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Connecting Generations

The growth of online computer and social media usage is well-documented across all age groups . With this increased usage, technology is shaping the information we share and how we share it with friends and family members. Changing the way we interact via technology has the potential to change our relationships. In this study, we explore how these forms of communication connect family members, their concerns about Internet safety, and what they wish they knew more about related to online safety. We also explore the rules families have about online communication, and how family members feel about such practices. Ultimately we look at where family members would like these practices to move in the future.

Key findings include:

  • A large majority overall (83%), including at least eight in ten in each age group, considers going online to be a “helpful” form of communication among family members. Teenagers are especially likely to say that the computer increases both the quantity (70%) and quality (67%) of their communication with family members living far away, but majorities of people age 39+ also embrace these sentiments (63% and 57%, respectively).
  • Although more and better communication does not necessarily close the generation gap, sizable numbers say that going online actually helps them to better understand other family members or to help other family members better understand them. For instance, about 3 in 10 grandparents (30%) and teens/young adults (29%) agree that connecting online has helped them better understand the other, and about a quarter (24%) of parents of young adults agree that connecting online has helped their children better understand them.
  • Respondents in all surveyed age groups cite staying in touch with friends and family they do not see regularly as their number one reason for using social networking sites in general (67%). This includes solid majorities of those age 39-58 (66%) and age 59-75 (56%), in addition to 82% of those in the 13-25 age range.

The analysis is based upon survey data collected from an online panel of 2,126 respondents, focus groups, and individual interviews. Survey participants were selected based upon their age and family location. For purposes of the survey and terminology in this report, comparative groups fall into two larger categories, with six groups of interest. They are:


  • Teens (13-17 years of age; 269 respondents)
  • Young adults (18-25 years of age; 341 respondents)
  • Adults ages 39-58 (828 respondents)
  • Adults ages 59-75 (628 respondents)

Parenting status

  • Parents ages 39+ (of children ages 13-25; 558 respondents)
  • Grandparents ages 39+ (of grandchildren ages 13-25; 465 respondents)

While most of the findings are based upon survey data, the qualitative data has been used to illuminate and ground this information in everyday life. More information about these methods is included in the appendices.  For more information on the study, please contact Jeffrey Love at 202-434-6279.