Academic journal article Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences

Children's Attitudes toward Elders

Academic journal article Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences

Children's Attitudes toward Elders

Article excerpt

Abstract: Eighty-four preschoolers were shown photographs of three males and three females representing a young, middle-aged, or elderly adult. The children were asked to point to the picture of the person who wears glasses, exercises, is happy, is old, or is nice as well as to whom they would go for help. Stereotypical responses were more closely related to the age of the preschoolers than to the amount of interaction they had had with elders in their day-care centers. Pictures were found to be an effective tool for studying children's attitudes toward elders and would likely be useful research tools when used to study attitudes toward race, ethnicity, and disabilities.

For several decades, Margaret Mead (1972) has been advocating that children and elders should interact more with each other. In recent years, interest has increased in the relationships between children and elders. Several studies in the past decade have been designed to foster a mutually beneficial relationship between these two age groups (Aldous, 1995; Lowenthal & Egan, 1991).

The increased number of intergenerational programs in daycare centers is evidence of a trend toward increased interaction. Past research on children's attitudes toward elders and elders' attitudes toward children suggests that, in general, children and older adults mutually benefit emotionally from shared experiences and daily contact. Support for intergenerational daycare centers is also driven by cost effectiveness, convenience, accessibility, and other consumer issues (Stremmel, Travis, Kelly-Harrison, & Hensley, 1994). Chamberlain, Fetterman, and Maher (1992) found intergenerational facilities to be economically feasible in rural areas and can meet the needs of many rural families as well as make use of underutilized large older country homes. These researchers concluded, "Intergenerational programs may also meet family and societal needs as well as build communication between the generations" (Chamberlain et al., 1992, p. 62).

Some studies (Aday, Sims, & Evans, 1991; Cohen, 1993) have revealed the frequency of contact between children and elders is directly related to more positive attitudes of children toward the elderly. Chamberlain, Fetterman, and Maher (1994) have described and conducted research at an intergenerational community care home in Vermont that provides residential care for elders and daycare for children. One aspect of their work involved assessing both elders' and children's attitudes toward their intergenerational experience. "The sample in this study was too small to provide data for statistical analysis but provided sufficient data to substantiate the positive effects of an ongoing intergenerational experience" (Chamberlain et al., 1994, p. 200).

Adam (1992/1993) found that children who visited nursing homes had significantly more positive attitudes toward elders than children who made no visits Adam concluded that contact with elders can break stereotypes and inoculate positive attitudes toward aging. SlaughterDefoe, Kuehne, and Straker (1992) have suggested stereotypes about elderly individuals can lead to fears about aging itself and can contribute to ageism that is both negative and destructive.

Unfortunately, seven studies cited by Aday et al. (1991) have shown that children's attitudes toward older people are, for the most part, negative and stereotypic. Davidson, Cameron, and Jergovic (1995) have pointed out that these negative stereotypes are shown by children as young as 3 years old. Lowenthal and Egan (1991) cited several studies that show young people's negative stereotypes of elders seem to be associated with age separation.

Children's attitudes toward elders are shaped by family values, social interaction, teachers, and media. Preschoolers with the greatest contact with older family members have been found to perform age discrimination tasks more accurately than children lacking contact with elders (Aday et al. …

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