This summer ultra right-wing spin masters crisscrossed the US, spouting sensationalist garbage about Obama’s healthcare plan and organizing America’s lunatic fringe for circus-style mayhem at Town Hall meetings. One of the more charming claims made was that somehow healthcare reform was going to allow the government to “pull the plug on grandma.” Sen. Chuck Grassley, who first made the comment regarding the government’s potential future role in end-of-life decisions, later retracted it. But like Joe the Plumber, the expression stuck around. The mention of grandparents struck an emotional cord with people. We want them around. But as much as we value older family members it seems that most of us do precious little in the way of communicating with them. What’s to blame? Busy schedules? Misaligned priorities? Or is the real evil… social media?
I typed in one simple question into my Facebook status today: “Are your parents on Facebook?” Comments ranged from “my parents are old school eastern Euros…they type with one finger…so your answer is no” to “Mum is a super user… AND my 80 yr old grandmother!” I got 23 comments total.
The general trend was surprising to me: Most of my friends had at least one parent that was on Facebook even if they were subscribed, as one person put it, “only as a lurker.” Keep in mind that most of the respondents were in their late 20s or 30s and had parents that are or are pushing, grandma age.
Facebook reported this year that the fastest growing demographic of users was over 35 (http://bit.ly/7CMGd). Even more significantly, the fastest growing subset of this larger group of people over 35 is women over 55 (http://bit.ly/173ReU). That’s right, grandma has invaded Facebook. Trends such as these may be part of the reason one of my friends’ responses was, “My dad is (on Facebook) and he keeps trying to friend my friends. I will not friend him. You have to draw the line somewhere!”
LifeTips blogger Jamison Cush said, “Conventional teen wisdom: once your parents embrace something, it is no longer cool. So, inspired by a recent Facebook friend request from my mother, I am boldly declaring on this blog that Facebook is so over.” This kind of logic may be indulged for comic effect, but there is truth to it. As much as I want to stay in touch with my retirement-age parents, I don’t want them sifting through my Vegas pictures. And I will think twice about social media that allows them to do so.
Is it just time to admit that cross-generational communication is a touchier area than we give it credit for? Trying to do what we’ve failed to do in face-to-face communication across an age gap isn’t going to get easier because grandma now knows how to post bingo pictures and, very disturbingly, friends your online buds that she finds attractive. You could try to remedy the issue through heart-to-hearts over hot chocolate.
Or maybe just beef up your privacy settings.