“I’m just a born snoop with a built-in ‘need to know’ about those I love,” says Linda Ling, who lives near Dallas, Texas. Don’t all of us like to be in on the scoop? And today, the grapevine has gone high tech. Social networking sites have transformed how we communicate and keep in touch; Facebook, adding a million users – “friends” — a week in the U.S. (and even more around the world), is the leader. And the fastest growing demographic? Us. Women over 55.
Ling uses Facebook to keep up with her two oldest grandchildren, ages 20 and 17.
“I figure that if I see what they are writing to their friends and what their friends are writing to them, I can put two and two together and get some idea what’s up with them.” When her 20-year-old granddaughter spent a semester abroad in New Zealand, Ling especially the posted “wall photos” of daily life down under.
What originally brought Ling to Facebook was her 50-year high school class reunion, when classmates used it as a handy connection tool. Ling says it’s “great to reconnect with friends from long ago and find out about them. We don’t see each other often for various reasons, but keeping in touch reminds us that we were young, single, and carefree — even if we didn’t realize that at the time.”
Ling says she cannot, however, ignore the downside of our brave new world of sharing. She admits to being “the gammar police and the obscenity ogre.” Fortunately for her grandkids, she does her policing in private notes rather than public posts. She also reminds them “things [you] post … are ‘out there’ forever. ”
Jean Peelen, coauthor of Invisible No More: The Secret Lives of Women Over 50, is also mildly mortified by “lots of bad language” her 14-year-old granddaughter puts on Facebook.
“I was stunned. I talked with her about it and she just laughed. ‘Oh, Nana, that’s just how we talk! It doesn’t mean anything.'”
Jean, who lives in Florida, is grandmother to seven children, who range in age from 1 year to 18 years old. She uses Facebook to keep in touch with her two daughters and three oldest granddaughters in Maryland and New York.
“Two of my granddaughters ‘friended’ me. Don’t you just love the new verb? Not. The third flat out said she did not want to friend me, or her mother, or her aunt, or any other adult relatives. . . She told me she just considers Facebook more like having conversations with her peers, and if adults are hanging around she has to monitor what she says for adult correctness.”
Indeed, it can’t be helped — parents and grandparents are natural investigators, as Laura Lee Heinsohn can attest. The Portland, Oregon grandmother of eight is author of Cracking the Parent Code: 6 Clues to Solving the Mystery of Meeting Your Child’s Needs. She calls Facebook “fabulous,” and says “it has opened up a whole new world for me, being a snoop without being seen and appearing obnoxious.” (Even Heinsohn’s 73-year-old mother is on Facebook, although for the moment she’s just observing.)
“I love seeing photos of my grandkids and kids, and I love how I can see if they went to the park or their school photos or when my grandson just learned how to ride his bike,” says Heinsohn. She’s even reconnected with a friend from first grade, Kenny, who lives in different state. “We have known each other for 46 years, with a 33 year absence until Facebook.”
Heinsohn also appreciates the uninterrupted time she spends chatting with her son on Facebook, and feels it has brought them closer.
“Sometimes he will write funny things about the things I post, or make comments about places I’ve been. I feel so much more connected to him knowing that I get to snoop into his life anytime I want.”
For those new to social networking, Heinsohn has some etiquette tips.
* Be careful when in a bad mood — don’t go on Facebook and post stuff. Apparently Heinsohn’s learned the hard way: “It comes back to bite me in the butt.”
*It drives Heinsohn crazy when people try to sell things or post sermons.
*”Also,” she notes, “I try not to give all the juicy details of my life, just clever little tidbits.”
* I try not to give advice. I keep comments light, especially when Facebooking my kids.”
AVOIDING THE FACE-PLANT
It’s not only intoxicated 20-year-olds who make cringe-inducing social faux pas on Facebook. While you can’t control others’ poor judgment, here’s a simple rule to keep yourself from slipping up and posting something you might later regret. Every time you comment or share a picture, imagine that all of your Facebook friends and relatives are gathered at a party in your honor, and you have their rapt attention. If you have no qualms–post away. If you hesitate, best to keep it to yourself. Remember: trying to remove something once it hits the Internet is like trying to get pee out of a swimming pool.
“My kids send videos to their grandparents through Facebook. They send their grandmother in Florida. They sent their Republican grandparents a video they made trying to convince them to vote for Obama. My kids think they are responsible for pulling Ohio in for Obama.” presentations of their school projects for critiques.
–Kathy Fowler Silverstein, Washington, DC
“I have a 21-year-old granddaughter who is a senior in college and we communicate via Facebook. . . She became engaged and … posted pictures of her ring, the flowers he gave her, and details of the proposal on Facebook.”
–Dorsey Wade, Memphis, TN
“… [Facebook] is a great way to enhance and deepen a relationship, so long as [grandparents] are participating and sharing, not watching and judging.”