How grandparents can navigate a kids’ world online

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published September 13, 2017

METRO DETROIT — Karen Hart, of Southfield, is about as proud a grandmother as they come.

You can tell by the photos she shares of her happy towheaded granddaughters playing on the beach and posing in the backyard. 

But when it comes to interacting with those grandkids on Facebook, she takes a step back to look and not touch, so to speak. 

“The big girls are posting a lot of sorority stuff like tailgating and parties, and they never seem concerned about the fact that we’re Facebook friends and I see all of this stuff. Occasionally I’ll make a remark about something in a picture, but most of the time I just observe what they’re up to,” she said.

Hart gets a like from social media experts, who say grandparents risk alienating their grandchildren by posting too often or too critically. A survey administered by Visiting Angels living assistance service showed that 6 in 10 grandkids questioned think Facebook is a great way to stay in touch with family, but there are some caveats. 

• More than a third of respondents said grandparents post “dirty laundry” online, like family feuds and finances.

• Twenty percent of participants said their grandparents post too many emojis in the comments section of their posts, and 30 percent say their grandparents comment with things that are too personal or embarrassing — 1 in 4 surveyed said their grandparents have made embarrassing comments about their hair, weight or clothes in photos.

• Of the grandkids surveyed, 1 in 4 said their grandparents have made them feel guilty online for not visiting more, and 33 percent said they believe their grandparents have gotten too political or religious with their postings.

That’s a lot of pressure for grandma and grandpa to get it right. Emily Hay, founder of Hay There Social Media, said she’s heard from grandparents and grandchildren alike over the years about how online interactions should go. Her main tip is that a little bit can go a long way.

“Like their posts. You can even select an emoji or a reaction to the photo, like laughing or sad, if you want to go a step up the basic thumbs up, which acts as an acknowledgement,” Hay said. “While still visible to all the people connected to your grandchild’s Facebook account, this interaction has pretty low visibility. But your grandchild will be notified that you liked their post.”

Comments are the next step up, and they have moderate visibility to your grandchild’s connections. That’s where things get tricky, Hay explained.

“Keep comments short and positive, which can also help ensure any comment you leave isn’t misinterpreted by your grandchild or other people reading the post,” she said, adding that memories from “pre-social media childhood” should be left out to spare any embarrassment. 

A good tip for social media users of all ages is to keep comments vague so as to not put anyone’s safety or privacy at risk.

“In other words, don’t reveal anything you wouldn’t want a stranger to know. Is your grandchild going on vacation in a few days? Don’t mention in the comment how excited you are for their big trip, because that could let people know your grandchild’s house will likely be vacant,” she said, noting that grandparents should use the same caution when posting about their own plans. “Will you see your grandchildren at a family party on Saturday at 2 p.m. at your house? You may want to leave that out of your comment because it gives people a heads up on their future plans and whereabouts.”

Hart has learned to keep her thoughts on questionable posts to herself, though she admits that from time to time she has to step in — she’s still grandma, after all.

“Sometimes they post pictures that you kind of go, ‘Oh my God, you guys.’ Or I might send a private message that says, ‘If your mom sees any of these pictures, she’ll have a heart attack.’ They don’t really seem to mind; I guess they trust me,” she said.

When it comes to grandparents posting their own photos and other content, be careful to ask about sharing photos or accomplishments from your young one. 

The tip-toeing can be worth it, though, Hart said, to see what her grandkids are up to when they don’t expect her to be looking.

“There are things I would never hear about if I weren’t seeing it, and that gives us something to talk about next time I see them,” she said. “I found out the older one is very interested in golf, all of a sudden, and I wouldn’t have known that unless I had seen it online. My husband is a big golfer, and I told him about it. Now he’s out playing golf with her.”

More than half of the participants in that same survey said they love their grandparents, and they think it’s nice to share photos and posts with them online. Hay agrees that a like on a post is welcome encouragement for many kids. If you want to do more than that, though, your safest bet is to say it in a private message.

“I strongly encourage grandparents to learn to text. It’s a lifeline to young people,” she said.