How to Have Effective Intergenerational Friendships!

by Deborah Haddix

God wants to bless every relationship you have! In John 15:13 Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Deborah Haddix writes:

I think we are all guilty – at some time, to some degree – of having preconceived notions and prejudices. They may not be of a racial or socio-economic nature. Nonetheless, we have them.

Members of the younger generations ASSUMING members of the older generations are stiff, unyielding, “just wouldn’t understand.”

Those of us who fall into those “older” generations ASSUMING that the younger generation is too lax, uncommitted, “just doesn’t understand.”

No matter the generation we were born into, when it comes to connecting with members of other generations, we face a gap – one that may seem uncrossable. We can ASSUME that intergenerational friendships aren’t even possible.

Exploring the Gaps

“The further removed we are from another person—financially, racially, generationally—the number of potential connection points we have diminishes.” 

– Joseph Rhea, Why the Church Needs Intergenerational Friendships

For our conversation on intergenerational friendships, it’s necessary for us to first look at the 4 generations to which our conversation would most apply. While they have many names, we’ll refer to these generations as: Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Gen-Xers, and Millennials.

To help us in our understanding, it’s important for us to know that, generally speaking, each new generation is born during an approximate 20-year period, and each one is shaped by shared experiences that occurred while its members were coming of age. Therefore, the members of each generation will commonly possess shared values and behaviors that were influenced by parenting, education, politics, social, and cultural issues.

With this in mind, take a look at just a few brief “influencers” from each of the 4 generations:

Traditionalists – born prior to 1946
  • Have experienced the most amount of conflict: World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War
  • Raised by parents who lived through both World Wars and the Great Depression
  • Grew up in largely pre-feminist era where women tended to not work outside the home
  • Loyalty to one’s company and job was strong
  • Most often, the same job was held for lifetime
  • Often described as “disciplined, self-sacrificing, and cautious”
Baby Boomer – born 1946-1964
  • Referred to as the “me” generation
  • Began the wave of changing common values (including women working outside the home and the social acceptance of divorce)
  • Television was common in the home
  • Generally welcome and respect hierarchal structure and tradition
  • Members of this generation are typically hopeful, motivated, and team oriented
  • Baby Boomers are often described as “self-righteous and self-centered”
Generation Xers – born 1965-1979
  • Children of this generation were often home alone while both parents were at work
  • Has been said that television raised this generation
  • During their formative years, a shift was made in the way knowledge was accessed – from paper to digital
  • Tendency toward being individualistic and preferring to rely on self
  • Often retain a strong sense of family and want to be “present” parents
  • Prefer to commit to themselves rather than to organizations
  • Concerned for individual rights, particularly those of minority groups
Millennials – born 1980-2000
  • Raised by hopeful, present, and active parents
  • Taught to believe that they are unique and valuable
  • Prefer to schedule activities and like to work in teams
  • Experience significant levels of academic pressure and have high expectations of themselves
  • Prefer a relaxed work environment with support and feedback
  • Have not lived without computers
  • Due to the accessibility of information, tend to hold strong views

Reflecting on This Generational Snapshop

Let’s think about this a little. Go back into the generation of your birth. Are there any “influencers” from your generation that you hadn’t really given any previous thought? What core value and/or attribute do you see as a result of this “influencer?”

Now look back at one of the generations neighboring yours (one generation away). Do you notice an “influencer” on that generation that you’d never given any thought to before? What core values and/or attributes do you see as a possible result of that “influence?”

What about two generations away from yours where there are even more diminished connection points? Any “influencers” that may help to explain core values and/or attributes of members of that generation?

Implications for Intergenerational Friendships

Were there any “Aha” moments?

I know there were several for me, a Baby Boomer –

— the caution and patriotism exhibited by the Traditionalists in my sphere.

— the need for my younger Millennial associates to schedule every little thing and their tendency to share all of life on social media.

This “generational” insight and understanding has many implications for our lives. First, it can help us get beyond our ASSUMED barriers. Instead of making assumptions and sitting in judgment, it can help us begin to recognize and acknowledge our differences… and the reasons for them. And it can help us see that, sometimes, where we thought there was a problem – there wasn’t!

It’s Your Turn

How about you? Did you experience any “Aha” moments as you browsed the “generational” information? Especially as you looked at generations one or two away from yours?

How might you use this “generational” information this week as you interact with members of generations other than your own? Used by permission of the author.

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