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Friend Request Denied!

Should parents be Facebook friends with their kids?

By Sarah Klein

My mom’s on Facebook. My mom is my friend on Facebook. My mom is even friends with some of my friends on Facebook.

But it wasn’t always so simple. I knew she had been curious about the social networking site for a while before she joined last summer, but I wasn’t sure how she was planning on using it. Until then, I hadn’t viewed Facebook as something that parents would be interested in.

I had to consider how I felt about letting my mom into an online world that was all about me and my friends. It was hard to imagine my mom sending me messages or viewing my photos. Even though we’re close, we still have a different relationship than I have with friends my age. Could an online connection cross boundaries we wouldn’t normally cross in everyday life?

Facebook comes of age

Created by then-Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg in 2004, the site was originally only for Zuckerberg’s college-aged peers. By May 2006, traffic had steadily climbed to around 14 million users a month. The next year, Facebook opened its doors to users of any age and traffic exploded. Figures just released to coincide with Facebook’s 5th birthday now put the number of active users worldwide at a remarkable 150 million, with 45 million of those in the U.S. alone!

Much of the growth over the past two years has continued to come from high-schoolers and college kids, but there has also been a surge in older users. 45% of Facebook’s U.S. audience is now aged 26 or older, with nearly a quarter being over 35. The recent figures also highlighted the growth even older age groups, with the 35-54 segment growing at an explosive 173%!.

Of course, parents and adults can join numerous niche social networking sites, depending on interests, hobbies, and how comfortable they feel sharing personal information. But the sheer scale of Facebook’s audience clearly makes it the logical choice for parents to reach out and rediscover their old college buddies – as well as taking an occasional peek at what their kids are up to!

Parents v. Kids

But many kids don’t want their parents to suddenly have the ability to peer into their Facebook lives. As one ABC story reported, there are groups of Facebook users protesting the increase in usage by parents, fearing that their moms and dads are snooping and spying into a world that was supposed to be parent-free. Often with hundreds of members, groups like Children Against Parents Having Anything to do with Facebook and Parents Who Have Facebook Are Creepy are fighting this invasion of their world and are encouraging kids to deny all friend requests from parents.

Some parents are fighting back with groups of their own. Groups such as Moms Cool Enough To Be On Facebook and My Kids Are Embarrassed I Have A Facebook remind parents that they too have lives and they shouldn’t need to piggy-back the Facebook pages of their kids. Instead of allowing a child to deny a friend request, don’t try to add them as a friend in the first place, suggest the groups. Parents can have their own online networks, completely separate from those of their children. Plus, aren’t kids just as capable of unwanted snooping into their parents’ lives?

Personal diary or media bulletin?

Over the past couple of years, Facebook and other social networking sites have done a pretty good job of introducing numerous privacy features, which have given users more control over who can and can’t see their profile and their friends.

If your child feels his or her privacy might be invaded by your presence on Facebook, it may be because they are treating their Facebook account more like a diary (something personal and private), rather than a conversation with friends in the living room (open to anyone standing nearby).

They may also be very selective and have only a handful of online friends, in which case a parent may not fit into the equation. On the other hand, the serial friend-collector, who accepts requests from people they vaguely remember or have never even met, may feel more comfortable adding a parent to a list of “friends” that already runs into the hundreds. The way that a child is using Facebook, particularly in the teen years, will greatly influence how comfortable they are with sharing their online world.

Some things are better left private

The Internet is not good at keeping secrets, so users must always pick and choose what to make public. Perhaps confirming a parent or child as a friend is a good test: If you wouldn’t want your mom or your child to see it, should it really be there in the first place? Would you want a school official looking at your profile? A college admissions officer? A boss? Even if you trust all your online friends with your darkest secrets, there are weekly stories about Facebook pages being hacked and personal information reaching a much wider audience than intended. 

And people do check Facebook. A recent New York Times article tells the story of a college freshman suing her high school after being suspended for posting a hateful rant about a teacher. There have also been numerous tales of students who were punished for posting pictures of underage drinking on their Facebook profiles.

Rules for parents…and kids!

