“Friending.” It wasn’t common parlance before the advent of the insanely popular social networking platform Facebook in February 2004. Now it seems like its run amok. 12-year-olds are friending their grandparents, parents, and even teachers on Facebook, even. A survey by Retrevo, published about a year ago, found that almost half of kids “friend” their kids on Facebook–but 52% of teens say they don’t friend them back.
Of course, it’s not unreasonable that parents desire to get to know their teens better. In fact, in this day in age, what’s better than social media? Kids frequently post pictures of themselves and their friends, talk about activities they participate in, political ideas, etc. on Facebook. In fact, a kid that’s mildly taciturn at the dinner table may be a social butterfly of high esteem in the world of social networking.
There’s a wide range of opinions on whether or not to “friend” your kids on Facebook. This article by Walter Mossberg on The Wall Street Journal recommends against the practice, saying that it’s “time-consuming and embarrassing…especially when the offspring are teenagers, who generally crave some degree of privacy, even if they don’t merit full treatment as adults.” The article goes on to recommend Zone Alarm’s SocialGuard service, which gives parents the ability to monitor their kids’ behaviors on Facebook without being unnecessarily intrusive.
A CBS report on the topic analyzed that “Some young people say having their parents on their Facebook page is like giving them the key to their online diary: once you accept a friend invitation, that person can see everything you’re up to unless you set privacy limits. Pictures of parties and gossip are the biggest concern.” If that doesn’t leave you convinced, there are even Facebook groups like “keep parents off Facebook” and “eek, my mom is on Facebook” to make the message loud and clear.
The Atlanta-Journal Constitution reported on an interesting trend: parents requiring their children to “friend” them, lest they be banned from the site entirely. 16% of teens surveyed said that their parents’ friendship was a precondition.
Ultimately, deciding whether to “friend” your child is a personal decision–but one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. If your kids are young, they’ll probably have less of a problem with “friending” you, and it may be a good opportunity to model ideal Internet behavior for them (i.e., no drunk pictures or inappropriate posts on your part.) If your child is older (a teenager or above), “friending” them might even give them an opportunity to familiarize themselves with Facebook’s somewhat labyrinthine directory of privacy controls. It probably isn’t a great idea to take offense if your child ultimately does decide to reject your request; rather, it makes sense to talk with him/her about what it means to be a good Internet citizen.