An Advice Column: Social Media And Your Parents

News Flash For Adult Children: Your parents are going to discover the wonders of communicating through electronic media.

It will happen.

It’s inevitable.

I still remember the first text message I received from my mother. I was at our alma mater’s first home football game of the year, and I suddenly felt my pocket buzzing. Being there with four friends, I thought I was already there with the only people who knew me who would think to send me a text message. (I didn’t even text all that much at the time seeing as how it was such an arduous process to punch the keys four or five times to enter the desired letter or number.) I opened up my flip phone (again, this has been a few years), and proceeded to exchange a few short messages filling her in on the score.

I then turned to show my friends that my mother had figured out how to text.

It was, to me, akin to how she must have felt the first time I figured out how to get out of my crib on my own…albeit on a much smaller scale. (Or something like that. I really wouldn’t know. I’m just speculating.)

In the years that followed, social media began to explode–exponentially–and she eventually discovered it as well.

She’s become quite handy at using at the Facebooks…the social media outlet of choice for parents.

Now, before you go thinking that this is a post about how retirees have comically embraced the digital age with amusing results, just calm down and have some milk and cookies. It’s already been done. They know…trust me.

Trust me. They know. (Image from weknowmemes Above Promotions Company Tampa FL 2013)
They know. Trust me. (Image from weknowmemes Above Promotions Company Tampa FL 2013)

No, this post is more about what you–the adult child–can do to ease the transition for yourself.

Here are a few pieces of advice that will help you in the long run.

1. Don’t help your parent (or other parent-like relative) set up a social media account over the phone. It’s a tedious process that could drive a wedge into your relationship. I’m talking about the potential for permanent damage here.

Think about it. If you’re trying to talk someone through a setup process on the phone and you don’t work in tech support for a living, something will go wrong and your Aunt Mabel may think the entire internet just ended up with her credit card number. She receives her next credit card bill and, unbeknownst to her, your Uncle Mortimer had just bought her surprise Christmas gift with the card. However, she doesn’t know that you don’t use a credit card to set up a free social media account. She just knows that you sent her name out into that mysterious cyberspace and now she has a mysterious charge on her card–mysteriously–from her favorite jeweler. Awfully personal information. Who else could have known that she wanted that gold bracelet with the engraved initials? You become Public Enemy No. 1.

No, just go visit her when she says she wants to set up the Facebooks. Do it for her. She watched your school plays when you were nine. You can do this much for her.

(Okay…maybe this post will be a little bit about how retirees have comically embraced the digital age with amusing results. However, I have my mother’s permission. I promise.)

2. Briefly explain social media etiquette. I’m not talking about the “ALL-CAPS-EQUALS-SHOUTING” rules or warning them of the dangers of autocorrect. No, tell them to keep away from two things if they want to keep their new “friends”: politics and religion. (That’s actually good advice for everyone.) A post or share once in a while is okay–moderation is good–but sharing every photo and un-vetted meme from questionable news sources will end their social media experience before it even starts. Then they start calling to wonder why their friend count is shrinking and why Cousin Doris doesn’t even appear on their list anymore.

(Honestly, this is just turning into a catch-all advice column for ANYONE who uses the internets.)

3. Along those same lines, the “like” button needs some ‘splaining. Remind them to use it sparingly, and only on items that they actually like. If they “like” that status about how Uncle Mortimer woke up to a flat tire, six inches of water in the living room due to a burst pipe, and a kidney stone, they might have some trouble at the next face-to-face family function.

These are just a few pieces of advice to make your electronic lives easier. I’m sure there are others, but these will get you started.

And, yes, I do have my mother’s permission to write this.