Teaching An Old Dog New Tricks: Parents and Social Media

It’s the Sunday afternoon of Parents’ Weekend, and mine have just left. I was sitting in the library debating on whether or not to tag my mom in a picture my friend posted of us from the weekend on Facebook when I was struck with the idea for this blogpost. As a member of the millennial generation, I can’t imagine what my adolescent and young adult life would have been like without the existence of social media. Our generation’s parents and older relatives (I’ll say age 50+), however, know exactly what that’s like, because when they were growing up, the closest thing they had to an Instagram was a Polaroid. Last year, however, a Pew Research study found that 75% of Internet-using parents use Facebook. As this demographic raises children of the digital generation, and become a part of the digital generation themselves, they interact with social media in different ways than we do. Having your parents/relatives on social media can often lead to some funny, embarrassing, or awkward digital moments for all parties involved.

Ignorance is Bliss

Some of the best stories I’ve heard about relatives on social media usually happen when they join a social network without really knowing how to use it, and then use it incorrectly, sometimes tagging someone else and unwillingly making them involved in the post. For example, my aunt recently joined Instagram at the suggestion of the real estate firm that she works for, to promote herself as an agent. However, her first post was a random photo from a concert she went to, completely unrelated to real estate. She asked how school was going via the caption. My sister and I assumed she meant this as a communication to us, so we did our best to show her how to “follow” us and post relevant photos. She hasn’t posted since, so I’m not confident that she’s gotten the hang of it quite yet.


A+ for effort.

(Not) For Your Eyes Only

Another experience I’ve had with parents and social media is them not realizing that photos on Facebook or Instagram aren’t a photo album personally being sent to them, but are public for hundreds of friends and followers to see. Often, a relative will comment something that they probably either should have kept to themselves or told only the person who’s post they’re commenting on. Instead, they post it on a public forum, which can either be awkward or just plain bad. For example, I once posted a photo of myself with a friend who had a very deep and unnatural-looking fake tan. My mom, perhaps thinking that only I would be able to see her comment, wrote “looks like (friend’s name) has spent a little too much time in the sun!” Luckily, I saw the comment just a few seconds after she posted it, and deleted it before my friend saw. I immediately called my mom and reprimanded her for posting something insulting like that for my 1000+ Facebook friends to potentially see.

No Politics Please

Of course, I would remiss to write an entire blog post about relatives on social media without mentioning the one politics-loving uncle or cousin that we all have. For example, I won’t name names, but I have a relative who can’t stand Donald Trump, and posts about 3-4 anti-Trump links and photos per day. While I agree with his opinions on the slightly unhinged presidential candidate, I sometimes find myself rolling my eyes when I sign onto Facebook and have to scroll past several memes of Trump wearing makeup or having small hands before getting to posts by other people. No one I know my age does this, so I suppose it’s just another quirky thing the 50+ demographic does on social media.

IMG_0579 (1).jpg

This goes on for pages and pages.

NSFP (Not Safe For Parents)

One potentially damaging result of older relatives being on social media is that they have unprecedented and uninterrupted access to our  personal lives, including things we probably would never want them to see. I’ve heard stories of friends being tagged in photos from college, usually involving alcohol, and then receiving disparaging comments from their parents, aunts, uncles, or even grandparents. Facebook has “Timeline Review,” which allows you to approve tags before they go to your profile, and standard privacy settings that can be used to create customized lists of people who you don’t want seeing your posts. However, us millennials are often so caught up in creating digital presences that make us look like party animals that we forget to monitor the photos on our profile. This can lead to some awkward moments both on social media or at the Thanksgiving dinner table, when a relative mentions something they’ve seen online.

Virtual Reunion

While it can be annoying or even embarrassing to deal with relatives on social media, we have to remember it’s new for them, and they can use it in amazing ways that we can’t yet relate to. For example, a friend of my mom’s from graduate school who she hadn’t spoken to in over 10 years found her on Facebook, and they were able to connect and make plans to reunite in person. Perhaps 30 years from now, when our children are using flying cars, working with robots, and using social media sites whose founders aren’t even born yet, we’ll be reaching out to each other via those sites and embarrassing our kids along the way.

Source: http://www.pewinternet.org/2015/07/16/parents-and-social-media/


  1. adamsmea89 · ·

    I enjoyed reading this post because I can relate to your stories of older family members using social media in unintended ways! My Dad was under the impression that posting on my wall was private / I was the only one who could read it, so that lead to some awkward messages. It is really interesting to think about the new technology that our children will be using 30 years from now, and how we will be just as clueless about it as our parents are today about snapchat and tinder etc..

  2. “All the guys just hanging out and deciding to vote for trump.” was my roommate’s grandmother’s comment on a recent photo of the whole apartment together… I definitely feel your pain and appreciate some of the benefits of social media that we don’t quite need yet. This post makes me wonder what kind of firms are capitalizing on the vast increase of older people on social media. Maybe the rampant, 50+ political posters are generating more money than us college kids.

