In celebration of the special bond between grandparents and their grandchildren, and in honor of the unique considerations of generational connections in a digital age, we offer a fictional (based on the aggregate of youth and older adult survey responses) exchange between a grandchild and her grandparents.
Dear Grandma and Grandpa,
I hope you’ve had a great summer! As I head back to school and reconnect with friends, I wanted to reach out to say Happy Grandparents’ Day!
Also, I had a few ideas to share about social media–things like Facebook, Instagram, texting, and even email–and how we can continue to use technology to stay connected. Please know that I am growing and learning about how to build relationships and maintain connections online. Like all humans, I’ll probably make a few mistakes as I learn, but overall, I am doing my best to use technology safely and in a way that allows me to speak up and share ideas in my world.
- Liking or loving my posts and photos: Okay, it’s fine to click the thumbs up or heart on things I share, but you do not need to comment…ever. I appreciate that you might want to let me know that you are proud or find my thoughts meaningful, but it would be better if you could text me or tell me in person. It can feel a little awkward when my grandparents are the first to comment, and it could mean that my friends won’t feel comfortable commenting. I would love to hear from you directly and privately though!
- Commenting on my posts: As I said above, it would be better if you could share your comments directly with me. You could text or direct message me, or you could call me and we could talk. If there are times when you “have” to comment–like maybe my birthday–please remember that my friends and other adults in my life will see what you wrote.
- Posting and sharing photos: Since everyone in my personal life may be able to see posts to my accounts, please do not post any picture on my site unless I have given you permission. Also, I would appreciate it if you would ask if it’s okay with me to post any photo of me (at any age) on your sites. And, if sometime down the road I change my mind about a picture I said was okay to post, please respect my feelings and remove it.
- Emojis. I love them too, but it’s okay to just use one or two–or maybe we could come up with a few special symbols for each other, and we could use those. Sometimes, it’s a little crazy when a zillion emojis come across my screen.
- Where to connect: Let’s talk about the best way to reach me. You don’t have to use text, Instagram, Facebook, and email–we could probably find one or two places that work best for both of us. Some kids just text, and some kids don’t even have accounts on the same social media spots as adults. Sometimes, we just use email for school-related things.
- What matters most: I know that sometimes people joke around about technology and how kids are on it all the time or that older adults may make funny mistakes. I want you to know that I take my most important relationships seriously and spending time together is what matters most to me. I’m not making fun of you, and I appreciate that you have helped to create the technology that allows my generation to connect in creative ways. I love that you are trying out new apps and games, and I think it’s fun to stay in touch with you.
Thanks for taking the time to read through a few of my ideas. I hope you’ll share yours with me, too!
To my Grandchild,
Thank you for your kind note. I’m glad you are excited to head back to school, and I am sure you will have a great year! I look forward to hearing about your new teachers, classes, and friends.
I appreciated reading your ideas about how to use technology to stay connected. I will continue to read through your thoughts as time goes on, and I absolutely respect your wishes. As you suggested, I would like to share a few ideas as well.
- Place to spend time with loved ones: Today’s digital world offers so many interesting ways for people to connect. Growing up, I didn’t communicate with my grandparents or family members so regularly and certainly not so publicly. I cannot imagine what it would have been like if my grandmother could hear or read the conversations I was having with my friends–not that we were doing anything wrong, but it was just time for us to hang out without adults listening in all the time. With that said, I love that technology allows me to stay in touch with you and to feel more involved with your interests and activities. It means a lot to watch you grow up, and social media has meant that I can learn more about you, and I love that.
- Not that different: I know your generation is growing up “digital,” and it is exciting for me to see youth using technologies that many people my age worked hard to develop. I remember the excitement of talking with friends on the phone or listening to music together. I remember my first email address and my first mobile phone. I can tell you many stories about how technology and devices have changed over the years, and you may have fun trying out some of the “artifacts” I still have, like old phones, typewriters, or early computers. I may even have your mom’s Walkman around somewhere!
- Grandparent joy: So here is the thing about many grandparents: when we get together, we do not only talk about our grandchildren. We have many other topics on our minds, like interests, work, traveling adventures, and friendships. However, we do like to talk about our kids and grandchildren–especially with those friends who knew your parents or you years ago. When I ask to share a photo, my intention is not to just show others where I am or who I am with. Instead, I’m sharing that I am spending time with those I love most in this world–my family.
- Happy mistakes: As you mentioned in your letter, we are human and as such, we will make mistakes as we learn. I am human too, and even though I have many more trips around the sun than you, I get frustrated, confused, and challenged by some of the ways in which technology does or does not work. If I post something in the wrong place or to the wrong audience, please know I meant no harm, and I will do my best to learn from my mistakes. If I use the wrong term to describe something, remind me of the correct one.
- Compassionate about stereotypes: You wrote about negative generalizations about kids and technology, and I have great empathy for feeling judged. As an older adult, there are many negative and sometimes hurtful ideas about how my generation uses technology. Like youth, my generation is sometimes labeled as somewhat vulnerable in a digital world. Scams, hacks, and other potentially harmful acts are often targeted at my generation. I intend to continue to learn how to use use technology safely so that I can protect myself and also connect meaningfully with my family.
Thank you for opening this door for a different kind of conversation about how we can use technology in fun and meaningful ways together. I am grateful you can trust your thoughts with me, and I hope we can continue to talk about these ideas in the future.