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Knowing who your friends are

By Nicola Freeman

My friend’s 12-year-old daughter is already on Facebook. Her mom admits that she felt a little guilty about signing her up so early but she was afraid that her daughter would sign up anyway. Half the kids in her 7th grade class were already on Facebook and she was starting to feel left out. This way, my friend argued, she could friend her daughter and keep an eye on things.

Everything started out OK. Mom was vetting all the invites and making sure her daughter didn’t post anything inappropriate. Of course, the friends kept mounting up. Mom didn’t know all of them but her daughter insisted they were mostly just kids from school and dance class. And besides, they all looked OK in their profile pictures!

Now, just 6 months later, her daughter has over 250 friends and her Wall is busier than a rock star’s Twitter feed. Most of the posts are innocent enough – the latest movie chatter, Justin Bieber videos, pictures from school – the usual stuff you would expect from hyper-active middle school students. However, some are less innocent, particularly when the daughter and her friends play the notorious Yes/No game. (Is Jane a good kisser? Will Jimmy ever go to jail? Has Tara been involved in a threesome?)

But perhaps the worst aspect of Facebook for a 12-year-old is how it blurs the true meaning of friendship. Before, friendship was earned through shared passions and experiences, whether it was taking a class at school together, being on the same soccer team, or just hitting it off on the playground. Now, making a “friend” is as easy as clicking on a mouse.

After a very short time, Facebook becomes a contest – the more “friends” you have, the more popular you must be. Of course, not all those Facebook friends are real friends, something my friend’s daughter has learned on more than one occasion.

I can tell my friend now regrets starting down the social networking road so early. It’s difficult enough for a 12-year-old to make sense of friendships in the real world. Trying to sort out who’s your friend in the virtual world is just that much harder.

Are your younger children on Facebook? What has been their experience? Share your thoughts with The Online Mom!   

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