Things change by the second when it comes to online popularity. What was relevant last night, is suddenly yesterday’s old news. Even the way information is disseminated changes just as quickly. Right when you think you have a handle on it all, everything changes. This applies doubly to memes, which spread rapidly on social media, especially among teens and tweens.
Gen X and Millennial parents are familiar with memes; we originated them. We all chuckle fondly at the classics like “Scumbag Steve” and a simple picture of Grumpy Cat (RIP) saying “No.” But while we’re over here still making endless variations of “Lady pointing at confused cat eating salad”, our kids have made and discarded half a dozen new varieties of meme. This parents’ social media guide is intended to help you decide whether you want to try to stay on top of the trends, or be OK with not getting your kids’ online jokes.
The Modern Meme
Remember when you used to be cool and you could toss around lingo and ideas and your parents were completely clueless? Now you have a child, or children, and what you once thought was hip, is now considered an aging dinosaur, especially in today’s rapidly changing pop culture. Memes are no different, with their constantly evolving jokes, their subtle and not so subtle attacks on hot-button social issues, and their self-ridicule.
One meme that has made waves recently is “Ok, Boomer.” Back in November, a 25 year old MP in New Zealand made waves when she used it to shut down a heckler, showing how online trends can influence our in-person speech, even in the workplace! However, by the time the meme made the news, it was already “old news” online.
A good deal more memes tend to make light of the fact that Gen Zers are feeling depressed, and nihilistic about their futures, but feel that they have to force a smile and keep pushing. These memes can be more concerning for parents, who may not know if their kids are joking or genuinely struggling. If you use a parental monitoring app like Jiminy and it shows that your child is not only sharing depression-themed memes, but also discussing these themes with their friends, it may be a sign to have a more in-depth discussion with your child about what is on their mind and how you can help.
An enduring theme for memes is capturing favorite moments from cartoons. Parents have their Futurama and SpongeBob SquarePants memes, whereas kids may be sharing Steven Universe and the new She-Ra. If your kids aren’t yet at the stage where they’re embarrassed and don’t want to hang out with you, watching these new shows together (or introducing them to your old favorites) can be a great bonding experience as well as helping you understand their memes.
But is it Still Cool…?
When exactly does a meme become uncool? Is it when the older generations start using it, or when they misinterpret it? The thing is, nothing really stays cool for long in today’s social world. What was once relevant, quickly becomes less so. We can often watch a meme’s entire lifespan play out in the /r/meme/ subreddit, practically in the blink of an eye. The youth tend to be constantly on the lookout for the next big trending topic or theme and with the world, and all of technology, right at our fingertips, combined with an instant gratification society, it’s easy to stay connected to the latest ideas. Keep in mind too, that it is cool to not be cool. Once something has become popular, it frequently becomes fashionable to go against the crowd with a new idea or trend, at least until that idea starts to trend.
Ultimately, the question is, how important is it for you, personally, to stay on top of memes? Most memes are harmless fun, so you don’t have to worry about your kids sharing them. It’s practically a parental rite of passage to not be in on the jokes your teens are making. And chances are, if you’re immersed in certain scenes or fandoms, you might even be sharing memes that your kids don’t get.
As a parent, you have enough to worry about. Use a parents’ social media guide and the best parenting apps to stay on top of what your kids are up to online, consult Know Your Meme when you really want to be in on the joke, and know that someday, your kids will be just as confused by the memes your grandkids are sharing.