Two generations—children in need of support and adults with the time and inclination to step into roles that provide it — fit together like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. A new monograph from the Stanford Center on Longevity, “Hidden in Plain Sight: How Intergenerational Relationships Can Transform Our Future,” presents a compelling case for why the sum is greater than the parts.

We are at an all-hands-on-deck moment for young people. The unacceptable reality is that over 55 percent of adolescents and 40 percent of younger children don’t have the support of caring adults in their homes, schools and communities. Adults 50+ represent a large, growing and renewable reservoir of talent and experience, poised and eager to invest in future generations.   How can organizations, communities and society create a plan for making intergenerational connections, building on-ramps and developing ways to harness the natural connections between older and younger people?

“Hidden in Plain Sight” emerged from the “Pass it On” conference convened in June 2014, by the Center, Encore.org and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, to elevate generativity as a norm for the second half of adulthood by exploring the critical roles experienced adults can play in the lives of children and youth. It reviews the research base for understanding the assets of aging, builds on key conference recommendations and proposes practical methods for engaging experienced adults to meet the needs of young people. It explains what organizations and communities can do, and encourages leaders and individuals to mobilize experienced adults in service of children and youth.

The overarching goal: Creating scalable, replicable, intergenerational programs for communities throughout the country. Intergenerational collaboration benefits all parties; intergenerational efforts yield greater gains than either generation can accrue alone.

Key takeaways include:

  • More Americans today are over 65 than under 18 (100 million vs 75 million). The time is ripe to intentionally foster positive, mutually beneficial intergenerational relationships.
  • Meaningful relationships between older and younger people can be the ‘secret sauce’ that benefits all generations. “Making the match” between old and young would allow everyone to flourish.
  • The 50+ population is a potentially transformative and renewable human resource with powerful, age-related assets, including wisdom from life experience, emotional intelligence, generativity and the drive to “give back.” Experienced adults’ skills and attributes align with the skills and abilities that enhance the lives of children and youth.
  • Young people in America are at a crossroads; supportive interventions and meaningful relationships will help them create purposeful, fulfilling lives. Non-family mentors can be formative in providing such support, and help vulnerable youth leverage social capital.
  • The unique abilities and motivations of experienced adults have the potential to fundamentally benefit youth. Social challenges and inadequate adult connections jeopardize the growth of young people, even while non-parental, older adults are increasingly positioned to help them profoundly.
  • Building acceptance, support and incentives for intergenerational engagement requires a national movement that begins with challenging cultural norms and stereotypes. Policies to foster intergenerational opportunities will promote intergenerational progress. Incentives from civic and charitable organizations and corporations can  remove barriers to engagement.

Encore.org is turning many of these recommendations into action, with a new, five-year social action campaign, launching this November. The campaign will bring the generations together and improve the lives of children and youth, by mobilizing adults over 50 to stand up and show up for kids. Sign up here for updates, campaign launch details and ideas for how you can be a part of this ground-breaking, innovative project.

The full text of “Hidden in Plain Sight” is available here.

Published: September 6, 2016