Family v. Facebook: 4 steps to keep the parents in line

By Holly Elliott |
Illustration by Matthew Boyle

I regret the day I caved into family pressures on Facebook. It was just my stepmother and me, face to face, or should I say, profile picture to profile picture. A bizarre sense of curiosity from her friend request reached me from hundreds of miles away and made me disregard the potential problems that family and Facebook would most certainly cause me. I recklessly hit accept. In one single click, I opened a virtual nightmare on my social life.

By the next morning, there were dozens of friend requests waiting for me. Many were from distant relatives that I would never recognize in person. Some were so young that their statuses actually read that they were eating applesauce and playing with Barbies. What is family’s role in a social networking site? Does it cross boundaries by being in a space that was once reserved exclusively for college students?

I doubt it was Mark Zuckerberg’s goal to force me to hide my status updates and pictures to avoid lectures on responsibility, but his decision to open up Facebook to anyone has destroyed any level of privacy that the site previously allowed. I now feel compelled to check my wall several times a day to make sure my nine-year-old cousins aren’t corrupted by less than sober photos that I may be tagged in or inappropriate comments my friends could leave at any moment. Not that I am ashamed, but having family so close forces me to create certain boundaries.

Luckily for me, I am not alone. According to Ivey Jones, a Flagler College Senior, her mother recently discovered Facebook and decided to add her. She was extremely hesitant to accept her as a friend, as the two communicate very frequently. Therefore, before she added her mother, they had to lay down some ground rules.

“We had to have a discussion about how she is not allowed to complain about anything on my wall and that was following the detailed explanation of what a wall is,” Jones said, “When someone taught her how to text, that was one thing, but this is definitely a piece of technology she was better off not utilizing.”

Jones said her mother also exclusively uses abbreviated text talk, which can be both annoying and confusing. “I have to spend a good amount of time deciphering what she is even saying,” Jones said, “Sometimes I think it’s just her phone in her pocket texting me and ignore it, and then she calls me and wants to know why I am not responding.”

Parents should try to avoid this type of attempt at trendy-ness. Just because pre-teens are talking in acronyms doesn’t mean it’s a hard and fast rule. Being clear and concise on facebook makes it easier to communicate with relatives without confusion or misunderstandings. It also helps define that parent/daughter distinction. Just because parents are on facebook doesn’t mean they become a twenty year old college student. Like Jones recommended, insist on discussing appropriate guidelines before there becomes a problem. It may seem awkward to bring up, but it will save both parties lots of embarrassment in the end.

Self-censorship is another big problem students worry about when they add their family on Facebook. Sarah Anderson, a Flagler College Senior, recently became Facebook friends with her father and always worries about how her Facebook statuses will be perceived by him. “A few times I’ve written a status update, realized my dad would see it, then erased it and rewrote and erased and eventually I just gave up. Not that I’m doing anything bad that I don’t want him to know about, I just feel like there needs to be some sort of distinction between parent and friend–some things he just doesn’t really need to know about me in order to be my father,” Anderson said.

Others students, however, see Facebook as a way to keep in touch with family members while they are many miles away. David Matulewicz, a Flagler College Junior, feels that it can be a useful tool for communicating with family members. “I actually made one for my Mom when I went off to college so we could keep in touch. It’s great; just don’t put anything on Facebook you don’t want your family to see.” Matulewicz said.

I spoke with Professor Tina Jaekle, an instructor of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Flagler College. Jaekle teaches a class called “Marriage and Family” which covers the obstacles of social networking sites on friendships, relationships and communication in general. While Jaekle sees the advantages for Facebook, she also understands the potential isolation social networking can cause. “Social networking can have positive and negative effects. It allows families to stay in touch frequently and across long distances, though it has also reduced face-to-face contact,” Jaekle said, “It’s good that now we can reach out to people through a virtual community and it has definitely made communication more efficient, but it makes you wonder what we lose in the overall in the communication process.”

By taking the proper precautions, it is possible to minimize any awkwardness Facebook might cause when parents become a part of social networking sites.

  1. Explore your profile and wall to make sure any extremely personal or sensitive information is removed. This ensures any information that parents do not know is expressed in person rather than over Facebook. It is best to avoid revealing information about smoking habits or a new tattoo through posted photos.
  2. Explain the rules and etiquette. Email length wall posts are always a possibility unless parents know that a wall is for small comments and that the message option is for longer comments. This is beneficial to both parties.
  3. Explain the number of people Facebook can potentially reach. Most information available on Facebook is very public, so embarrassing nicknames and childhood stories should be excluded from all wall posts.
  4. Correct your parents if they are acting inappropriately on Facebook. Just like any new social situation, there are certain unstated rules that parents have to learn. Be polite, but inform parents or relatives that typing in all caps or using unreadable acronyms is not how people typically communicate on Facebook. By maintaining open communication with family members, accepting them as Facebook friend can become a far more mutually enjoyable experience.

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