Maintaining a strong social network is important for your well-being, and it becomes even more important for older adults who don’t always have the same opportunities to make friends.
With that in mind, what happens to this network as you age, why is it so important, and what can you do to increase your social network size?
Why are Social Networks Important?
A social network is the network of people that you surround yourself with, including friends, family members, and acquaintances. We’re not using this term within the context of a social media website, although we will get to that a little later.
The more friends and acquaintances you have, the richer your social capital will be the more you’ll get to enjoy some of these benefits:
- Improved Mental Health and Overall Well-Being: Humans are social creatures and chronic loneliness is closely associated with higher rates of depression, stress, and anxiety. Having an endless list of acquaintances may have a similarly negative effect, though, so it’s all about finding a sweet spot and reaping the emotional and psychological benefits
- Better Support: Social networks are support networks, and this is especially true for elderly people. When you’re young, you rely on family members to support you. As you age, you turn to close friends and rely on them for moral, financial, and emotional assistance
- Physical Health: Lonely people spend more time at home alone, and this can adversely impact their health. They get less fresh air and sunlight, and they may also exercise less. Lonely people are also less likely to join gyms and follow other fitness-based hobbies, as these activities are often very social in naturePeople go to gyms that their friends use, they join dance classes that family members have recommended, and they go on walks with friends.
- Connections and Resources: Big social networks are essential for advancing your career, as you’ll have more connections and more opportunities. Lucrative business connections may not mean much to you in later life, but what happens when you encounter an issue with taxes, computers, electronics, insurance, and the countless other things we deal with on a daily basis? When you have a large social network and find yourself a little overwhelmed, you can speak with one of your friends and get assistance. If you don’t have that network, you won’t have those resources.
What Happens to Your Social Network as you Age?
When you’re young, everyone is a potential friend. At school, you make friends inside and outside of the classroom. At work, you are friends with acquaintances, you still have friends from school, and you also make friends through hobbies. As you age, you drift away from childhood friends and family members, you waste less time on small talk, and you find yourself with a much smaller social network.
People naturally focus on forming stronger social relationships and devoting more time and attention to the people that really matter. This is not a bad thing. If friends and family members don’t have anything to offer you and your personalities clash, there’s no reason to keep them around.
The problem is, sometimes we also lose touch with the people that matter. You get a new job, move away, start families, and before you know it, it’s been 10 years since you spoke. As a result, having a face-to-face after all that time would be strange.
This is when the breaking down of social networks becomes a problem. When this happens, it’s time to fix it, to expand that network, and to get the social support you need.
Tips on Expanding your Social Network
The easiest way to expand your social network is to use social media websites. Sites like Facebook are not just for younger age groups. In fact, recent years have seen a huge increase in social media use amongst older adults.
In the United States, it is estimated that just under half of all seniors use social networking sites. Facebook is one of the best sites for older users, with research suggesting that the average age of Facebook users is climbing every year.
Many teenagers have turned to apps like TikTok, while younger adults focus on Instagram. LinkedIn is also a great option, as it focuses more on professional users and doesn’t have a large user base of teenagers or young adults.
Take a look at these tips for using Facebook as a senior:
- Set a secure password and don’t give it to anyone
- Understand how the site functions to avoid any costly or embarrassing mistakes
- Check privacy settings and learn about data collection, geo-tracking, and cookies. If you’re new to the internet, it will ensure your data stays safe and you don’t freak out when you start seeing your first targeted ads
- Join groups and pages relating to topics you like
- Don’t send unsolicited messages. Instead, use the comments section to respond to people and create topics of conversation
- If you see a meme that asks you to click “like” or type “amen,” ignore it. It doesn’t matter how sad the dog/cat/child look, or how much money or goodwill the meme promises, it’s all a lie
- Don’t copy and paste status messages, even if they promise that you’ll unlock some kind of privacy trick or will be given money from the site’s founder. It’s all a scam
- Limit your internet use. It’s easy to get carried away and become obsessed
- Be honest, but not too honest. People should know your marital status, but they don’t need to know your health status. It’s okay to mention how much you love or loved your partner, but your new friends don’t need a running commentary on your latest hospital visit, for example
- Concentrate on interests and not age. These days, it’s much more common to see friends that are separated by years and even decades. If they have the same interests and get along, these age differences don’t matter very much
There is no specific number of people that will make you feel better, it all depends on your personality. Think of it like a Thanksgiving dinner. It’s great to have a few kids and grandkids around the table, but there’s a point where the number of family members becomes too much. At this point, a good conversation turns to a blanket of distracting noise and you can’t think straight.
If you’re the sort of person who is content with just a few people around the table, focus on a smaller network of people who share exactly the same interests. If you’re happy with a full house, keep accepting those friend requests.