Teens reject parents as Facebook friends

An American survey shows many older teenagers ignore friend requests from parents. Something to hide or a bid for independence?

When a new 'friend request' pops up with its little red flag on the top of the Facebook profile page, most of us are curious and at least a bit pleased that someone new wants to be in touch.

But what if it's a member of your family? Do they want to share photographs from the Christmas holidays and embarrassing favourite music videos? Or are they snooping?

A survey of American high school students has shown a surprising number manage to keep their online social and family life separate. 35 per cent of the students whose parents were on Facebook weren't friends with them. Of those, 38 per cent had ignored a friend request from their mother or father.

For 16 per cent, however, allowing their parents access to everything on Facebook was a condition of being allowed to create their own profile.

Battles between parents wanting to make sure their beloved children are safe and teenagers desperate to establish their own life beyond the family, are nothing new. Many adults, young and old, like to keep friends and family separate.

The company behind the survey said Facebook was a 'new frontier' in family relationships. But some scientists and sociologists warn that this 'frontier' could be dangerous.

Social networks like Facebook, as well as mini-blogging websites like Twitter, are making us and our relationships colder and more superficial, they say.

The British neuroscientist Susan Greenfield claims social networks fulfill our basic human need to belong but train our brains to expect relationships - even just talking to someone - to be easy to control. The fast pace of real conversations gives 'no opportunity to think up clever or witty responses,' she says; they 'require a sensitivity to voice tone and body language.'

A recent magazine article about 26 year old Mark Zuckerberg, who founded Facebook when he was a student at Harvard University, observed: 'He approaches conversation as a way of exchanging data as rapidly and efficiently as possible, rather than as a recreational activity.'

Keeping it real?

Perhaps the geeks have already inherited the earth. After all Mr Zuckerberg is a business phenomenon, whose company is valued at £31.5 billion.

But should the rest of us run our social lives his way? And are teenagers who want to keep parents out of their other life on Facebook being mean and secretive or demonstrating their love? Perhaps the mark of true friendship is to keep your relationship confined to the real world.

You Decide

  1. Friends are family you can choose. Is this a good definition?
  2. Do you feel differently about people you keep in touch with via technology rather than face-to-face?

Activities

  1. Before modern technology, people did all their communication by writing letters. Write a letter about your weekend to a relative or friend you don't see very often; how does this differ from the way you would write a Facebook post?
  2. In groups, try to think of an idea for a business based on some aspect of your social life.

Some People Say...

“Real life is messy – it's easier to control friendships online.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Does Facebook matter?
With 500 million users, Facebook has become an accepted part of our social lives extremely quickly – the site was only launched in 2004.
Why do families get involved in a teenager's online exploration?
Often parents feel they should make sure there is no bullying going on, and want to check the people they are meeting online are safe to be in contact with.
Do teenagers fight back?
This survey found only 9 per cent of high school students restricted the parts of their Facebook profile parents could see. But most teenagers want, at some point, to assert their independence, which can cause arguments about social life off and online.