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Teens face new crisis: parents on Facebook

Mon., Feb. 7, 2011

It’s become an increasingly familiar cry among teens and young adults: “(NUTS)! – my parents are on Facebook!”

As the world’s biggest social-networking site continues to grow, parents are joining – and invariably asking the kids to include them in their circle of online friends.

Many young people are horrified at the idea of parents seeing their posts – which may include racy photos or talk about who they’re dating.

“I don’t want my mom asking me about everything I say on Facebook,” said 15-year-old Evie Petersen, who is ignoring her mother’s most recent friend request.

The Fresno, Calif., teen isn’t alone.

A survey released this month by Kaplan Test Prep on social networking trends found that more than a third of teens whose parents are on Facebook have not agreed to friend them. Of this group, nearly 40 percent had simply ignored their parent’s request, leaving them in Facebook limbo.

The decision to friend a parent isn’t always voluntary: Sixteen percent of those who did so reported that it was a condition of parental approval for starting a Facebook page.

Where to draw the line is a digital-age dilemma that has spawned humorous websites, newspaper columns and a recent skit on “Saturday Night Live” about solutions to parental friending.

But the issue also is sparking serious discussions in more households as older adults, many with children, join the ranks of Facebook’s 500 million users. The 35-54 age group is the fastest-growing demographic and now represents some 30 percent of the entire user base, according to iStrategyLabs, which tracks social networking trends.

Parents may think it’s a harmless way to keep up with what their children are up to. After all, child-safety advocates advise parents to keep tabs on their children’s online activity.

But teens are likely to view their parent’s Facebook friending request as unnecessary prying into their personal lives.

When they tell parents their Facebook pages are off-limits, teens are drawing a line in the sand and asserting their independence, said Kristen Campbell, executive director of Kaplan’s college prep programs.

“They want to control their personal and private lives,” she said. “It’s something that parents should not take personally.”

But that’s not easy to do, said Gretta Petersen, mother of Evie, a Bullard High School sophomore who has friended her twice – only to unfriend her later.

“I think at some level you can’t help but take it personally,” Petersen said. It’s kind of like, what don’t you want me to know about you? You start making assumptions. But, on the other hand, they are at the point in their lives where they are starting to assert their independence.”

Evie said her mom insisted on being included among her Facebook friends, and she agreed. But, realizing she didn’t want her mom seeing everything she and her friends discussed and photos they posted, Evie unfriended her. Then, she felt guilty and refriended her mother – only to give her the boot again.

Gretta Petersen hadn’t committed the cardinal sin of posting messages on Evie’s Facebook page. “But she looks at my stuff sometimes and says things like, ‘You shouldn’t be using that language,’ ” Evie said.

Petersen said Evie doesn’t use foul language on her page, but she partially spells out expletives, substituting symbols for letters. “I don’t comment on her page, but I will tell her, ‘you need to clean up your language.”‘

Although her daughter has shut her out, Petersen has other options: she’s been friended on Facebook by some of Evie’s friends — including her best friend, Mary Taylor – which allows her an occasional glimpse into their lives. On Facebook, posts sometimes can be viewed second-hand.

Mary also has friended her own mother. “She is one of the first people I added,” said the 16-year-old.

But Mary said she’s careful about what she posts on her page, knowing her mother might see it: “Sometimes it’s kind of annoying.”

That was 18-year-old Kristal Newman’s reaction after she accepted her dad’s friend request, a decision she soon regretted. He sometimes would publicly recite comments that her friends had posted on her page – often before she even had a chance to read them.

Kristal, a community college student who lives in North Fork, Calif., said her dad was upset when she unfriended him, because he thought Facebook was one more way to keep in touch.

“I explained my reasoning, … (and told him) if he wants to know what’s going on with me, just ask me; Facebook is not my life,” she said in an e-mail. “I would rather my dad talk to me in ‘real life’ about my friends or what’s going on that’s important to me. Most of my posts are really random and insignificant anyway.”

Younger teens are more hesitant than older teens or young adults to friend parents, said Tamyra Pierce, associate professor of mass communication and journalism at California State University, Fresno.

“Young people are in the stage of developing their identity and may not want their parents to see everything they do,” she said.

Although the Kaplan survey found that nearly two-thirds of teens had friended their parents, Pierce — who has done research on social networking – says she suspects some of those teens are living a double life.

Many teens often have two Facebook sites, one where they openly express themselves and a “parent-friendly” page, she said.

Parents do need to be able to monitor the online activity of their children – especially young children – and Facebook can be a useful tool, Pierce said.

However, experts say parents should be respectful of their child’s personal space and resist the urge to comment or otherwise intrude on their Facebook page.

Because for today’s technologically advanced youngsters, Facebook is where they hang out with friends.

So butting in on a teen’s Facebook page, Pierce said, is “just like if they were talking on the phone to a friend and you got on the phone and said, ‘Hey, I want to talk too.’ ”


 

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