Now Is Not the Time to Sever the Ties That Bind Generations

Generations United
3 min readMar 12, 2020


by Donna Butts, Generations United

“I miss the children. I hope they come back soon.” Resident during a teacher’s strike that kept children out of classrooms co-located in an assisted living facility in Oklahoma

It’s too early to know if social isolation or the Coronavirus (COVID-19) will kill more older adults in the long run. A heightened awareness of how a lack of social connection negatively impacts individuals as they age and their networks diminish has fueled a significant interest in intergenerational programming in recent years.

Not only is the Coronavirus threatening our economy, institutions and way of life, it’s attacking the pathways created to connect young and old.

Connections that strengthen our community and individual lives.

Those who are older and/or have compromised immune systems have been singled out as the two groups most at risk of succumbing to the virus. Because of this, trusted health professionals have rightly advised people 60 and older to practice “social distancing.”

Yet the impact of following that advice without implementing alternative ways of connecting can have damaging results that take months if not years to re-build once the danger has subsided.

How can we maintain important exchanges between generations that feed the souls of our young and old without jeopardizing someone’s health?

We can learn from long-established intergenerational best practices. These are alternate ways we can support social connections:

· Share Facts Not Fiction — it’s a frightening, uncertain time for people of all ages and it’s easy to be vulnerable to misinformation. Check the CDC website or contact your local public health office for current information. For ideas on how to have intergenerational conversations about living through major outbreaks, check out Generations United’s guide.

· Practice Excellent Hygiene — intergenerational shared sites that serve and engage young and old at the same location successfully are experts about personal hygiene and facility cleanliness.

· Separate When Sick — older and younger intergenerational participants are kept at home or away from each other when they show signs of being sick or are at risk.

· Use New and Old Technology — when separated by distance or disease, technology such as the telephone, social media, Skyping, Face Time, email, texts and others are effective ways to keep young and old who have access connected.

· Share Stories and Pictures — all intergenerational program participants, especially those in art and culture programs, can share pictures of their art or activities and stories from their daily lives through the mail or by text or phone.

· Teach Each Other a 20 Second Song — children are taught the correct length of time to wash their hands, using hard to forget songs like Baby Shark and Happy Birthday. Other generations have music too, whether it’s the beginning of Blue Suede Shoes or Splish Splash I Was Taking a Bath, sing together over the phone or through other technology.

· Check in on Each Other — a simple phone call can go a long way when someone is feeling alone.

· Keep a To-Share List — it can be tough to get started again after a cold stop so write down feelings, stories, jokes and other tidbits that can be shared between older and younger people when they get the green light to re-connect.

Generations United wants to hear from you. Tell us what you’re doing to keep generations together when they aren’t able to be in the same place at the same time. Let’s share best practices and keep this important work moving forward through difficult and good times. Remember, we are stronger together…even when we need to stay at least six feet apart.

Additional resources:

Article: For older people stuck at home, 7 ways to stay connected via Gen2Gen



Generations United

National nonprofit that improves children, youth and older adults' lives through intergenerational programs and policies. Why? Because we're stronger together.