  3. francoismba · ·

    I definitely can relate to this post! I enjoyed reading all of your humorous examples although I’m sure they were awkward and sometimes aggravating at times. My mom is extremely active on Facebook unlike me. On occasion I’ve had to ask my mom to delete pictures she’s posted of me because I prefer that my life not be plastered all over social media. Also, I think she comments on my friends’ pictures and posts more often than I do. I think older generations are taking over Facebook which is causing younger generations to instead use Snapchat and Instagram. It will be interesting to see what new social media platforms our own children use in the future.

  4. gkhanlon · ·

    Such a relatable post! I thought the section headings were cute and clever. What amazes me is the learning curve our parents go through, last summer my mom would look at something on my Instagram and like almost every picture in an attempt to zoom in… after about 15 minutes and 30 likes later, she asked “why do these red hearts keep popping up when I try to zoom?” … SMH mom SMH. Fast-forward to parents weekend this year and my mom has now had her own account for about 9 months, and my mom not only tried to create candid moments cause she “needed a good Instagram” but spent the 4 hour car ride home deciding what to caption it. She not only knows how to use the platform but has grown way more invested in it than me or my siblings. To her social media is this exciting new thing, and although they may not be naturals, I find my parents way more eager to learn and they begin to master these skills and use the platforms more frequently than our generation because of the degree of novelty social media is to them. I may find it annoying when she comments on every single one of my friends’ photos on Instagram, but my may love the platform more than I do so I let her have her fun.

  5. katieInc_ · ·

    What a great post! I’ve watched my aunts, uncles, and even grandparents slowly adopt social media. I think we all can relate to those relatives who like/comment every Facebook photo or post we are tagged in either aware or unaware that the photo may or may not be from us. Over the weekend, my aunts created an Instagram account together and are now following me. I think the joined account is pretty innovative — but also don’t think they completely grasp how to best use the platform.
    I think the rise in our parents’ generations presence on social media is a large opportunity for companies to reach this older generation. My mom loves Ann Taylor; perhaps, her purchasing pattern would adjust if she were exposed to Ann Taylor adds on Facebook and/or Instagram.

  6. I can completely relate to this post! I don’t know how many times I have had to clean up my mom’s facebook fumbles. Not to mention the times where she would be looking at an old picture of a friend of mine on insta, try to zoom, and like it by mistake; sending me of course into a spiral of both embarrassment an panic since there is not proof I was “social stalking”. ( thank you so much insta for finally getting the zoom function). Anyway, unlike how most of our lives social media has been an almost innate extension of how we interact with other, our parents have had to struggle through numerous hurdles to simply understand the platform, let alone use it skillfully.

  7. This is nothing. A few years before she died, my 92 year old grandmother finally joined Facbeook. Trying to communicate with her was like a scavenger hunt. She’d send a message, then reply on a wall, then tag someone. You never knew where the conversation was going.

  8. I love a post that can make me laugh, Right off the bat, the example of your aunt reminded me so much of my mom. My mom used to be a computer programmer in the 80s and can’t figure out how to post on twitter! It is true that you have to be more careful what you post on social media with your parents able to see it. I see so many people who post questionable pictures. I don’t let my parents follow or add me on social media but there’s no reason that some of our mutual friends can’t show them anything unpleasant – perhaps the best defense is to merely ensure embarrassing photos etc don’t make their way to the internet.

  9. evanryou · ·

    Unfortunately, this post hits especially close to home due to my parents’ inabilities with social media. They’ve tried Facebook and Twitter to no avail (don’t even get me started on snapchat). However, when they picked up WeChat, a social media messaging platform, they learned it within a month. It’s astounding how quickly they were able to pick up WeChat in comparison to the other platforms, and it’s arguable that WeChat is even more complicated. A lot of it has to do with their investment in the social media platform. My parents’ friends were all connected on groups in WeChat already while Facebook was a new world for them. They were able to navigate the social media platform quickly because of all the time they were spending on it and what they wanted to get out of it. I think the “older” generation just views social media as a gimmicky tool of communication and this is causing all of the “lack of knowledge” about social media.

  10. I’m in the parent group, so you’re writing about me. Thank you for being diplomatic and humorous. I enjoyed reading your post. I smiled, when I read the entire post, but especially the NSFP (Not Safe For Parents). I definitely would not want my parents to know some of the things I did in my teens and 20’s.

    I have written complex C programs, programmed robots and 5-axis milling machines. I’m teaching myself MS Access in the evenings after work, to better handle large healthcare billing analytics…. and I have zero desire to spend more than a few minutes a week posting in SM, unless it helps my career, such as with LinkedIn or understanding the marketing power of SM with the consumer. It’s not about ability for most older people. Give me an extra hour, and I’ll be outside in the woods or watching football or playing lacrosse with my son or taking my daughter out for a coffee.

    What the 2(or 3 or 4) generations may not understand about each other is … WHY.

    Men often don’t get why women enjoy reading People magazine. Women often don’t get why men find it fun to watch sports for many hours/week. My mother joined Facebook to be in the know on family updates being posted by her younger relatives. She is no expert in Facebook but gets around fairly well. She had a reason to join and learn; her family connections.

    Want to know the WHY in business? follow the money.

    Want to know the WHY in personal lives? not so simple. following the affinity groups, family, friends is a good start.

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