Intergenerational Mentoring: A Unique Response to the Challenges of Youth

— Generations United
Updated on Nov 12, 2009


Children, youth, and older adults face many serious challenges. Some are different, but many are similar. Young people sometimes have difficulty navigating the path of early life and adolescence. The challenges they face are often exacerbated by factors outside of their control such as difficult family situations, poverty, and troubled communities. Older adults are sometimes challenged by loneliness and isolation from their families and communities.

  • Approximately 32%, or 23 million children, are living in a single parent home or without either parent.1
  • 14.2% middle school students and 38.1% of high school students use tobacco products2, over 20% of adolescents drink regularly and over 10% of adolescents smoke marijuana frequently.3
  • The national high-school dropout rate was 10% in 1998.4
  • Suicide is the eighth leading cause of death for all persons regardless of age, sex or race; the third leading cause of death for young people aged 15 to 24.4
  • Elders account for one-fifth of all suicides.5
  • There has been a significant shift in the number of older adults that live alone. By 2005, 32% of all elderly will live alone, which often results in decreased socialization.6

Both young and old seek meaningful relationships and positive interactions to address challenges and improve feelings of self-worth. Together young and old are assets to the community and can offer support to one another through meaningful interaction. Mentoring is one forum for such interaction. Mentoring is “a relationship between a more experienced person and a younger person which involves mutual caring, commitment and trust.”7

Benefits of Mentoring Programs 

Mentoring programs have proven to produce positive results. An 18-month study of over 950 youth at various local Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies found the mentored youth to be:

  • 46% less likely to begin using illegal drugs,
  • 27% less likely to begin using alcohol,
  • 53% less likely to skip school and 37% less likely to skip a class,
  • less likely to hit someone,
  • more confident of their performance in schoolwork, and
  • demonstrating improved relations with families.

The findings were even more striking within the minority population. Among minority youth that had not already begun using drugs, the mentored youth were 70% less likely to report initiating drug use.8

Intergenerational Mentoring 

Older adults and young people are alike in that their unique talents and strengths are often overlooked. Intergenerational mentoring is a unique way of bringing the two groups together in a purposeful way while developing a mutually beneficial relationship. Intergenerational mentoring:

  • provides youth extra attention, guidance and support,
  • offers older adults a more productive lifestyle that contributes to a greater sense of purpose and allows them to feel more connected to their communities,
  • empowers communities by facilitating community collaboration, pooling resources, and engaging in cooperative problem solving, • promotes the understanding of shared values and respect for individuals in all life stages, and
  • fosters an appreciation for rich cultural heritages, traditions, and histories.
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