Breaking generational barriers during the holiday season

Intergenerational gatherings can provide learning opportunities for all.

The viral “OK Boomer” meme has been pitting younger generations against the old. This holiday season, the USC Leonard Davis School hopes to help bridge this divide at the dining table with expert insights on how younger generations can learn from older ones — and vice versa. Our goal: ease generational tensions so when grandma asks if you can pass the stuffing, a new definition of “OK, boomer” may arise.

For more healthy advice, see our previous holiday tips: 2016, 2017, 2018

 

Focusing on the positive

Research from Mara Mather, a professor of gerontology and psychology at the USC Leonard Davis School, and colleagues, reveals that older adults, due to a sense that time left in life is limited, tend to focus on positive information more and seem to notice negative information less than younger adults.

“With this reframed mindset, older adults rethink their priorities, want to spend more time with loved ones and focus on things that are more important to them emotionally,” said Mather. “Somehow, despite the many challenges of getting older, on average, older adults experience more positive affect than do younger adults.”

Mather calls this paradox of aging the positivity effect. Older adults’ perspective may provide lessons on how to maintain a good mood even in the presence of negative information. A trait that could be especially useful at large family gatherings – and all year round.

 

Connecting through food

Preparing and eating food together during the Thanksgiving holiday can also unite different generations, according to Cary Kreutzer, an associate professor of gerontology and pediatrics and the director of the Master of Science in Nutrition, Healthspan and Longevity Program.

Older generations can teach younger family members about their family recipes or traditions.

“Have the new generation record videos of the food prep that they can save for years to come,” Kreutzer said, adding that the younger ones have something new to share, too.

“Or, the newer generation — focused in media and technology — can find information online about cultural variations on traditional recipes for their grandparents.”

 

Challenging Stereotypes

Intergenerational interaction can provide benefits, like reducing social isolation and loneliness, and it can combat misconceptions and stereotypes that people may hold about people of different ages, according to psychologist Paul Nash, an instructional associate professor of gerontology at the USC Leonard Davis School who has worked  on World Health Organization (WHO) projects to address ageism.

“We can change attitudes through mutually meaningful intergenerational communication and contact,” says Nash. “In doing this we can challenge assumptions about the other age group and change the social narrative around ageism which will ultimately benefit every age group.”

Among Nash’s tips:

  • “Remember that communication styles may differ between generations. Slang and popular colloquialisms change frequently so avoiding these can facilitate a much more meaningful and worthwhile dialogue.”
  • “Don’t let incidences of ageism slide, call them out and highlight them whether they be against younger people or older adults.”