Youth / Adult Partnerships and Growing Communities

By Zakia Carpenter | Unending Conversations of Hope blog

This article appeared in the April 20-26, 2008 issue of the Michigan Citizen and is reproduced here with the author’s permission. Please post your comments here.

I have noticed a breakdown in youth-adult functionality that I’m just beginning to articulate. From what I have read about the Millennial Generation (youth, like me, born between 1977 and 1998), experts predict it will be more separate from previous generations due to the technological divide.

However, this is just one factor dividing us. Every generation has ideas and values differentiating it from prior generations. Our histories shape us differently.  Essentially we are our own entity, separate from those who gave birth to us.

But the problem is not our differences. Millennials are the first to celebrate rather than tolerate difference.

My concern is with the lack of support my millennial generation is getting. This disconnect frightens me because it takes both leadership and support to change the world.  We cannot do this alone.  Therefore, how do we integrate the past and present so that fellowship between generations not only thrives but also transforms society?

This intergenerational discord mimics our tumultuous relationship to the past, present, and future. Schools tend to be anchored to the past, and students tend to leave school without any meaningful relationship to their history. Intergenerational relationships mediate this issue.  Acknowledging the past-present link allows us to begin harmonizing these elements as we build transformative dialogue and learning spaces.

A place for tradition and change, in experience and knowledge, exists, and if we find the harmony of these seemingly opposing elements, then we can truly transform social interactions and society. Often youths’ ideas are discarded for breaking with past norms in traditional cross-generational spaces. If we are truly dedicated to change, we must acknowledge EVERYONE’S voice. Rejecting anyone’s contribution is not conducive to social transformation.

Working towards change has shown me the usefulness of our past, how it clarifies our present, and launches visions of the future. Youth inherit different conditions than older generations and therefore different limitations. We can come up with new truths. It is this rethinking that generates ideas for transformative learning communities. I keep thinking that if innovation is to be nourished in step with community values, there must be an acknowledgment and acceptance of the necessary break between the ideology of older and younger generations. Somehow this necessary break must bring the community closer.

We must strive for transformative and mutually nourishing relationships beyond the confines of programming and school hours. My friend, Julie, suggests that both youth and adults actively seek out relationships with each other. I think this is a great idea. My connection with a former dance instructor, around thirty years my senior, has become one of my most rewarding relationships. Because she was known for working 12–18 hour days, we got creative with time: utilizing the telephone, lunch, and dance class to interact, proving that building meaningful relationships on a limited time budget is possible.

Actually I would recommend beginning with youth/adults that you encounter regularly or those in your vicinity. Adults, make your availability to talk known and visible. Young people will respond. We recognize genuine efforts.

Older generations have so much to offer young people and can ensure that we are not reinventing the wheel while still allowing our freedom and imagination to flourish. This is an issue that I am working on. Its contradictions are everywhere, and I have often been furious at the lack of intergenerational collaboration. But I’ve learned that creating, sharing, and implementing a vision is empowering, whereas anger tends to deplete power. Therefore I encourage you to envision and build.  Together we will build mutually nourishing and inclusive intergenerational relationships that are stronger than the naturally occurring breaks in ideology.

Possible Questions to Explore:

  1. What is your vision for youth-adult relationships?
  2. What obligations do youth and adults have to each other? What connects us in a symbiotic way? What are our differences?
  3. How do we build intergenerational relationships that are mutually beneficial and supportive? How do we harmonize our diversity in order to create social change?
  4. When is it appropriate for an older person to share his/her past experiences with a younger person? When is it appropriate to encourage youth to seek out his/her own truth? Where is the balance?
  5. How does the dialogue change once we acknowledge that each individual and each generation must come up with their own truths? Does our perception of "error" change? how so?  If the goal in educating, rearing, and engaging in dialectical dialogue with youth is no longer about teaching fact or discipline as the presenter sees it, then what is the new goal?
  6. How can we open up leadership so that youth make more of the decisions affecting their lives?
  7. Would the structure of intergenerational interaction change if the goal is to be mutually inclusive and developmental?
  8. In what ways will you work to improve your intergenerational relationships?

Please continue the dialogue. Thanks for listening!