Intergenerational mentoring and activity programs establish a relationship between an older adult (aged 50 and over) and a child or adolescent, often at-risk youth. Such intergenerational programs can also involve youth or college students who interact with older adults and help them learn computer-based skills or practice exercise. Intergenerational programs may have a variety of activities, including math and reading practice, art and music activities, health education, and cultural heritage activities. Intergenerational programs can be based in schools, community centers, faith-based organizations, or residential facilities such as nursing homes1.
Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)
- Improved health outcomes
- Improved cognitive function
- Improved well-being
- Reduced isolation
- Improved intergenerational attitudes
Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes
- Increased self-esteem
- Increased academic achievement
- Improved social emotional skills
- Reduced delinquent behavior
Evidence of Effectiveness
There is some evidence that intergenerational mentoring and activities improve physical and mental health, cognitive function and well-being, and reduce social isolation among older adults1, 2, 3, 4. Such programs also increase positive intergenerational attitudes for both participating older adults and youth1, 3. Additional evidence is needed to confirm effects.
Older adult mentors who participate in intergenerational mentoring programs, such as Experience Corps, can improve physical health, cognitive function, and psychosocial well-being2, 4. Available evidence suggests that intergenerational mentoring and activities may improve older adults’ sense of self-worth, self-esteem, and life satisfaction1, 3, 4, 5. A Los Angeles-based pilot study suggests participation in an intergenerational mentoring program can improve social well-being and reduce risk for physical health problems for older adults6. Both older adults and youth who participate in intergenerational programs may develop meaningful relationships and positive interactions with the other generation and share wisdom and advice1, 7.
Among participating youth, intergenerational mentoring and activity programs can improve attitudes toward aging and older adults as well as themselves, increase academic achievement and social development, and reduce substance use and school absences1, 5. Youth participating in intergenerational mentoring programs are more likely to report that they feel connected and have better mental health and emotional well-being4, 5, 8. In general, mentoring programs between adults of any age and youth increase positive educational outcomes for participating youth9 and appear to reduce delinquent behavior for youth at risk of delinquency10, 11. Older adults’ life experience and emotional stability prepare them well as mentors to advise at-risk youth5.
Successful intergenerational mentoring programs match individual mentors’ strengths and resources with the needs of potential mentees, pair mentors and mentees with shared backgrounds, provide ongoing training for mentors, support youth-driven and reciprocal interactions, and engage young people by incorporating their perspectives4, 5, 12. Intergenerational mentoring programs that use targeted approaches for youth with identified problems, matched to relevant interventions in the context of mentoring relationships, can have greater effects than programs with non-specific, relationship-focused approaches13.
Impact on Disparities
Many intergenerational mentoring and activity programs exist across the country. For example, Experience Corps, a community-based program in fourteen states and Washington, DC, offers older adults volunteer service opportunities in urban public elementary schools14. Examples of local intergenerational programs include JCA Heyman Interages Center’s mentoring and tutoring programs in Maryland15; the Generational Xchange (Gen X) program in Los Angeles which places older volunteers in K-3 grade classrooms to help students improve math and reading skills16; Learning Buddies in Minnesota where older adults and elementary students work together on classwork17; and Family Friends at the Intergenerational Center at Temple University in Philadelphia18.
Generations United provides a database of intergenerational programs and technical assistance. Generations United also recognizes outstanding programs with their Programs of Distinction award19.
Generations United - Generations United. Because we're stronger together.
IG activity guide - St Monica Trust. Intergenerational activity: How to be part of it and why. 2018.
Wisdom of Age - MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership. The wisdom of age: A guide for staff. 2020.
MENTOR - MENTOR. MENTOR: The national mentoring partnership that promotes, advocates, and is a resource for mentoring.
MENTOR 2016 - MENTOR. Elements of effective practice for mentoring. Alexandria: MENTOR/National Mentoring Partnership; 2016.
* Journal subscription may be required for access.
1 Martins 2019* - Martins T, Midão L, Martínez Veiga S, et al. Intergenerational programs review: Study design and characteristics of intervention, outcomes, and effectiveness. Journal of Intergenerational Relationships. 2019;17(1):93-109.
2 Zhong 2020* - Zhong S, Lee C, Foster MJ, Bian J. Intergenerational communities: A systematic literature review of intergenerational interactions and older adults’ health-related outcomes. Social Science & Medicine. 2020;264:113374.
3 Lee 2020a* - Lee K, Jarrott SE, Juckett LA. Documented outcomes for older adults in intergenerational programming: A scoping review. Journal of Intergenerational Relationships. 2020;18(2):113-138.
4 Keller 2020* - Keller TE, Perry M, Spencer R. Reducing social isolation through formal youth mentoring: Opportunities and potential pitfalls. Clinical Social Work Journal. 2020;48:35-45.
5 SCL 2016 - Stanford Center on Longevity (SCL), Encore.org, David and Lucile Packard Foundation. Hidden in plain sight: How intergenerational relationships can transform our future. Stanford Center on Longevity; 2016.
6 Seeman 2020* - Seeman T, Merkin SS, Goldwater D, Cole SW. Intergenerational mentoring, eudaimonic well-being and gene regulation in older adults: A pilot study. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2020;111:104468.
7 Baschiera 2019 - Baschiera B, Pillemer K, Yau H. Building a community legacy together (BCLT): An intergenerational program for youth and older adults aimed at promoting a more equitable society. Encyclopaideia – Journal of Phenomenology and Education. 2019;23(53):29-41.
8 CDC-Thornton 2002 - Thornton TN. Strategies to prevent youth violence: Mentoring strategy. In Chapter 2 of: Craft CA, Dahlberg LL, Lynch BS, Baer K, eds. Best practices of youth violence prevention: A sourcebook for community action. Atlanta: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); 2002:119-207.
9 Campbell-Wilson 2011 - Wilson SJ, Tanner-Smith EE, Lipsey MW, Steinka-Fry KT, Morrison J. Dropout prevention and intervention programs: Effects on school completion and dropout among school-aged children and youth: A systematic review. Campbell Systematic Reviews. 2011:8.
10 Campbell-Tolan 2013 - Tolan P, Henry D, Schoeny M, et al. Mentoring interventions to affect juvenile delinquency and associated problems: A systematic review. Campbell Systematic Reviews. 2013:9.
11 DuBois 2011* - DuBois DL, Portillo N, Rhodes JE, Silverthorn N, Valentine JC. How effective are mentoring programs for youth? A systematic assessment of the evidence. Psychological Science Public Interest. 2011;12(2):57-91.
12 Armitage 2020 - Armitage H, Heyes K, O’Leary C, Tarrega M, Taylor-Collins E. What makes for effective youth mentoring programmes: A rapid evidence summary. Manchester Metropolitan University; 2020.
13 Christensen 2020* - Christensen KM, Hagler MA, Stams GJ, et al. Non-specific versus targeted approaches to youth mentoring: A follow-up meta-analysis. Journal of Youth and Adolescence. 2020;49(5):959-972.
14 AARP-Experience Corps - American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). AARP Experience Corps.
15 JCA-Interages programs - Jewish Council for the Aging of Greater Washington (JCA). JCA Heyman Interages Center: Interages programs.
16 Gen X - UCLA Health. Generation Xchange (Gen X). University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
17 Learning Buddies - DARTS. Learning Buddies. West St. Paul, Minnesota.
18 Family Friends - The Intergenerational Center at Temple University. Outreach & community services: Family Friends.
19 Generations United - Generations United. Because we're stronger together.
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