Before jumping right into Facebook friendship, discuss with your child how you both feel about becoming social networking friends. It may also be helpful to create a few rules to follow:

  • never post anything on your child’s page without first getting permission – no pictures, no comments, no pokes;
  • never try to friend your child’s friends; let them make the first move; and
  • never talk to your child’s friends face-to-face about something that was posted on Facebook unless they bring it up first.
This way your child and his or her friends may be happy to know that you are there in the background but don’t feel you are being judgmental.

Eventually I accepted my mom’s friend request, but not before adjusting some privacy settings. It’s not that I have anything to hide. I’ve simply decided that there are parents and there are friends, and sometimes there are differences between the two!

Sarah Klein is a freelance writer for both print and online media living in Brooklyn, NY. Her work has been featured in Health.com, Sports Illustrated Kids, and Scholastic Classroom Magazines. To read more of her work, visit SarahKleinWrites.com.

Comment by A MOM, posted 9/19/2009, 12:50 AM:

I have a facebook that I enjoy and use to keep in touch with friends and family that I don't see often. I don't post embarrassing things. My son has a Myspace that my husband and I occasionally check into. If a child is under 18, they are a child and it is your job as a parent to know what is going on in their lives. I remember being a teenager, so we pick and chose our battles. When he is 18 he can choose to deny my friendship, until then I'll stay being a MOTHER.
Comment by J S, posted 9/18/2009, 10:03 PM:

A friend talked me into Facebook when I started attending a local university... sophomore year when FB was only open to college students. My friend was the daughter of another friend (my age) and she was a friend of both of my kids (in their 20's) who were not in college at that time. I've loved it ever since and have talked my kids and my parents (in their 80's) into getting on FB too. We all have fun with it and interact on a regular basis. This CAN work with parents & children.
Comment by fuberg, posted 9/18/2009, 1:53 PM:

I am an active facebook user as are my children. My 21 year old college daughter is fine with being a friend however my 15 year old son is not. That is okay. I have chosen to ignore my daughter as she me so that we don't get every post on what the other is doing yet we can drop in and say hi if we want. I will leave this with everyone. Don't post stuff on facebook that you wouldn't want you mother or father to see..then it would be okay for a potential employer as well.
Comment by Anpadh, posted 9/18/2009, 1:36 PM:

@Shannon: You want to make a 15-year-old THINK and that too about what MAY happen a few YEARS from now? Good luck!
Comment by Shelton, posted 9/18/2009, 1:18 PM:

Once you share information with someone else, whether on Facebook or in a private conversation, that information is no longer in your control. Even if someone doesn't friend their own parent, they don't have control over what other friends do with their parents. Also, unlike a private conversation, Facebook is in writing and consequently more likely to be discovered. The assumption of privacy is about the same as a postcard, maybe less.
Comment by Sue Verner, posted 9/18/2009, 12:01 AM:

Who asked the kids if they like having their parents snoop? More importantly, who cares? It isn't snooping - it's a parent's duty to keep an eye on his child. (Yes, parents: they are still children until they are 18, and you are responsible for them.) Parents shouldn't make "friend" requests: why would an adult want to be a "friend" of his own child? Instead, a parent should insist that the child provide his log-in information so that the parent can periodically check what's going on.
Comment by Christine, posted 4/17/2009, 1:42 PM:

I belong to Myspace and have my kids and several of their friends as my 'friends'. If I see something I don't like I usually say something in humor to let them know it is being viewed. I have also deleted adult friends from my list since I don't want children on my list to see the risque, party, or drinking related posts they have on their sites. I believe if I am there I need to be an example, not just a police officer.
Comment by Shannon, posted 3/5/2009, 7:10 AM:

I saw some of my daughter's friends doing a tequila shot posted in their pictures. (These friends are a bit older than her and are on my friend list as well...age 15, 16) I chose to write them a personal message, not posted on their wall and reminded them of the impact those pictures could have on their future college admissions, clubs, etc. It was hard to do, I knew my daughter would be cranky, but they needed to hear from an adult that it wasn't a good idea. Hope it made them think.
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