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Activity

POSTER POWER

Promote a more accurate, positive view of aging

Creating posters with a positive view of aging results in great decorations for a school, seniors residence, or intergenerational site. This activity also encourages children – and adults – to see aging in a broader way.

In recent decades, we've seen a gradual but striking redefinition of both ends of the life cycle. Psychologists who once viewed infants as passive and unresponsive now see them as active and competent. Older adults, once assumed to be useless, are now considered to be full of "reserve" potential and in their "prime time." For the first time in history, older people are exploring the outer boundaries of life.

Today's 80-year-olds are comparable in well-being and vigor to 60-year-olds in the last generation; 60-year-olds are like 40-year-olds, and so on. We are aged largely by our culture, and encouraged to dislike and limit ourselves. "The human mind," said Gertrude Stein in 1936 at age 62, "has nothing to do with age. As I say so, tears come into my eyes."

There are actually many advantages to being old that most people don't think about. Advantages can be grouped into two general categories: those that benefit the older person and those that benefit society.

For individuals, advantages include: people older than 65 have substantially lower victimization rates in nearly all categories of crime; older people have fewer accidents (car, work, home) than any other age group; they receive Social Security and other pensions; they receive tax benefits, discounts from retailers, and free or a reduced rate on many programs and services; most older people no longer have child-rearing responsibilities and they don't have to worry about unwanted pregnancies; older people are often retired and can choose what work they wish to engage in; older people have lower rates of mental illness and fewer suffer from addictions; older people have more social freedom to "be the way they are" without censure.

Older people also offer advantages to society: they tend to be more law-abiding; they tend to be more involved, informed citizens and vote more frequently; they serve society by volunteering; they tend to perform as well or better than younger workers on most measures; if you assume wisdom can come from years of experience and maturity, older people have more wisdom to offer.

Older people can have a tremendous impact on society. Said Sadie Delany, at age 103, about herself and her 101-year-old sister, "We have a lot to do. . . . People don't understand this. They think we're sitting around in rocking chairs, which isn't at all true. Why, we don't even own a rocking chair."

Some say that Jimmy Carter, having left the White House at age 56, made more of an impact on society after than during his presidency. Said Georgia Senator Sam Nunn, "Carter is the only man who used the office of President of the United States to achieve a better position." In the years since leaving office, Carter has become a bestselling author, human rights advocate, and an international peacemaker. He and his wife Rosalyn have volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, established the Carter Center, helped bring rich and poor together through the Atlanta Project, taught Sunday School, climbed mountains and learned to ski.

It's easy to see an older person in the role of a wise sage. But to see the old as adventurous or as heroes? French oceanographer Jacques Cousteau explored and worked underwater until he died at age 87. In a now famous statement after his second trip into space in 1998 (when he was in his late 70s, 36 years after his first trip), John Glenn proclaimed: "Just because you're up in years some doesn't mean you don't have hopes and dreams and aspirations just as much as younger people do."

How can we get a more positive message out about getting old? Companies spend millions and millions of dollars each year on advertising. The purpose of advertising isn't just to sell you a product. It's to convince you that you have a problem that the product can solve – bad breath, bad hair, bad skin, too fat, too old. Advertising shapes our view of the world and what's "okay" and what's "not." If ads told us being old was wonderful, do you think it might help us see old age in another way?

Look at some advertisements in newspapers and magazines. What makes a product more suitable for younger people? Older people? How do advertisers make their products appeal to people of different ages? How do they try to convince you that you need the product? Can ads misrepresent the truth? How do older people often appear in ads?

Pretend you're a big, expensive ad agency and you've been hired to convince everyone that being old is a positive, good thing. Create a bright, eye-catching poster with a positive slogan. Some examples to get you going:

Age is a Case of Mind Over Matter – If You Don't Mind,
    It Doesn't Matter
Age is… Just a Number
Aging is Living
I'm Not Over the Hill – I'm On a Roll
It's Not How Old You Are, It's How You Are Old
Older is Bolder
Youth is a Gift of Nature, Age is a Work of Art
The Best is Yet to Be

© SV Bosak, www.legacyproject.org

Materials
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Large, poster-sized
  sheets of paper
Markers, crayons,
  and pencil crayons

Connections
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Schools (social/life
  studies; art; media
  literacy; history)
Seniors groups
Families

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