For many young adults such as myself, visiting your grandparents is just about the only scenario in which you would spend any substantial amount of time interacting with older people. I am fortunate in the sense that I can still visit my grandparents today, at the age of 21, and can easily recall fond childhood memories spent with them. I am also fortunate because despite both being over the age of eighty, my grandparents are still fairly mobile, and remain as sharp and witty as ever.
However, the fact that young people’s social contact with older people is almost exclusively reliant upon them interacting with their grandparents can be problematic. Firstly, not all of us are lucky enough to have met our grandparents, or have clear memories of our time with them. This can mean that children have little, if any, meaningful contact with older people during the formative stages of their youth. Consequently, due to their lack of experience, these individuals may remain indifferent towards the oldest in society. As Michael North and Susan Fiske (2012) highlighted, this indifference can simply develop from a lack of education; for example, young people may ‘believe that because older people’s appearance implies certain traits (e.g. lonesome, inferred from droopy eyes; sad, inferred from stooped posture), then they must be that way’.[i]
Additionally, not everyone is lucky enough to have had pleasant childhood experiences with their grandparents. Witnessing the development of physical and mental vulnerabilities in your loved ones can be emotionally draining. If the only experience a child has with old age is one of such suffering, it is understandable why they may subconsciously choose to avoid interacting with older people later in life. This supports the “Terror Management” theory behind rising ageism, which argues that the youth avoid older people in an effort to push away reminders of their own mortality.[ii] Read More