You Have a Friend Request From... Mom and Dad
Roughly 70 percent of the college students we surveyed were friends with one or both of their parents on Facebook. If you're one of the 30 percent who is strongly against it, or if your parents haven't ventured into this realm of technology, psychologist Dr. Barbara Becker Holstein says you're probably better off. “We get used to seeing each other in formal roles,” she says. “Parents really need to understand that it’s not so comfortable to cross these boundaries.”
For the sons and daughters of these Facebook-navigating parents, “boundaries” is the key word to understand. Before any friend request is made or accepted, both sides should understand that a Facebook friendship is not merely an extension of a real-life relationship. “I think it's acceptable as long as the parents know what they're getting themselves into as far as seeing evidence of partying, possibly inappropriate jokes with friends, and the like,” says Anne Askew, HC contributing writer and student at William and Mary. While we're always being told the dangers of posting too much on Facebook, accepting a parent as your friend without thinking through the consequences could make you learn this lesson the hard way.
Of the parents who were asked about the appropriate parent-child Facebook relationship, responses ranged from an open invitation for snooping to respectfully distant. Mitchell Nadler, a Facebook parent, feels he has a good grasp on the appropriate way to coexist on the site. “Parents can observe and infrequently comment awkwardly, just to let the kids know how our generation rolls,” he says. Whether you choose to click “accept” or “reject” to mom or dad's friend request, it's important to know that not a single parent surveyed said they created a Facebook simply to spy. But how do these relationships really affect our daily lives?
First, it might be helpful to understand a few of the reasons why parents sign up for Facebook in the first place. Here’s what the ‘rents said:
- “To keep in touch with the relatives and friends that don't live close by, or I don't see very often... Facebook allows me to feel as if they are not so far away” – Karen Malinowski, mother of Heather Malinowski, student at SUNY Oswego
- “To keep in touch with my class reunion committee, act as alumni advisor to a local sorority, and promote my business with a fan page” – Judi Henninger mother of HC Design Associate, Ashley Henninger, University of Missouri
- “Spewing to the world the minutiae of my life, keeping tabs on my friends around the world, to be informative about the connectivity of the new generation” – Audrey Orenstein, mother of HC Editorial Intern Hannah Orenstein, Needham High School
These responses sound pretty innocent, don't they? But anyone who’s ever tried to swear off mindless profile stalking for more than 24 hours knows that even the best Facebook intentions can get out of hand.
Generation Gap: Facebook's Changing Dynamics
By now, many of us are aware that Facebook is not merely an extension of our real lives, but parents aren't as familiar with this new set of rules and often overstep them. “Parents do assume that we have some privileges with our own kids,” says Dr. Holstein. Often, this leads mom or dad to use the site the same way they would use email or text messaging, making comments on photos, criticizing behavior, or just getting too personal for a site that hundreds of people can read. The result: By abusing parent-child relationships on Facebook, adults also risk losing these privileges in their real relationship with their kids.
“Baby-talk on a kid's wall is not okay, and neither is scolding about a picture or status,” says Catherine Combs, HC Campus Correspondent from Tulane University. “Facebook is way too public for that kind of stuff.” This type of behavior often leads to kids upping their privacy settings, which causes its own set of problems.
Let's face it, realizing someone de-friended you or getting a request denied is painful. Now put yourself in your parents' shoes. “There is real hurt that never would have come up if it weren't for Facebook,” says Dr. Holstein. “You have these extra bruises that people are getting, mostly in the form of grownups being tossed from the young people's Facebooks.” While it may not be feasible to tell mom or dad to delete that Facebook and stay far away from your generation's technology, between privacy settings, your own judgment, and those little things called in-person conversations, there are some ways to create a Facebook relationship that works for everyone.