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Facebook for grandparents

My mother recently announced a desire to join Facebook. While at first the thought of my 65-year-old mom "poking" people or "liking" things scared me, I soon realized this could be a good thing. And according to a Pew Internet Project Tracking Survey completed in August of 2012, more seniors are using social media than ever before.

"Thirty-eight percent of adult social media users are over the age of 65," said Mary Madden, a research associate at the Pew Internet Center. "One in 3 online seniors say they use social networking sights."

Madden said most of the growth took place between 2009 and 2011 because of the desire to stay connected to family and friends when geography gets in the way.

"This is a pretty unique moment in time where grandkids and grandparents can be interacting at the same time, and more seniors are getting a taste of this and seeing the benefits," Madden said.

But the learning curve for the older crowd to master a site like Facebook can be tricky, according to Abby Stokes, author of the book "Is This Thing On? A Computer Handbook for Late Bloomers, Technophobes and the Kicking & Screaming."

"I refer to anybody over the age of 40 as a digital immigrant," said Stokes. "You can learn anything but you learn it at a slower pace."

Stokes said one of the obstacles for seniors using social media is the language.

"The older generation grew up socializing, so the term 'social networking' sounds manipulative," Stokes said. "Facebook friends are not necessarily real friends, and they hear stories about teenagers who are not making the best choices, so they are afraid of people oversharing online."

Stokes suggests having someone who knows the ropes show you the basics to make the process less intimidating.

"Knowing that someone's wall is public or how to send direct messages are important things to explain to a new user," Stokes said. "And just because you knew someone 30 years ago doesn't mean you have to say 'Yes' to their friend request. It's OK to be cautious. I tell seniors they should use the same discrimination they would when letting someone into their home."

Here are more tips to help seniors get started on Facebook:

Observe, don't interact.

"When someone first signs up on Facebook, encourage them to try just watching the news feed and looking at what everyone else does without worrying about doing anything else," Madden said. "And then as they get comfortable they may start to comment and 'like' things. But start by watching everyone before you commit to this."

Use the "front door" test.

"If you are not comfortable putting it on the front door of your home, do not put it on Facebook," Stokes said. "If you use the front door test you will never have to worry. That's the linchpin."

Make a date with family members.

"Plan a date and time when you go on Facebook and set it up so other family members or friends are there at the same time," Stokes said. "Then post a photograph and encourage people to comment in real time. To show them how someone across the world can see what you are doing immediately — this is heartwarming and gratifying."

Connect with old friends.

"My mom was trying to track down a dear friend she hasn't seen in 35 years and she finally found her on Facebook," Stokes said. "When you see that you can use this as a tool and not just a distraction, it can be very exciting."

Beware of scams.

"There are viruses and scams on Facebook like there are in your real life," Stokes said. "Deals are not really deals. If something pops up and asks you to click on it, if you ask yourself the words 'Should I?' it means you don't know the answer, so that answer should be 'No.' By virtue of asking "Should I,' you shouldn't do it."

(TribU will offer a "Facebook for Grandparents" class 9 a.m. Oct. 23 at Tribune Tower, 435 N. Michigan Ave. A computer is not required for this class. Log on to http://www.tribnation.com/events to get more information or to order tickets.)

jweigel@tribune.com

Twitter: @jenweigel

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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