What’s in a Name? The Conversation about “Seniors”

our stories boy and lady smallA few months ago, NextAvenue posted a piece by Monica H. Schaeffer about coining a new term for “seniors.” It was shared again on social media recently, and we posted that piece on our Facebook page, with a note that we found the proposed term (“gener-agers”) interesting since it is rooted in the work of Erik Erikson – as is our Bridges Program Curricula Suite. Here are the thoughts of our founder and executive director Andrea J. Fonte Weaver on the topic:

During our professional development events on intergenerational programming, we go through a list of terms that are sometimes used for people over the age of 65. We also examine the Eriksons’ socio-development theory (recognizing Joan and Erik’s collaboration), focusing on how programs that engage older adults and youth in meaningful ways can support and even heal participants’ socio-emotional development. With all of this in mind, I think “gener-agers” is an interesting term – with reservation. Honestly, I do fear that it might bring back ideas of teenagers, and that concept of older adults being like children is so fresh in so many people’s minds. These “seniors” are trailblazers: They’ve opened up doors for my generation, they led important historical moments such as the Civil Rights Movement and they continue to do important work.

But I join with many around the country calling for new terms for this new phase of life. Terms such as “Constructive Aging” and “Age-Friendly Communities” describe societal goals instead of a singular demographic. Most importantly, I would add would “ Age-Integrated Communities” to that list. Instead of focusing on what one subset of a community should be called, let’s focus on how these subsets can – and should – combine. Let’s think about terms that connote collaboration! After all, as we say at Bridges Together, intergenerational programs are a vaccination against ageism and a prescription against ageism.

I’m not sure what the answer is, for we all belong to some sort of age cohort and have always been defined that way – we’ve got middle age, adolescence as well as a newly coined phrase to describe people aged 18-25: emerging adults. How do we describe the people – the “seniors” – who have pioneered a new way to think about aging? Let’s keep the conversation flowing.

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