Some of the most enthusiastic users of social media are also some of the oldest ... and some of the youngest. And now a study from AARP and Microsoft Corp. finds that online communication is helping to bridge the generation gap.

The report cites three key findinsgs:

  • 83 percent of those surveyed (ranging in age from 13 to 75 years old) consider going online to be a “helpful” form of communication among family members.
     
  • 30 percent of grandparents of teens/young adults agree that connecting online has helped them better understand their teen/young adult grandchildren, and 29 percent of teens/young adults say the same about their grandparents.
     
  • Teens agree that the computer increases both the quantity (70 percent) and quality (67 percent) of their communication with family members living far away.

“For decades, baby boomers and other older Americans have valued computers and mobile devices as tools for work, but technology is now playing an increasingly vital role in helping the 50+ population communicate and stay connected to their children, aging parents and other family members,” said Jody Holtzman, Senior Vice President, AARP Thought Leadership. “By enhancing communication across all generations, technology is improving the quality of life for people of all ages.”

Safer surfing

The report also confirms the need for educating all consumers, from teenagers to grandparents, about Internet safety and the steps they can take to help protect themselves online. 

While most respondents — teens, parents and grandparents — wish they knew more about how to keep personal information private (58 percent), and how to safeguard their devices (50 percent), the younger generation wants more information than older respondents about using social networks more safely (38 percent compared to 27 percent). 

There is also a disconnect between how teens deal with online content that makes them feel uncomfortable and their parents’ perception of how they are dealing with such images and information.  Nearly half of parents (49 percent) say their teens know to come to them when they see something online that makes them uncomfortable, yet less than a third of teens (29 percent) say they actually would know to go to their parents to talk about it.

And while 49 percent of parents say the lines of communication between them and their teenage children remain open, only 37 percent of teens agree. 

“Teenagers and young adults are very knowledgeable about technology, but their parents and grandparents often have better judgment and greater wisdom born of experience,” said Jacqueline Beauchere, Director, Trustworthy Computing for Microsoft. “Together, AARP and Microsoft are helping generations of Americans stay connected, and are providing the tools and guidance they need to help each other have safer online experiences.”

Safety tips

AARP and Microsoft offer these tips to help families connect the generations when it comes to online safety:  

1) Use social networks more safely

  • Look for Settings or Options in services like Facebook and Twitter to manage who can see your profile or photos tagged with your name, how people can search for you and make comments, and how to block people. 
  • Don’t post anything you wouldn’t want to see on a billboard. 
  • Be selective about accepting friends; regularly reassess who has access to your pages, and review what they post about you.

2) Help protect sensitive personal information 

  • Before you enter sensitive data, look for signs that a webpage is secure — a web address with “https” and a closed padlock beside it. 
  • Never give sensitive info (like an account number or password) or call a number in response to a request in email or IM or on a social network. 
  • Think carefully before you respond to pleas for money from “family members,” deals that sound too good to be true, or other scams.

3) Parents and grandparents should have regular conversations with kids, keeping communications open: 

  • Negotiate clear guidelines for web, mobile and online game use that fit your children’s maturity level and your family values. 
  • Watch your kids for signs of online bullying, such as being upset when they are online or a reluctance to go to school. 
  • Be the administrator of your home computer; use age-appropriate family safety settings to help you keep track of what your kids are doing online. For example, in all editions of the Windows 7 operating system, you can create separate accounts for each family member. Using Parental Controls (found in Control Panel), you can: 
    • Specify the exact days and times when children can use the computer.
    • Prevent kids from playing certain games, based on title, content, or age-rating.

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