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Mary Lahr Schier

Bridging the Gap

Crossing the generational divide can help you find joy — and even improve your health

"OK, Boomer. It may feel cringe, but vibing with Gen Z hits different."

Older than 40? There's a good chance the jargon above doesn't make sense. But if you're a Generation Z member (born between 1997 and 2012), you probably know what it means. Here's the translation from the native Gen Z slang:

"It may feel awkward, but forging relationships with younger people — at work, in social settings, even in your family — can be life-changing for your health and emotional well-being."

In other words, no matter the slang or your age, cross-generational connections are good for you.

We're now at a unique juncture in American society. For the first time, five generations of adults work and live together. But those generations don't always connect — or know how to connect. And that can be a missed opportunity for all involved.

The power of connections

Numerous studies have shown that adults with strong social and community connections live longer than those who are isolated — even when they have poor health habits such as smoking or conditions such as obesity. Connecting across generations can be particularly valuable for older adults. It helps reduce depression, increase physical activity, and create new bonds, according to Marc Freedman, author of How to Live Forever: The Power of Connecting the Generations.

Those connections also help younger people. “When younger and older connect, the intergenerational relationships built are a route to success in early life and a key to happiness and well-being in our later years,” says Freedman.

How to connect

Each generation has traits related to shared experiences, but individuals aren't stereotypes.

"I've never met a generation,” says Dr. Leah Georges, a professor of social psychology at Creighton University. “But I have met a lot of people who identify with a specific generational cohort. I've also met 80-year-olds who text and 20-year-olds who crochet — neither of which are stereotypical of their generations.”

Connecting with people as individuals is the key, she adds. Here are five strategies to help you build those connections:

  • Listen, then share
    It's common to want to be the most interesting person in the room. Instead, try being the most interested. Make a point to ask questions, especially with younger or older relatives and friends. Listen to their ideas and experiences. Then share your perspective. At family gatherings, get rid of the kids' table and mix up the generations for meals and activities.
  • Seek out friends from different generations
    Having longtime friends is comforting, but cross-generational ones can expand your social network — and your perspective. Connect through a neighborhood block club, volunteer activities, or a special interest group. Consider inviting a younger or older friend or acquaintance out for coffee.
  • Ask how people want to communicate
    In work and volunteer settings, confirm how people want to share information. Do they prefer a text group chat, email, Zoom, or messaging apps like GroupMe or WhatsApp? Clarity about that reduces confusion and potential misunderstandings.
  • Be aware of the pitfalls of text communication
    Abbreviations such as LOL (shorthand for “laughing out loud”) and grammar errors in texts may annoy older recipients, while the presence of an ellipses (…) can be seen as passive aggressive by younger generations. And depending on who you're texting, taking too long to reply may be seen as a snub. With texting, it's best to assume good intentions from all.
  • Don't undervalue face-to-face talks
    Even the most connected generation yet — Generation Z — often values direct communication. For deeper conversations, set down your phones and your expectations. Just talk and listen — the old-fashioned way.

Cross-generational slang defined

  • YOLO = You only live once
  • Far out = Impressive
  • Wazzup? = What's up?
  • Vibes = Feeling
  • Mellow = Relaxed
  • Clutch = Useful
  • Slay = Exceptional
  • Groovy = Fashionable

Generation Timeline

  • Gen A: Born after 2012
  • Gen Z / Zoomers: Born 1997-2012
  • Gen Y / Millennials: Born 1981-1996
  • Gen X: Born 1965-1980
  • Baby Boomers: Born 1946-1964

Mary Lahr Schier is an Eagan, Minnesota-based freelance writer.