You rub your eyes after a long homework stretch, minimize your English essay, and quickly log onto Facebook. You convince yourself that it’s essential; you need a study break. Hmm … one notification—just someone posting in the history group—and one friend request! You click over to the anonymous dark friend figure with mild interest and instantly recoil in horror—your mom?!
This is the very real horror that plagues today’s modern teen: the parent on social media. As the inhabitants of the Internet Age mature and navigate the world in both a virtual and a physical sense, the fear of having a parent or guardian encroach on their sacred territory of self-expression is palpable. While many teens are quick to agonize over the embarrassment and conflict that could result from parental entrance into this realm, they often forget that parents and guardians just want to shield teens from the dangers of the online world and help them try to assume greater responsibility for their actions. In these respects, having a parent on social media is a great thing because it encourages the child to make safe decisions, curb inappropriate behavior, and strengthen the relationship between parent and teen.
Social media is a way for teens to create their own identity, but they are often naïve about the dangers of the age of the Internet. Most parents try to shelter their children from murky areas of the Internet like Craigslist—the source of numerous sex offenders and con artists that have reached out to teens under the anonymity of the online world. Additionally, many colleges (such as Harvard, Williams, and Wake Forest) have acknowledged that a student’s social media presence can be a factor in admission. A Kaplan Test Prep survey of college admission officers in 2012 revealed that 26 percent had visited an applicant’s Facebook page. Furthermore, 35 percent had discovered something about an applicant online that negatively impacted their application. Maintaining an account on a social media platform is one way for parents to ensure that their children are protected from online dangers and the repercussions of their own mistakes.
Teens also use the Internet to explore their interests and build relationships. Being “friends” with a parent is an informal litmus test of sorts, meant to filter out inappropriate conduct. Social media is a way to relax, express yourself, and communicate with peers, but it shouldn’t be a forum for things you wouldn’t be comfortable with an adult seeing, especially given its permanency. Not only can parents promote safety, they can encourage teens to take responsibility for their own futures and manage their online presence effectively, just as they would do in reality.
The common conflict between parents and kids is about trust, and trying to find a balance between each individual’s needs without crossing the line of privacy. It is often impossible for either side to bridge the gaps of age, culture, and experience, so families often fight over decisions about acceptable actions. The connection weakens when the teen retreats into a separate online presence completely unknown to the parent. This quickly becomes a habit when events of a day are recounted with Snapchat stories and Facebook messages instead of conversations with the family at the dinner table. This is not to say that everything should be shared with parents; distance is needed, and boundaries deserve to be respected. However, bridging the gap through social media reassures parents that children are behaving appropriately online. More trust between a parent and child, both on and offline, fosters better communication and a healthier relationship.
Teens today immediately jump to the bad aspects of having parents online, before considering the value of the good. Sure, it may be embarrassing to have your Aunt Edith comment on a picture of you and your friends, but it’s much more damaging to be harassed by an online aggressor or rejected from a college because of an inappropriate picture. Being “friends” with a parent online can promote healthy decisions, and lead to a stronger connection in real life. So when that dreaded name pops up on your friend request list, hesitate before clicking “Not Now.” Prepare for some good old-fashioned embarrassment and some great life lessons; brace yourself to accept the good, the bad, and the parental friend request.