As seniors and boomers prepare to sit down with their extended families for Thanksgiving, many wonder what they will talk about with their young grandkids, nieces, nephews and other relatives. Here's a conversation starter: Talk about you. What's in it for them? Memories that will last a lifetime -- and maybe a new computer.
The Legacy Project, a Toronto-based research and educational organization focused on programs that connect the generations, sponsors the "Listen to a Life" contest each year. To enter, a young person, age 8 to 18, interviews a grandparent and submits a 300-word essay. If the youngster cannot interview a grandparent, he or she can interview another relative -- but not a parent -- a family friend 50 or older or someone in that age range who lives in the community. The writer of the winning essay receives a Lenovo ThinkCentre computer. But the contest is really about bringing young and old together.
"With families spread across the country, with young people getting more involved with technology for peer-to-peer relationships, we're losing that connection between generations," says Brian Puppa, the Legacy Project's program director.
Both young and old benefit from the interview. "It leads to a meaningful conversation that we believe can be transformative for young people," Puppa says. As for the older adult, Puppa points to research that shows seniors with the most intergenerational connections report much less depression. And consider this: With the increase in our life span, Puppa says some young people today may have contact with seven generations in their lifetime, from great-grandparents to great-grandchildren. This means your life story may someday be passed on to your great-great-great-grandchild.
There are no fees to enter the contest. Puppa says the best essays key in on a significant event. "We're looking for an evocative story that represents a turning point or key moment in the older adult's life rather than a laundry list of facts," he says. For tips on interview questions and rules, go to legacyproject.org. The contest deadline is March 22, 2013. The website also lists more than 100 activities families can use to bridge the intergenerational gap.
But even if your grandchild doesn't enter the contest, the chance to have a Thanksgiving one-on-one sit-down between the generations is a blessing.
"One of the things that people always say is, 'I wish I would have talked to my grandparents about their life,' " Puppa says. "It's a wonderful way to connect across generations."