How to Help Your Aging Loved One Avoid the Pitfalls of Social Media

Send in grandkids, nieces, and nephews for reinforcements.

By Leah Felderman  

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Elderly man using computer to get on social media

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Don't discount Baby Boomers and their capacity for tech savvy; remember that Gates, Wozniak, and Jobs are all part of the Baby Boomer generation. Social gaffes are universal and parental embarrassment a rite of passage indelibly passed down through generations. Whereas past generations would be mortified when the ubiquitous family holiday card is sent out (matching outfits and awkward expressions for all!) we now have the internet, social media, and all the ways to irrevocably embarrass our families. Hint: once you send, post, tweet, etc., it becomes incorporated into the fabric of the world wide web and part of the internet archives. By the time you figure out that something slipped through the socially acceptable boundary and how to delete the unintentionally inappropriate picture from a post, it has already been across the globe. Who knows-your relatives might even be internet royalty in Kazakhstan before sunrise!

Social media tutorial

Offer tips and tricks of the trade on how to find and engage their audience. You're not giving them rules, guidelines, or any other assistance that has a negative connotation to them. We accept that they're an adult and they're the parent (or grandparent) and the willingness of a Jedi Master to accept instruction from their young Padawan is about as real as a light saber. What you're attempting to do is show your aging parent how to interact on social media in an appropriate format by offering them subtle and gentle hints on what is socially apropos. Reaching out to their classmates from long ago is acceptable; trying to connect with your pre-marriage relationships is definitely not appropriate. Is your veiled attempt to rein in Mom's social media frenzy going over like a fart in church? Send in grandkids, nieces, and nephews for reinforcements. Perhaps an even younger generation's delivery of social media dos and don'ts will be formatted in a more ingratiating manner to a more amenable audience.

After establishing whom to engage as a contact, show your aging loved one how to accomplish socially appropriate interactions. Boundaries that are seemingly inherent for those growing up immersed in social media are not so clear cut for older generations that are just starting out in social media exploration. Show your aging loved one how to comment on the original post instead of commenting on your coworker's comment and starting a political debate. Show your newly anointed Facebook friend what is a tete-a-tete and what posts are open season. Explain, in not so many words, how adding an emoji reaction to your boss's recent divorce is unacceptable especially since it was not a conversation or page she should even be engaged on. Grandpa's liking (and loving) your friend's and their friend's bikini clad vacation pics is also unacceptable. Yes, the basics of most people's lives are just a few (intentional or unintentional) clicks away. Your aging loved one may not know how this works, teach them!

If your elderly loved one is not perceptive to the family teaching them try again! There are a wide variety of computer courses offered in attempt to deliver technology skills and savvy to our aging loved ones. Perhaps a different teacher and a variation on delivery will make your aging loved one more perceptive and more willing to grasp the parameters of appropriate social media interaction.

If your attempts to educate, guide, and gently influence your elder's social media presence in your social media life fail, do not despair. There is hope!

Utilize the applicable platform's settings

Each social media outlet has a variety of settings created for just such problems. Whether an ex-partner from a decade ago that still requests pictures of your shared custody dog or a familial relationship that has exceeded its boiling point, don't be shy to utilize the variety of security settings on the different platforms. Perhaps Grandma doesn't realize how embarrassing it is to post birthday suit photos of you as a toddler on your page in honor of your 30th. Maybe the social faux pas of forwarding a raunchy joke as a reply all to an anniversary celebration invite is a bit beyond Grandpa's email skills. If the offending party is that inept at appropriate social networking interactions, they may not even realize that their access to your social media life has been restricted. Remember to account for all of your social networking platforms; privacy is achievable, but it may take some time and a combined effort with those you interact with most on social media. Don't overlook your email contacts as well. Don't underestimate the power of a BCC, where a "reply all" need not apply!

Be discreet and discerning in what you offer electronically

A true friend is one that will only post pictures where you both look great, or at the very least they will crop you out when you look less than perfect. Let's face it, parents and grandparents don't have that filter. Perhaps they are always blinded by their love for you and this obscures their judgement when posting a pic where you clearly resemble The Walking Dead. They think you always look perfect, or perhaps you always look like a zombie and they love you just the way you are. Possibly they didn't have their reading glasses on and they missed the exposed nipple and/or spinach in the teeth when forwarding a pic to every single one of their email contacts. Perhaps your aging loved one is slowing down with their mental acuity and judgement, maybe they just can't keep up with all the ins and outs of social media and electronic communications, or quite possibly they absolutely don't care what anybody thinks. If you build it they will come, and if you share it odds are it will be passed along ad infinitum (including the original source email eight replies previous, just so everybody knows the long running saga of your family's vacation and subsequent gastrointestinal issues). Keep tight tabs on what you post on social media and what you share electronically with those that lack discretion. Don't underestimate the power of a hard copy, tactile picture. They are invaluable, tangible, and tactile memories that you edit before printing and sending. No unintended embarrassing pics to be distributed and even if something unwanted did slip past your discerning eye, the odds that it would be scanned and passed along revealing underwear on the coffee table or a social security card pinned to the refrigerator, are very unlikely.

Leah Felderman BA MA
 

About the Author

Leah Felderman is a proud alumnus of University of Central Florida (BA) and San Diego State University (MA). She has worn many occupational hats including teaching, hospitality management, government contractor and non-profit organizer. She is an intrepid international traveler having visited over 60 countries before happily settling down into her new life chapter of domesticity as a mom and Coast Guard wife.



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