There’s always been hoopla surrounding generation wars, “battle of the boomers vs. millennials” and so forth, but are we really that at odds with each other to where we can’t find a middle ground? You’d be surprised, as you may find that each generation is more compatible than society gives us credit for. Cross-generational mentorship, especially, unlocks opportunities to bridge the generational gap. It allows us to establish relations with others who grew up during a different time, and in the end, broaden our worldview.
No matter where you fit on the generational spectrum, there’s a lot that the different age groups can learn from each other based on core values, beliefs, opinions, and personal experiences. Exactly how can it help? Keep reading to find out.
You’re challenged to adopt an open mind
Sometimes, hearing a unique perspective can motivate you to be more accepting of those who act and think differently than you. “A lot of times, we only see ourselves from one view and that’s where we are, but when we have other people that are around us (or that are mentors or mentees), it allows us to see where we can go from another person’s perspective…and I think that [also] builds a lot of self-confidence and the ability to explore other things you may not have been open to [initially], says Calvary De’Rosa, LPC, a teen and adult therapist in the states of Louisiana and Texas.
In the same breath, embracing each others’ unique strengths (rather than ridiculing them) can be a gateway for accelerated progress in both our personal and professional spheres. It’s been said (by multiple sources) that Gen Xers possess a wealth of soft skills like easily adapting to change and being skilled communicators, while tech-savvy millennials were the first generation to be dubbed “the digital natives” with Gen Z following right behind. The beauty of multi-generational mentorship is that each generation has its collective strong points and growth areas, meaning that we all have teachable moments to give and learning lessons to take away.
You’re more equipped to diffuse generational beef
Open dialogue (without judgment) presents an opportunity to gain a better understanding of each generation’s communication styles and social behaviors, which is crucial for easing tensions that may later arise. “When you sit with someone and you learn from them, you are allowed to see a different perspective and also see similarities,” De’Rosa added.
Each generation communicates differently, and when we’re committed to misunderstanding each other and not hearing one another, it can be a recipe for communication breakdowns and conflict. The gag is that millennials and Gen Z mostly prefer texting and online engagement, boomers are more acclimated to offline conversations and in-person social interactions, while Gen Xers are somewhere in the middle. How one generation defines “healthy communication” may be offensive or discomforting to the other, and vice versa.
The different generations may also have unique ideas of what’s socially acceptable, like what it means to be an effective worker. Earlier generations are used to working hard and playing the long game to climb the career ladder, which the youth may consider to be an archaic and outdated approach, whereas the younger ones have learned to work smarter with the technological resources at our disposal—and may be labeled as “lazy” because of it.
“It’s not that [millennials and Gen Z’ers] want to be lazy, but it’s because of their experiences and their viewpoints from their parents and just seeing generational trauma in aspects of the workplace, they want to do things differently and advocate themselves,” says De’Rosa. Taking time to understand one’s thought process behind their actions can clear up a lot of misconceptions surrounding such generational stereotypes.
Each generation gets a chance to pass down wisdom
Mentors are a treasured find for golden gems and have a great deal of valuable insight to offer from past trials and circumstances. When we seek mentorship from people who are more experienced in other areas of life than we are, whether it’s marriage/relationships, parenting, or climbing the career ladder, it puts us in a position to glean wisdom that steers us in the right direction.
There are people in our lives who have previously been in our shoes and can offer much guidance on mistakes and mishaps to avoid. The same can be said about reverse mentoring— when more mature individuals gain knowledge from their younger counterparts on things like the latest trends and technological advances. The African proverb that “the youth can go faster but the elder knows the road” couldn’t be truer because both are equally necessary.
“It’s kind of reciprocation thing,” says De’Rosa. “It helps when we [can] capture how life transitions and changes were solved in different generations,” and “gives us more data and information to become stronger as a culture,” she explained. “It helps us to create more wisdom, folktales, and stories that help people [of the same cultural community] to see themselves in a new light and feel empowered.”
Bridging the generation gap by way of mentoring can help strengthen communication, foster collaboration, and ease tensions. Such mentor-mentee relationships can also blossom into beautiful friendships with an “iron sharpens iron” type bond.
Creating safe spaces for all age groups to lead with honesty and authenticity can promote mutual learning and understanding that we are not a monolith and that diversity of thought can be a good thing in a lot of ways.
There are plenty of resources out there on how to cultivate healthy relationships with your friends, sisters, and peers regardless of age, including Dr. Joy’s new book Sisterhood Heals.
The Therapy for Black Girls Sister Circle is a community that connects mentors with mentees. Tap in if you’d like to join a sisterhood that can offer perspectives that differ from your own and expand your knowledge in ways that support your personal and professional growth.