News Column

Social Networking: Friending Your Folks

Jan. 3, 2013

Rodger Mullen, The Fayetteville Observer, N.C.

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Like many teens, Christopher Bell is a regular on Facebook and other social media sites.

So are Christopher's parents, and that has a bearing on what he posts.

"Sometimes I'll find something funny and start to post it and go, 'Ooh, maybe this humor is not appropriate,' " said Christopher, a 15-year-old sophomore at Massey Hill Classical High School.

Facebook, once the exclusive bastion of college students, has exploded in popularity since its founding. Today, high-schoolers and even younger students are likely to be "friends" with their parent, grandparents, aunts and uncles.

Along with Facebook, other social media sites such as Twitter have proliferated. Thanks to the Internet, a private thought can become part of the public domain in an instant.

While that has its advantages in immediacy, it also comes with obvious drawbacks. That's particularly true for young people and their parents, who may find it difficult to know where to draw the line between openness and discretion when posting online.

According to Common Sense Media, which specializes in issues concerning children and media, about 73 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds have at least one social networking profile. Facebook's minimum age for an account is 13, though about 7.5 million children under 13 are on Facebook, Common Sense Media says.

"A lot of parents say, the only way I'm going to know what is going on in my child's life is to go on Facebook," said Caroline Knorr, parenting editor at Common Sense Media.

Morris Hargrove is the father of Adriana Hargrove, a Massey Hill junior. Hargrove said he has a Facebook page and checks his daughter's occasionally. Hargrove said he believes social media can be a positive force. He said he sometimes posts encouraging messages, such as congratulating his daughter for making the honor roll.

But Hargrove said it's sometimes difficult to know where the boundaries lie.

"Sometimes, one of her friends will make a comment. I'll go in there and say, 'Really?' " Hargrove said. "She'll say, 'Oh dad, don't do that.' "

Local students say navigating the social media rules can be tricky at times.

John Davis is 15 and a sophomore at Massey Hill. He posts on Facebook, as do his parents and grandparents.

"I'm an avid poster, so I'll put up whatever's on my mind on the Facebook wall," John said. "I used the word 'ghetto' once, and my mom got kind of mad. She just kind of yelled at me and that was the end of that."

Melikia Whyte, 17, is a senior at Douglas Byrd High School. She posts on Facebook and has a Twitter account. Melikia said she tries to keep it simple.

"If I'm going to spend the day with a friend, I might put it on there. I might mention what I'm watching or a book I'm reading or what I'm doing in class at that that time," she said. "I try not to get too personal. That's how you get wrapped up in a lot of drama."

Mia Brewster is a freshman at Massey Hill. She avoids Facebook -- "It's just a lot of drama," she said -- but is on Twitter and uses Instagram.

Mia said her mom reads her Twitter feed, and that makes her think twice about what she posts.

"When you're talking about somebody or whatever, you think, oh, maybe I shouldn't have put her name in there," Mia said.

Alvin People II is a sophomore at Douglas Byrd. He's on Facebook and Twitter and likes to post pictures of him and his friends hanging out and having fun.

Alvin said his mother once asked him to take down a post he put up after he got mad at a friend. While some of his friends have blocked their pages from their parents, Alvin said that isn't an option with him.

"I can't do that," he said. "She'll think I'm doing something I shouldn't be doing."

Melikia's mother, Bridget Whyte, doesn't post on Facebook or any other social media site. She worries that too much information is being made available online.

"I don't think people need to know the school you're going to. It's too much information that could lead to predators," she said. "Really, who needs to know that? People don't need to get so personal in other peoples' lives."

Laura Warnock is Christopher Bell's mom. She has a Facebook page but only uses it for work purposes. Warnock said she would occasionally check Christopher's page when he first posted it, but has never had a problem with anything he posted.

But Warnock said she did have to have a talk with her younger daughter about Facebook posts.

"It wasn't her, it was people that she didn't know," Warnock said.

When it comes to Facebook, Knorr said, she encourages parents to "stay in the background." That means usually not "friending" their children's friends or sprinkling their comments in the online discussions their children have with their peers.

And parents shouldn't assume that just because they are friends with their children on Facebook that they know what's going on in their lives. Young people are adept at blocking their comments on the social media site, she said, and parents may never know they are doing that.

Knorr noted that some young people are drifting away from Facebook to newer sites like the photo-driven Instagram, precisely because their parents are on Facebook.

In general, she said, parents shouldn't use Facebook or any other social media site as a way to communicate with their children. Nothing takes the place of a face-to-face conversation, she said.

Source: (c)2013 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.) Distributed by MCT Information Services

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