I spent much of Sunday afternoon at a 13th birthday party. Well, a lunch really. The 13-year-old in question isn’t my kid. She and her brother have been part of our lives, and we part of theirs, since birth.
We’re still cool enough to Sophia, and to her brother Cameron, that they’ll willingly hang out with us. A steady diet of junk food and Warner Brothers cartoons during their childhoods must have given us some residual cool factor. All I know is that it’s a source of happiness to hang out with them for me, and I hope for them too.
One thing that’s interesting as I and those around me age: at any given age, you can be younger or older than your years. And one of the factors that make the difference in psychological and physical health is hanging around with younger people.
It’s easy to fall into habits, to assume a certain level of “dignity” or propriety that we think is appropriate for a man of my age. The problem with that is we may be losing our sense of fun, our sense of play.
There’s some research and some anecdotal evidence that suggests hanging out with younger people is good for us. A research study in Taiwan examined the psychological impact of taking care of grandchildren on the elderly, and discovered that those interactions have a “protective effect against depression and loneliness.” If that’s more generally true, it’s important. And a 2004 study paired older adults and emotionally disturbed teenagers. It found that the pairs bonded with each other, and that both teens and seniors experienced benefits from the relationship — the older folks benefited emotionally; the teens, behaviourally.
I know from my own life that spending time with our young friends, as well as our two youngest nephews (just starting school now), is always a boost. Spending time with people in the music industry also helps me forge relationships with many musicians who tend to be younger. Musicians also recognize the value of “playing”, which is a bonus.
And when I cycle in a group, younger people in the group push my physical comfort zone and make me go farther, faster, than I might on my own. When I count up all the interactions and the benefits, I get a lot out of spending time with people who are younger than me, whether they’re four years younger than I am, fourteen, or maybe just four. And perhaps they get something out of hanging out with me! It’s a virtuous circle.
In a couple of weeks, I’ll help celebrate the 80th birthday of a cycling friend. He’s in remarkably good shape for a man of 80. And I think that part of his youthfulness is that many of the friends who will help him celebrate are younger than he is. I’m hoping that in 33 years, the same will be true of me.
Photo: “Young punk and old unionist” CC-licenced by Flickr user Simon Oosterman.