You Have One New Friend Request - From Your Mom
Coping with the Facebook generation gap
Checking her Facebook page, Laura Miller saw friend requests from an old family friend, her boyfriend’s best friend and a former high-school classmate. Another request surprised her: one from her mother.
Miller promptly rejected it.
“I told her I’d have no problem helping her use [Facebook] as long as she didn’t expect me to be her friend,” she said. “So why is she adding me?”
Plenty of people well beyond their 20s use Facebook, the world’s largest social-networking website. The number of social network users aged 35-54 rose 60 percent over the past year, a September 2009 Forrester Research report concluded. Women over 55 now comprise 1.5 million of Facebook’s users. More more adults are joining Facebook — and often trying to add their children, and even their grandchildren, as “friends.”
Whether younger Facebook users find these requests unwelcome, or simply awkward, there is no denying that the appearance of older relatives on a site designed for college students is changing the family dynamic. Anne Collier, co-author of “MySpace Unraveled: A Parent’s Guide to Teen Social Networking,” and editor of NetFamilyNews.org, says social media is forcing us to learn to communicate in a healthy manner in a new setting.
“Social media are getting us all to think about things like presence, community, courtesy and how to communicate and have relationships in and with a new environment,” she said.
Miller, 21, like many of the site’s original, college-aged users, refused to add her parents (her father tried to friend her, too) because she didn’t think they belonged in that part of her life. “Facebook is an extension of my life with my friends, my life at college, and other stuff like that,” she said. “Those are things my parents are not, and really don’t have any reason to be, a direct part of.”
Rejecting her parents as friends is like telling her parents about a party she is going to, Miller said, but not inviting them. She said: “If I go out and have a few too many cocktails on the weekend, I can admit, ‘Wow Mom, I had a few last night,’ but if she sees pictures, that’s crossing the line.”
Becca Zandstein, a 20-year-old communications student at Rutgers University, shut her mother out too.
“I think that she will start “stalking” me, and become completely obsessed with my profile,” she said. “It’s not that I have anything to hide. It’s just that Facebook is not the way I necessarily want to share my life with my mother.”
Searching the phrase “no parents on Facebook” on Facebook recently retrieved about 1,800 results, mostly groups with that title. The largest group has 630 members, including a girl named Stephanie who wrote angrily on the group’s page: “Facebook was meant for COLLEGE students! Not old farts who want to invade their kid’s privacy.”
Yet not all college students ignore or reject parent friend requests. Aaron Suzuka, a 19-year-old sophomore at Vassar College in New York state, found Facebook a comfortable way to keep in touch with his family in Hawaii.
“Since the time zone difference is so big from New York to Hawaii, leaving Facebook messages is much easier than a phone call,” he said. Suzuka, who has friended his parents, grandparents and even aunts and uncle, says he enjoys having his whole family in one network. “It really allows all of us to keep in touch, even though we are all over the country or in different countries.”
Dale Glasser, whose 20-year-old daughter Maya studies at New York University, uses Facebook to learn more about his daughter’s life.
“I think it has helped for me to understand her better,” he said, “at least in terms of seeing how her friends communicate with her and with each other.”
Maya doesn’t mind being her father’s Facebook friend. “There are certain things I wouldn’t want the world to know about me, so I censor my Facebook in general, and not necessarily with him in mind,” she said.
Dr. Larry D. Rosen, author of several books on technology, including “Me, MySpace and I: Parenting the Net Generation,” favors parents friending their kids. “Parents, grandparents, and others not in the iGeneration, have realized that to open a line of communication with their kids, they have no choice but to learn how to match their kids’ preferred way to communicate,” he said, referring to the “Internet Generation.”
Miller may never accept her mother’s friend request, but likes that her mother speaks the Facebook language. “It’s cool when I tell her I was on Facebook chatting with so-and-so, and she understands what I’m saying.” She admitted, “Even though my mom and I don’t cross Facebook paths, the fact that she uses it does start to close the generation gap.”