Should Parents “Friend” Their Teens On Facebook?

Parents, are you a friend of your teenage child on Facebook?

If you are do you know if your teen is happy about it?

A survey, released last week by AOL and conducted by The Nielsen Company, sheds some light on one of the new battlegrounds of modern parenting.

According to the survey, of 1,024 parents and 500 teens aged 13 to 17, over 3 quarters (76%) of parents with kids on Facebook, claim to have “friended” their teens. However nearly a third (29%) of teens were ready to “un-friend” their parents if they had the choice.

For some teens un-friending a parent is not always an option. In 41% of households there is a rule that children have to be friends with their parents in order to use Facebook.

A Y-Pulse survey earlier this year found that over 44% of the 1000 teenagers they surveyed resented parents crashing the Facebook party.  While a survey conducted by Roiworld found that parents and other adults were a significant reason in teens not using Facebook (read more here).

Facebook is Social Space!

Facebook, like other social networking sites, is social space for teenagers. This should be the starting place for engaging in thoughts about parenting online teenagers.

Just as for other social spaces children occupy, parents involvement needs to be considered.  As children grow up parents should naturally allow them to have more of their own space in various settings increasing number of settings.

By the time children have reached their middle teenage years they are developing, and need to develop, numerous places in life in which they have social autonomy – that is a social life independent of parents.

When you were a teenager would you have wanted your parents to be present in any of the following scenarios:

  • Sitting with you & your friends during lunchtime at school?
  • Hanging out with you and your friends at the shopping mall?
  • Joining in the late night conversations at a sleep over?
  • Attending a teenage disco / dance that you and your friends were at?

For many of us as teenagers, just being seen with our parents before or after a social event was something to be avoided. The notion of them crashing our party would have been unthinkable.

I can still remember the mortifying feeling of my mother coming to the classroom door to bring the lunch I had forgotten to bring from home!

What About Safety?

Some will argue that in other social spaces adults are present to supervise teens i.e. school playground. This is different to the unsupervised environment of Facebook, hence parents need to be more involved on Facebook.

However there are many environments parents let their teens go to where they are not strictly supervised at all, i.e. shopping malls, the beach, public transport, the movies, and some parties are not well supervised.

Even in environments where adults are supervising, like the school playground, the adults are not listening to or participating in the conversations.

Kids are just as likely to be bullied at school, more likely to be victims of sexual abuse at home or by someone they know in the real world, and are likely to face more physical dangers or alcohol, drugs, and sexual pressure at parties than they do online.

The difference is most parents understand these environments and are confident to advise and educate their teenagers about how to prepare and minimise the risks in these situations.  The generation who are parents of teens today did not grow up with Facebook, so we are not certain about how to handle it ourselves and even less confident about how to educate teens about it.

Finding Other Ways.

Negotiating the balance between encouraging independence and keeping teens safe is a fine art.

As children grow the level of parental involvement in their child’s life changes. Therefore it is appropriate for parents to be involved more closely in their child’s life in the early years.

As children under 13 should not be on Facebook (a Facebook rule) then the dilemma is not applicable for kids who aren’t teens. As to whether young teens need parental supervision on Facebook, it is a decision best made by parents on a case-by-case basis.

Online safety is best addressed  the same way as other safety issues for growing children are – education, communication, and trust.

Educate children about sensible online behaviour and digital citizenship. Teach children about:

  • thinking before posting.
  • not posting personal details or social movements online.
  • not posting images they wouldn’t want the world to see.
  • keeping private things private.
  • not friending or communicating with strangers.
  • treating others the way you would want to be treated.

Developing open and honest communication with their teenagers is one of the most effective protective strategies parents can employ for their children. At the very least parents should discuss being friends on Facebook with their teens in person.

Trusting teenagers is something all parents have to do eventually.  Learning to be Trustworthy is something teens need to do. Being able to give teens increased levels of responsibility is a gradual and individual journey, but an inevitable one.  The end of adolescence is adulthood, teenagers need to be equipped and empowered to navigate life independently.

Your Thoughts

I am certain that for some teens having their parent’s as friends on Facebook is not a big issue.  All families are different, and the varied nature of the relationships that exist make one-size-fits-all statements very hard to make.

This post will find many who disagree.  I would be very interested in hearing your experiences and opinions – no matter what your point of view.

Please leave your thoughts in the comments field below.

Image by Kate Raynes-Goldie

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  • Scinicola

    im writing an college essay on this topic and this article helped a lot, thanks!

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