Establish ground rules at home
You may not consider yourself elderly, but you're probably old to a teen. Teaching your children to respect you first helps them learn to respect other adults, too. Set forth family rules so your teen understands that speaking and acting disrespectfully will not be tolerated in your household. Insist that your son or daughter address every senior as Mr. or Mrs. unless the individual requests otherwise.
Lead by example
Model respectful behavior that your kids can imitate. Give up your seat at a football game to someone who's older. Offer to hold a door or carry a heavy package for an elderly person. Help your teen mow Grandpa's lawn or pick up Grandma's groceries. Simple but genuine gestures mean the world to senior citizens (and they make the giver feel good, too).
Surround your family with seniors
Many teens are frustrated by the slow pace or poor hearing of older folks, or they're unable to find common ground on which to start a meaningful conversation. Spend time with elderly family members. Invite older neighbors to join your family for dinner in your home. Visit nursing homes and veteran's hospitals. The more time the young and old generations spend together, the more comfortable they'll become with each other.
Trace your family tree
Do your kids know that great-grandpa was an underground coal miner or that great Aunt Sally was a nurse in World War II? Your own family tree may be filled with wonderful bits of history! You and your children should sit down with elderly family members to learn about their struggles and accomplishments and about the history they've witnessed throughout their lifetime. Encourage your kids to document -- via writing, taping or filming -- the stories so they're not forever lost when older loved ones are gone from this earth.
Invite seniors into the present
Listening isn't the only way to show respect. Teens can share facets of their own lives to help older people feel more special and included. Offer informal technology lessons to help seniors understand computers, cell phones, HDTV, Wii and more. Play some of your music for them, model your latest fashions, and review newspapers and magazines to discuss current events. Most elderly are wise enough to know that they can learn from the young.
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