Why It's Healthy to Have Friends of All Ages

Having friends in different stages of life broadens our view of others—and ourselves.

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Posted in , Feb 20, 2020

Friends of all ages

When I was in middle school, I took a word processing class at my town’s public library. When my mother picked me up, she asked me how it was. “I made a friend,” I told her excitedly, “her name is Ethel.”

My new friend shared her first name with my great-grandmother, and while she wasn’t old enough to actually be a "great" anything, she was an elderly woman. Ethel was taking the class to learn the skills she needed to communicate with friends and family using the computer.

Throughout the session, we had enjoyed each other’s company—I had felt grown-up and valued by this woman who was impressed by my budding typing skills, and she, I imagine, felt pleased that a young person took an interest in what it was like for her to be learning something new.

In the decades since that experience, I’ve been drawn to intergenerational friendships. Now that I’m older, I get to grow in both directions, from starting a conversation with an older person I’m seated near at religious services, to asking our 9-year-old’s babysitter about her after-school job. 

There are numerous benefits to cultivating friendships across generational lines. The younger person in the relationship can learn from the perspective and experience of the older person, who has often “been there, done that.” The younger person might also gain a more positive outlook on aging by spending time with an older person who is living their life with energy and optimism.

The older person in an intergenerational friendship also stands to gain. Feelings of loneliness or isolation are common among older people, and the attention of a new friend is a positive and reassuring presence. The older person might also relish telling stories that fascinate younger people who, for example, can’t believe there was a time before iPhones. They might also get the opportunity to learn and use new skills in technology and communication.

Some ways to strike up an intergenerational friendship include:

—Sharing book recommendations

—Asking questions

—Doing an activity like gardening or cooking together

Watching movies (new or old)

Taking a walk together

—Playing a card or board game

We have so much to offer each other. When we open our hearts to friends of different ages, we will find out exactly how much we have to learn—and teach.

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