How Parents and Teens Can Be Facebook Friends
The art of being both family and friend
Posted Jul 30, 2020
Many parents have heard the advice: “Show me your son’s friends and I’ll show you his future.” No doubt, many parents would indeed like to know more about their teenagers’ friends—both on and offline. In today’s world, parents can probably learn more about the lives of their children through engagement online—given the fact that everything that happens offline seems to be memorialized in some fashion on social media.
As a career prosecutor, I am aware that cyberspace can be a dangerous place for young people, who are easy prey for manipulative predators and cybercriminals. On the other hand, many good people use social media to build and maintain wholesome, healthy relationships with family and friends.
Parents are aware of the risks and benefits of virtual engagement as well—which is why many want to be Facebook friends with their children. Assuming they are old enough to have the choice, how many young adults will accept a friend request from Mom or Dad? Surprisingly, more than you think. And the experience often actually builds family friendships.
Being Both Friends and Family
Many parents of young adults use Facebook themselves, and would love to add their children to their network. But especially with older teens, including those beginning college, parents strive to maintain a loving relationship with healthy boundaries, balancing the desire for information with recognizing the need for their precious young men and women to express their independence. Is there a happy medium? Thankfully, for many parents, the answer appears to be yes.
Maggie Kanter et al. (2012) studied the impact of parents friending their young adult children on Facebook.[i] Their sample contained undergraduate students ranging in age from 18 to 29, 95 women and 23 men. The parents in the sample included 54 fathers and 64 mothers, with an age range spanning from 37 to 66.
Studying 118 biological parent-child pairings, they found that children who had a parent present on Facebook did not perceive a greater privacy invasion than children whose parents did not have Facebook accounts. In fact, having a parent on Facebook was associated with a decreased amount of parent-child relational conflict. Even within parent-child relationships that already contained conflict, the parent’s presence on Facebook did not increase the conflict; to the contrary, it enhanced relational closeness.
Facebook as a Way to Stay Connected
Chia-chen Yang (2018) examined how a sample of college freshmen perceived having parents as Facebook friends.[ii] Her study was part of a larger project that sought to investigate the freshman experience of transition to college, social relationships, self-development, and use of Facebook.
Yang found that the participants in her study overwhelmingly accepted both parents and other family adults as Facebook friends, offering them the same access to their Facebook data as offered to peers. Yang notes that Facebook functioned as a space within which college freshmen and their parents could bond and express affection, although she also notes that sometimes, freshmen considered family adults as “overresponsive” or “overreactive” to Facebook posts.
Acknowledging some of the challenges in generalizing results from any particular study testing parent-child Facebook interaction, Yang notes that although sending parents friend requests has become common among adolescents, with only a fraction of them limiting what parents can see, parent-child relationships are different during this younger age than between parents whose children are freshmen in college. She also notes that parents of adolescents may view social networking sites as an additional form of parental monitoring, whereas parents of college freshmen as well as their children may use Facebook to remain connected over physical distance.
Friends With Benefits
Although all types of social media contain both benefits and risks, for families who embrace virtual engagement, Facebook seems to be an option through which "friendship" can be mutually beneficial. It allows young adults to expand their social network and explore their independence while allowing parents to maintain a sense of connection, a measure of "supervision," and active involvement in their children's lives.
[i] Kanter, Maggie, Tamara Afifi, and Stephanie Robbins. 2012. “The Impact of Parents ‘Friending’ Their Young Adult Child on Facebook on Perceptions of Parental Privacy Invasions and Parent–child Relationship Quality.” Journal of Communication 62 (5): 900–917. doi:10.1111/j.1460-2466.2012.01669.x.
[ii] Yang, Chia-chen. 2018. “Social Media as More than a Peer Space: College Freshmen Encountering Parents on Facebook.” Journal of Adolescent Research 33 (4): 442–69. doi:10.1177/0743558416659750.