate to them better.
  • Be active in their upbringing – The elderly can play a vital role in grandchildren’s upbringing and be active members. They can also help the parents in finding the right parenting style to raise their grandchildren. Don’t impose any beliefs or ideas without any reasoning.
  • Identify common interests – Grandparents and grandchildren can bond over activities like exercising together, watching movies, cooking, visiting places, etc. They can then understand each other better and develop a harmonious relationship.

Shetty adds that healthy relationships with family delay dementia onset and reduce the risk of depression in the elderly. Healthy familial ties can help elderly people improve their quality of life and not feel isolated, bridging the generation gap in families.

Takeaways

  • The generation gap refers to the differences in belief systems that exist between two generations. Grandparents and their grandchildren often find a generational gap in many aspects of life such as technology, same-sex relationships, careers, etc.
  • Being open to communication and ideas as well as finding a common ground can not only help to close the generational differences within families but also build a harmonious relationship.
  • Healthy relationships with family delay dementia onset and reduce the risk of depression in the elderly.

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