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.
(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.
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.
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.