My Mother – Happy Mothers day, Mom! – recently dipped her toe into Facebook. It seems some of her old high school friends had discovered the service, and coerced her into joining. After making her profile, her first action was, of course, to seek out her darling children. And there, in my notifications, was a question with so much theoretical weight, I hardly knew how to approach it. Do I, or do I not, become Facebook Friends with my Mom? More importantly, what things should parents consider when joining a social network populated by their children? What can they expect?
Now, this is certainly not an article for the technically inclined GeekParents– many of you likely have a Facebook account, or have kids too young to use it. But for those Parents whose kids are just now hitting their teens, or perhaps even entering their late adolescence , this can be a confusing and tricky world. I’ve assembled a list of things that Parents should be aware of when considering something like Facebook, so that you might be prepared for the inevitable day that your mouse point finds the “Join” button.
1. Join Facebook, or some other super-cool social network.
This one is pretty easy, right? The most important idea you can grasp from a site like Facebook is an inner look to the mechanics of a social networking site. There are a lot of superstitions about such sites, one of them being that it is all “One Big Dating site” (a direct quote from my mom. Not exactly true, but on occasion…) or that it is strictly for people of a certain age (Facebook may have once been college-only, and the younger-than-thirty demographic may be the majority of it’s user-base, but there are all kinds of people there!) and by joining, you can get a feel as to whether or not you think these claims are valid. I don’t, and currently, neither does my Mother!
More interestingly, you will want to join something like Facebook because it gives you a subtle, yet useful new tool-set. Many of the elements of websites such as this – tagging photos, commenting on individual items – are very “Web 2.0”, and will give you a better feeling for how data will be manipulated in the future. I recall the first delight of my mother discovering how she could magically see all the different pictures that any two (or three, or four…) were in together. She was having fun with old friends, but she was also learning about the virtue of tagging, which will help her understand technological trends.
2. Respect Your Child’s Privacy
This may be a tough one to swallow. When you find your child on Facebook, you will be tasked with ‘friending‘ him or her — sending out a mutual agreement to share profiles with each other (a much more simple step-by-step guide to manipulating Facebook can be found here). Your child’s reaction will be vastly different, depending on the child. Facebook has privacy settings in place to meter who can see what content. This is there for specific protection – you wouldn’t necessarily want ‘The Guy you met at the party” to know your phone number. Your kid may decide to gate away what you can see, comment on, and read on his page. It is very important that you not pressure them into revealing themselves, and that you simply allow them to open up when they want.
For most people, Facebook can constitute a “Third place” — the place that is neither work/school nor home where they can relax, free from responsibility. The idea of the parent being able to view (and possibly later condemn) what they do/say in this relaxing space may be paralyzing. There is no need to comment on every single thing that they say, for ill or for better. Speak as their friends do – when their comments concern something you are interested in as a person, not necessarily as a parent. You are, for lack of a better term, invading their territory, and you should respect it, or else be shut out from their page entirely.
3. Get Ready to Meet Your Kid’s Friends.
Why my friend decided to link to a youtube video of a Dog licking itself on my Facebook profile, I may never know. However, you can be sure that when my mother saw that, she cocked an awkward eye.
If your child lets you past the gate of Facebook friendship, you have made it to a very special place. In this place reside some of the more… curious aspects of friendship. Most Facebook users do not actually converse with their core contingent of friends – that line of communication is much more based around those lovely text-messaging bills you receive monthly. Facebook is great for uber-productive social messages between fringe groups. Loose affiliations thrive on a place like Facebook, save for when it comes to something like the picture management system. The most damning evidence you will find on Facebook will likely come from out-of-context, over-dramatic photographs tagged with your child (or even nonsense. A question I’ve had to field: “Alex, why is your friend tagged in this picture as your butt?”) and his friends. Still, no matter how… “unique” your child’s friends are, there is yet a bigger fish to fry.
4. Get Ready To Meet Your Kid.
When my mother first joined Facebook, she echoed to me #3 as a chief concern – “I’m worried to learn who your friends are.” My response, dead honestly, was that she should be afraid of learning who her Son is.
You are being given the sort of unobstructed view into the inner workings of your child that most parents would never admit to secretly drooling about. It’s natural – you want to see how you did as a parent, making sure you’ve done the right things, and that they aren’t doing the wrong things. However, as it is easy to make over-indulgent, awkward, and just plain odd comments on Facebook, it is just as easy to reveal several things about yourself openly that you wouldn’t say or reveal otherwise. You may learn harmless things — that your daughter has just gotten her heart broken by a guy you never met, or that your son is a fan of Swedish death metal — or potentially important things. What happens if you flick through your kids Photos and see them smoking? Keeping in mind #2, what should you do? My lack of Progeny makes me unable to answer this question as uniquely as a parent would, but it is still a conundrum to consider. Ultimately, I think any additional knowledge can only be considered a good thing, and that by opening up to each other, you will gain deeper insight into what your child thinks.
5. Don’t Judge
This is a smaller, but important rule. As I’ve mentioned above, Facebook and other social networking sites are self indulgent and often narcissistic. The rude, crude, or lewd things you see there may not necessarily reflect how your child honestly thinks or feels. This advice is likely aimed directly at my mother – my own social circle has so many awkward in-jokes filled with all kinds of erstwhile crudeness that I am somewhat shocked she still communicates with me. Remember that this is likely a show; a Facebook profile is observable 24/7, so it is natural to think of it as a performance. Be it showing off for potential dates, or just goofing off with friends, a Facebook profile is not neccessarily a perfect snapshot of your child. If it is something agregious like the examples I gave in #4, then react accordingly. But if is a few jokes here and there? Don’t snap, lest they shut you out further.
6. Join the Process
Facebook is a wonderful organism; the way in which data is handled, rated for importance, the tagging, the inter-commenting, all of it with the express purpose of communicating in a more natural and important way. I’ve already discussed my families experimentation with twitter, and the idea of using Facebook to continue our communication makes me excited. There is no reason why Faceook should impede the communication of a family. In fact, it can be a very powerfool tool – the manipulation of such tools may be something I tackle in a future artcle, after a little experimentation with it myself.
I promise you, you and your children can interact, coexist, and even thrive Sharing a social network. Happy Facebooking! .