Why is talking to someone older or younger good for you?

Photo Jake Thacker Unsplash

Photo Jake Thacker Unsplash

One of my favourite TED Talks is by Sugata Mitra describing what happened when he embedded a computer in a wall about three feet above the ground in New Delhi and connected it to high speed internet. Despite the fact the children who found it hardly went to school and didn’t speak English they soon worked out how to use it. 

He went on to repeat this experiment all over the world and the results were always the same. Groups of children would learn how to use computers and the internet regardless of where they were. In one ambitious experiment he set out to see whether a group of 12 year old Tamil speaking children could teach themselves biotechnology in English on their own. They managed it. 

He came to Newcastle to continue his research and set up what has become known as the Granny Cloud. He found 200 volunteers to give one hour a week on Skype to encourage children in their learning. Not to teach them but to encourage them. He called them grandmothers because all he wanted them to do was sit behind the children and admire them. Just like a traditional grandmother. 

He found the children achieved even more with the support of the Granny Cloud and today there are over 100 volunteers providing unconditional encouragement to improve children’s learning all over the world. 

The power of intergenerational relationships is being explored elsewhere in the UK too.
In London last year a children’s nursery was combined with a care home. Although there are other similar schemes elsewhere in the world, this was the first one of its kind in the UK. Being involved with the children helps the older people to combat isolation. 

Studies in the UK and Australia show that these intergenerational sessions boost the older people’s self esteem as they feel more integrated into society. It helps the children too. Spending time with older people helps them hone problem-solving and social interaction skills. This makes them more confident when they go out into the world and meet new people outside of their family groups. 

When I moved to London to work I realised that I had very little contact with anyone under the age of 20 or over the age of 55. I worked with people my own age, socialised with people my own age, lived with people my own age and never met my neighbours. 

This is a very narrow perspective. This means worries can get out of hand. It’s easy to find yourself in an unhealthy echo chamber where everyone’s stresses amplify your own. 

When you step out of this echo chamber you can find perspective. Spending time with children helps you to reconnect to your playfulness and fun so you can leave your worries to one side for a while. On the other end of the scale, there’s something very reassuring about talking to someone who’s already done it all. It shows us that shows life goes on and that (hopefully) it’ll all work out in the end. 

So this week, how about some intergenerational communication? 

☎️Exercise Seven: Let's Talk! ☎️

Time to get communicating!

☎️How it works ☎️

  • Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to talk to one person over the age of 60 and one person under the age of 10.

  • This could be as simple as saying hello, or a wave, How about a conversation with the shop assistant about the weather? It’s certainly given us enough to talk about recently.