Hi, my name is Ariel Sherry, and I am a rising senior at Colgate University with a passion for working with older adults and studying aging. Given that Professor Loe’s Sociology of the Lifecourse class, which I took my sophomore year, greatly fueled my passion for gerontology, and that Professor Loe continues to be an ongoing source of support as I continue my exploration in this field, it’s only fitting that I continue my process of reflecting on this subject by contributing to her wonderful blog.
As my first blog entry, I thought it would be appropriate to talk about why I am even passionate about gerontology in the first place. After all, it’s a question my friends and those who meet me and learn of my interest in gerontology often ask. At first I struggled to answer this question because I had never really given it much thought. Upon reflection, however, it dawned on me that the answer was actually rather simple — my relationship with my grandparents.
My grandparents have always been important and present people in my life. Thinking back on my childhood, it seems that I was seeing or talking to at least one grandparent nearly every week. It certainly helped that one set moved to the same town I lived in when I was very young and that we had a tradition of calling the other set every Sunday to share updates on the important events of the week. This constant connection is the reason memories of my childhood are imbued with many fond recollections of time spent with my grandparents: from Florida visits, to baking and eating yummy treats, to celebrating holidays and birthdays.
I believe that the active role my grandparents had and continue to have in my life has tremendously shaped the way I view older generations. In a book I recently read on ageism, Cuddy and Fiske (2002) describe how one way to confront stereotypes is to meet individuals who defy the expectations set by those stereotypes. In addition, they describe how one’s experiences with certain members of a social group can influence how we perceive others believed to fit that group. I believe that my grandparents served as those individuals who defied the negative stereotypes of seniors as incompetent and led me to perceive older adults, whom I associate with my grandparents, as individuals who are supportive family members and who have wonderful stories and knowledge to share.
While I’m sure there are other factors that lead me to have a far more positive view of older adults than many of my peers, I think the intergenerational relationships in my life have been extremely influential. This makes me feel even more strongly that more effort should be made to promote and facilitate intergenerational relationships. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have grandparents who can live so close by and take on such active roles in their lives, but there are still many other ways for children to interact with older adults, such that they can form their own opinions about this age group rather than automatically subscribe to the negative ageist messages too often spread in our culture. Whether walking with an older neighbor, organizing a senior to tutor a child, or having children visit senior living facilities, there are countless ways to connect these generations. I think this is a key topic to consider as we think about our aging society, and it will be interesting to see what innovative programs develop.
As for me, I continue to call and visit my grandparents frequently. I also actively seek to make connections with other older adults. I have one friend, who is 97-years-old, whom I visit just about every week during the school year. And, this summer I have plans to go on afternoon walks with a woman just about to turn 101, and I can’t wait to hear her stories and learn about her experiences!