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The Dartmouth
April 18, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Roodnitsky: Intergenerational Friendships are an Undervalued Gem

Friendships between generations help foster empathy and provide important mutual learning.

At Dartmouth, other than making connections with our professors, we primarily interact with peers our age. “Homophily,” or the tendency for people to choose to associate with those similar to them, is common when we make friendships. This is common when it comes to what age group we make friends with. The concept that we must confine ourselves to same-age friendships remains unchallenged on our college campus, where the majority of people are considered to be young adults. Simply put, most of our friendships and close relationships are with other college students — which is natural. 

However, as students who attend an institution that supports diversity, we should neither accept nor internalize the idea that we are constrained to make meaningful connections solely with people our age. To do so would be settling for a narrow-minded and ignorant outlook, where we risk missing out on incredible opportunities to learn from and grow close to those with experiences fundamentally different from our own. Challenging the perception that intergenerational friendships may seem strange or unnatural is crucial in creating a more cohesive and understanding society, along with giving us new perspectives that allow us to be more well-rounded individuals. 

Across the board, there has been a lack of research by sociologists on intergenerational friendships and the importance they have. This is largely due to the common assumption that homophily plays a dominant role when cultivating friendships. As we move forward in life, past the insular bubble of Dartmouth’s campus, we will have the opportunity to make active choices on where we are seeking out friendships and who we are seeking them out with. We have the power to overcome generational myopia, which is the tendency to have a limited understanding of issues, events or perspectives outside of one’s own generational experience.

Friendships with those outside of our age group can be beneficial in the sense that they have a different dynamic from those friendships between peers of the same age. For instance, those who maintain friendships with someone who is marginally older or younger than them report gaining access to a judgment-free space that is not always found between same-aged peers. Being from different generations removes the pressure created when wanting to be accepted among those of a similar demographic. This lack of judgment also allows for more trust between one another. In fact, the very difference of not being from the same age group allows for more of the vulnerability necessary when making strong bonds with someone else, which is extremely rewarding. Additionally, because both often have such different life experiences due to the age gap, they can offer each other impactful advice they might not receive from someone their age. 

Moreover, intergenerational friendships can serve to improve the overall well-being of both parties by empowering one another through mutual teaching. The connection between a college student and someone marginally older than them can be powerful because the young adult can inform them about contemporary times and experiences, helping the older adult feel like they are connected to the modern world. Conversely, the older adult has a breadth of knowledge and wisdom to impart that can help alleviate uncertainty for the young adult. Not only do these friendships help diminish age stereotypes and prejudices, but both younger and older people can learn skills and information from each other. 

Other than sharing life experiences and news, intergenerational friends can continue to expand each other’s horizons by taking each other to places and engaging in activities that their other friends may not have exposed them to. Perhaps a young adult might take an intergenerational friend to a music festival, while an older adult might take them to an art museum or historical site. The possibilities of discovery are seemingly endless. Certain recreational pastimes and hobbies that may not be in style for one generation may be common in another, so getting the chance to share those interests can prove valuable and eye-opening. 

At Dartmouth, students should take advantage of being able to create meaningful relationships with their professors, as they can offer a great deal of support throughout our four years of academic rigor. Having helped a myriad of students before us, they are experienced in giving advice and challenging us not only to be better students but to be better people. Besides going to office hours, everyone should utilize our program of getting a voucher to take a faculty member to a meal at The Class of 1953 Commons or Pine Restaurant. This can be done in groups of up to three students and is a wonderful opportunity to discuss not only academic interests but also general life experiences. By establishing these connections, students can feel a greater sense of integration within the Dartmouth community, have a place to go to seek advice about college life or get wonderful guidance on a topic of interest. 

After graduating from college, students enter a world where they are no longer constrained to interacting primarily with their own age group. They should seize this opportunity to expand their friendships beyond their same-aged peers and challenge the notion of generational myopia and what younger and older people do, how they act and what they should be. Whether it is through an adult taekwondo class, in a work environment, at the gym or any other place where two people could meet, making these relationships takes effort, but they are ultimately worthwhile. Intergenerational friendships offer a bond distinct from peer-aged friendships, with huge potential for mentorship, learning and being pushed to think beyond just the present.