Facebook Family Tree

Millennials, it’s true, are very tech-savvy. They know the ins and outs of social media so well that they have the inside track for many tech-related career opportunities. But those advantages may not last as older generations become increasingly active online.

The Pew Research Center states that 86 percent of Facebook users are aged 18 to 29, and 35 percent are 65 years or older. While different generations are using social media, the way they use sites like Facebook tends to differ.

Shayla Thiel-Stern, an assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota, teaches New Media and Culture, a class that discusses social media and its implications in society. She says the largest difference between college-aged adults and adults 60 years and older is the way in which the two generations use Facebook.

“From my own research and observations, I have noticed that college students tend to use Facebook as a part of their daily lives—a space to check in more than once a day, even if they do not actually post something,” Stern says. “Older generations, particularly in the 60 and older group, don’t already have such habits established.”

She says parents are more likely to check their Facebook pages once a day, while most grandparents don’t use social media as part of their daily lives.

Many young people add their parents and other family members as friends on Facebook. While it can be a good way to keep in touch, sometimes they feel the need to censor themselves for the sake of their family relationships.

Madeline Uphus, a Minnesota native who attends college in Washington, uses Facebook more than any other social media site. Uphus says she’s friends with all of her family members, even her grandmother. She says sometimes it’s difficult to express herself on social media because of her family.

“There are some jokes that I may post that my mom doesn’t get, and I’ll have to explain in person,” she says. “Or I may want to say something vulgar, and my grandma is online.”

Madeline Uphus and her mother, Carrie, taking a selfie together.
Madeline Uphus and her mother, Carrie, taking a selfie together.

Madeline’s mother, Carrie Uphus, says she uses Facebook to keep in touch with her old friends, and she’s also friends with her children, her husband, and her parents. She says she’s careful about what she puts online, and she believes her kids are, too.

“I do limit how much I post and what I post as I don’t believe the world is that interested in my life,” she says. “I think my kids feel pretty much the same way.”

Madeline says she has no problem using profanity online, but she chooses not to, worrying that her family would disapprove.

“I don’t want any of my family members thinking less of me because I chose to use profanity, even though I occasionally want to,” she says.

Thiel-Stern says this self-censorship is nothing new. Younger people like Uphus understand the privacy settings and know how to keep their family members from seeing certain things.

“They might save their more risqué photos for Snapchat and Instagram and post more ‘family friendly’ content on Facebook,” she says.

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