Monday, May 04, 2009

Facebook and the family

A few weeks before Jack turned 13, he asked me if he could have a Facebook page.

"No, you're too young," I answered.

"But Jess has a page! Blake and Kenny have a page! You have a page!" he cried. "Jeez, even Daddy has a page," he finished with a flourish of sarcasm. "You can have a page at 13 now," he told me, rattling off the names of several friends who had already turned the magical 13 and had entered into the realm of Facebook.

"Well, you have to 'friend' me. That's the only way I'll let you do it," I bargained, while promising never to embarrass him by posting on his page.

And so, when his birthday dawned, we set it up. We are now a family of Facebookers.

For the uninitiated, Facebook is a free-access social networking website, originally aimed at college-aged persons. Today, users can join networks by city, organization, workplace, school, region, etc. There are nearly 200 million people on Facebook and certainly not all are ages 18 to 24 (although they do account for over 19 million of the users). The fastest growing demographic is women over age 55 (!), and 17 million users are between 35 and 55+. That would account for a lot of us; "us" being parents.

I initially went on Facebook to spy on my daughter. Except she wouldn't "friend" me. She exclaimed that it was embarrassing and lame that I had set-up an account. Under orders, she will show me her page from time to time, and I have been able to check out a lot of her pictures whenever she "tags" one of her older brothers in a photo (I discovered that by clicking on the snapshot, it magically took me into her photo section!). But basically my daughter stalking attempts back-fired. However, her brothers are far less secretive, and I can track Kenny's whereabouts as he roams the country, and check on whether or not Blake is truly unable to have Internet access while at sea or elsewhere.

At first all was calm for me, though as I say, I was discouraged that I couldn't easily enter the realm of Jessie's high school shenanigans. Soon, however, I inexplicably found myself back in high school instead when former classmates began "friend" requesting me right and left! And then they began posting photos of me on my page - along with themselves of course - with those hideous early to mid-1970's hair, clothes... yikes! People have come out of the freaking woodwork, including those I vaguely remembered, and those who were (are) several years younger than me, of whom I have zippo memory.

Facebook users can post a status, which is a word, a sentence, and more, of what they happen to be doing at that moment or that day, etc., a la Twitter (if you want an explanation of that, ask your kid). While our childrens statuses are along the lines of:" School; eeww. Tennis after!" and "Phone broken," many older users put up a status that is more relevant to their age or being a parent: "My son turns 12 today!," or "'Supercalifragilstic!' - Off to Mary Poppins," "Who remembers the 1970 song, 'It's a Rainy Night in Georgia?'" and "Happy Spring! Can the runny noses and sniffles now go away, please?"

My words of caution for Facebook usage are simple. A) Monitor whom your child is "friending." Is it really someone they know, or might it actually be a creepy older person with ill-intentions? B) Make sure the information that they post about themselves does not include their address, or even their telephone number (see the possibilities of A), and C) Caution them in regard to the nature of the posts on their own Wall and on others, especially the content of any videos and photographs. One never knows whose parent or which faculty member has access to those pages/posts, nor how their peers will perceive what has been, essentially, published.

Word to the parent Facebooker: Choose your profile photo wisely. And even though your kid might choose to reveal their birth year, you don't necessarily have to. Or - per your profile visage - want to.

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