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Eww! Mom's on My Facebook!
Checking her Facebook page, Laura Miller saw 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 [it] as long as she didn't expect me to be her friend," she says. "So why is she adding me?"
Plenty of people well beyond their 20s have latched on to Facebook, the world's largest social-networking Web site. The number of users aged 35 to 54 rose some 60 percent over the past year, according to a September 2009 Forrester Research report.
Women over 55 now comprise 1.5 million of Facebook's users. More adults are joining -- and trying to add their kids and even their grandkids 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 that social media is forcing the online world 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 explains.
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 that 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," says Miller. "Those are things my parents are not -- and really don't have any reason to be -- a direct part of."
No Way, No How!
Rejecting her parents as friends is like telling her parents about a party she is going to, says Miller, but not inviting them. As she explains: "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, also shut out her mother from the site.
"I think that she will start 'stalking' me, and become completely obsessed with my profile," she says. "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" 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 young people ignore or reject parent's request.
Aaron Suzuka, a 19-year-old sophomore at Vassar College in New York, finds Facebook an effective 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 call," he says.
Suzuka, who has friended his parents, grandparents and even aunts and uncle, says that he enjoys having relatives 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 me to understand her better," he says, "at least in terms of seeing how her friends communicate with her and with each other."
Maya says that she doesn't mind being her father's "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 explains.
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."