Age Wave: An Intergenerational Workshop at Penn State’s 4-H Leadership Conference

Posted: June 19, 2011

Workshops offered at the annual 4-H Leadership conference aimed at stimulating vibrant discussion about how different generations view and experience the world

By Ee Ching (Candice) Ng, graduate student in the New Media program at Penn State’s School of Visual Arts

On January 22, 2011, 98 4-H members and 11 older adult volunteers took part in a series of hour-long workshops entitled, “Age Wave: Relating to and Working Effectively with Older Adults.” Offered for the second year in a row as part of the annual 4-H Leadership Conference at University Park, the workshops stimulated vibrant discussion about how different generations view and experience the world.

The small group discussions covered a lot of ground. One theme that came up frequently was the need to challenge age-related stereotypes. In an effort to change one student’s perspective about how people in the older generation seem to lose interest in life when they age, an 85-year old commented, “You'd be surprised to discover that most of the friends I have now at this age are some of the most active people I know in life, vesting interest to areas we were unable to do before due to sacrifices we had to make to raise a family.”

Some of the seniors were surprised to find out that many of the 4-H youth had well-informed opinions about issues of societal importance. One was quite impressed by a comment made by a 4-H youth about how “businesses and highways being put up everywhere take away from [the land available for] farms.”

The participants were comfortable in sharing personal challenges and difficulties. When asked if there were any struggles that a 13-year old girl and her friends face, the girl responded, “I think Facebook ruined the lives of the young, technology seems to be controlling us now, creating an addiction. But I do see how technology can also be good when we use it for our studies.” It was an honest confession, an insight into the complexities of navigating one’s social life in an online, highly connected world.

The older adults did not shy away from sharing their struggles too. One of them divulged how “loosing physical tenacity” was perhaps one of the hardest challenges that she was working to resolve.

After listening in on dozens of intriguing conversations, I felt quite optimistic about the state of intergenerational relations in this country. As in my home country (Malaysia), I felt there was a strong sense of mutual respect between the generations. It was moving for me to hear a 14-year old say, “I don’t look down on older people, I look up to them.”

Even though this conference experience took place for just one day in the lives of the 4-H youth and older adult volunteers, the encounter seems to have encouraged participants’ future interests and pursuits for having more intergenerational conversations, both in their families and in their communities.

Photos by Ee Ching (Candice) Ng; Intergenerational discussion groups at the 4-H Leadership Conference (January 22, 2011).