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“Friending” Your Grandkids: Navigating the Social Media Minefield

Facebook isn’t just for college kids anymore. The site has seen a dramatic increase in membership among people aged 50 and over, and with good reason. Facebook gives older adults a great way to keep in touch with family—especially kids and grandkids.

But if you’re considering “friending” your grandkids, be aware—Facebook isn’t just a means for keeping in touch for them. It’s a way to present a carefully crafted image to their peers—and for some pre-teens and teenagers, “friending” parents and grandparents can be tricky. They don’t want you to say or do anything to damage that carefully-crafted image, and the rules of etiquette are usually unspoken. Here are a few tips for how to operate on Facebook around your grandkids.

Ask first

Senior on Computer

Navigating the Facebook social rules can be confusing. But if you do your best to keep your presence on your grandchildren’s public Facebook walls light, you should be able to avoid most mistakes.

Don’t put your grandkids in the awkward position of having to decide whether or not to ignore your friend request. Ask them offline if they’d mind having you as a Facebook friend, and don’t take it personally if they say no. Your grandkids may need their “personal space” online—and it’s more about them and their friends than you.

Keep the wall posts to a minimum

For high school and middle school students, Facebook isn’t just a way to keep in touch with friends. It’s a way to present an image to their peers—and kids are quite sophisticated about “curating” that image. If you post too frequently on their wall—and especially if you say anything affectionate or personal—it could embarrass your grandkid. Avoid putting anything on their wall that you wouldn’t say in person in front of a group of their friends.

Avoid “liking” or responding to posts too much

Your grandkids might be embarrassed if you’re too much of a public presence on their profile—so avoid “liking” pictures or getting involved in conversations on their walls too frequently. Instead, use the Private Message feature to send notes to your grandchildren without their friends seeing—and you’ll be able to take off a lot of the pressure.

Don’t tag potentially embarrassing photos

Avoid tagging family photos with your grandkids unless you get their permission first. In particular, avoid tagging pics of them as toddlers or babies doing adorable things—no matter how cute they were. Chances are the images you find so adorable will be acutely embarrassing to them in their sensitive teen years. Above all, never post family videos online.

Don’t be surprised at what you see

Once you have access to your grandchildren’s facebook pages, you’ll get a peek into aspects of their lives you ordinarily might not see—and you may find out some things about them you didn’t know before. Some of these things might be interesting, but others may be things you’d rather you didn’t know. Unless you see behavior that’s genuinely a cause for concern—self-destructive, illegal, or potentially harmful to others—avoid making too many judgments or bringing up concerns to their parents. This could make your grandkids less trustful and more likely to regret friending you.

Navigating the Facebook social rules can be confusing. But if you do your best to keep your presence on your grandchildren’s public Facebook walls light, you should be able to avoid most mistakes. Be judicious about tagging photos, especially baby and toddler photos or that family picture with your grandchild wearing that goofy holiday sweater. Don’t post a lot on their wall or comment on their pictures too much. And if you want to send a message to your grandkids, do it in private through the Private Message feature. This will take the pressure off your interactions with your grandkids—and allow them to interact with you while staying “cool” in front of their peer groups.