Grandparents on Social Media: Yay or Yuck?

Valerie Hoke
September 6, 2019

Like most people who have recently seen the critically acclaimed Sundance darling The Farewell, I left the movie theatre obsessively asking myself a hard question: Oh god, do I call my grandma enough?

The Farewell tells the (real) story of a young Chinese-American woman, Billi, whose grandmother, Nai Nai, receives a dire lung cancer diagnosis. The thing, though, is that Billi’s family elects not to share this particular piece of information with Nai Nai. Billi and her family members all return to China under the guise of a cousin’s wedding in order to see Nai Nai one last time, and as you can imagine, things get emotional. Funny and joyful too, but mostly emotional. 

Since seeing the movie, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the ways that we, the old-enough-to-use-social-media millennials and Gen Z-ers of the world, keep in touch with our grandparents. Personally, I’m a “send long-ish texts and emails that vaguely describe my last month” sort of gal. For Billi from The Farewell, long phone calls with Nai Nai (her grandmother) are a part of her daily life. For plenty of other people my age, contact with grandparents is minimal and usually only happens through the bridge of their own parents. 

None of these examples utilize one of our most essential, modern forms of communication, though: social media. But there must be grandparents out there who use social channels to keep up with their grandkids, right?

I started my query into this subject where I start most of my research: Twitter. 

I can’t say I’m surprised by the results—I had a feeling that for most people in my generation, grandparents and social media do not mix. But this goes to show that there are plenty of poor, unfortunate souls out there who wish grandma and grandpa weren’t watching their every move online.

Twitter doesn’t offer information about which users chose which options, so unfortunately, I can’t pick the brains of the people who said “yes and it sucks” and “no but I wish”, which are definitely the responses I’m most interested in. (If that was you, show yourself! I have questions!)

To be clear, when I talk about “grandparents” in this context, I’m not talking about Gen-Xers and younger Baby Boomers whose millennial-aged children are now having children. I’m talking about grandparents who have grandkids old enough to operate their own social channels for themselves. 

For these grandparents, I’m sure that in theory, social media sounds like a great tool for keeping up with the grandkids. There’s no need to write emails or make calls when the grandkids are posting up a storm about their days! But for the grandkids, I imagine the knowledge that grandma or grandpa are watching through the screen is a less welcome thought.

While I think it’s safe to say that Billi, a millennial woman living in New York City, is definitely a social media user, I doubt the same can be said for Nai Nai. (After all, she lives in China, so she’d probably use WeChat anyway.) They’re a good example of the fact that a long-distance grandmother-granddaughter relationship doesn’t need a medium like social medium to thrive. 

Like most things in life, I don’t think there’s a black-and-white answer to the question of whether or not grandparents belong on social media. Different levels of connectivity are going to work better for different families—it’s as simple as that. 

Oh, and one more thing: You should call your grandma.