Teen - November 2009
Keeping up with the changing face of Facebook
By S.C. Torrington
I still remember the mortification I felt when my mother volunteered as a
cafeteria lady at my elementary school. She’d greet my friends by name while
doling out their over-steamed vegetables, and I’d ignore her.
So, I can appreciate the frustration many of today’s teens feel as parents and
other adult family members invade their virtual territory on Facebook, the
social networking website now serving more than 300 million people worldwide.
For those still living with me in the 20th century, a social networking website
allows its members to create a public, or semi-public, personal profile, then
compile and communicate with a list of other users or “friends.”
When Harvard University computer science student Mark Zuckerberg launched
Facebook in 2004, its membership was limited to his fellow students. It quickly
expanded to include any college student. In 2005, it opened up to high
schoolers, and now it is available to anyone age 13 and older. That includes
According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, the nonprofit “fact
tank” that provides information on current trends, during the final quarter of
2008, one of Facebook’s fastest growing demographics was females ages 55 and older. Pew’s research showed that social
networking use among adults had quadrupled in the previous three years, and
that roughly 35 percent of adults had profiles on social networking sites.
Recently, a Towson teenager and her mother discussed how social networking can
help a family stay connected—but can also cramp a kid’s style.
“Facebook is easy communication,” says Allison Sheldon, a high school senior.
“I use it because practically everybody uses it. On Facebook, it’s easy to make
plans to go out and to get homework. But, as far as adults go, I know a lot of
kids whose parents use it to stalk their children.”
Allison’s mom, Dianne Sheldon, finds her daughter’s use of the word “stalk”
rather harsh, yet says she has no desire to meet up with Allison on Facebook.
“My son is in his 20s, and my daughter is almost 18,” says Sheldon. “I feel
they both know how to conduct themselves in public, which is how I see
Facebook. My husband and I have spent a lot of time talking to them about
behaving responsibly on the Internet, and I trust that they were listening at
least a little bit. Besides, both being on Facebook, they check what each other
are doing all the time. If there were anything either of them were posting that
I needed to be concerned about, it would get back to me.”
Sheldon also admits that she sees situations where Facebook works well.
“Just because I don’t use Facebook doesn’t mean I think that nobody else my age
should use it,” she says. “In fact, I can think of situations where it works
very well. For instance, my niece is currently living in South Korea, and she
gets to stay in touch with her family very easily on Facebook. My brother loves
that his daughter can post photos of where she’s going and what she’s doing.”
Allison’s just glad her parents
aren’t on Facebook.
“If they were on Facebook and wanted to friend me, I’d want to say no,” she says.
“Really, it’s not as though I’m doing anything horrible. It’s just that having
your parents on Facebook is like going somewhere with your friends and having
your parents tag along. It’s not right!”
Sure, Allison may sound tough—until the 17-year-old recounts another
relative’s recent over-zealousness on Facebook.
“When my Aunt Karen asked to be my friend, how could I say no?” Allison laughs.
“At first when I friended Aunt Karen, she was sending me all these application
invites [for playing games online]. I was bombarded. I finally had to ask my
dad to ask her to stop sending me so much stuff. She still sends things, but a
Yet, the teen really enjoys meeting up with relatives via Facebook.
“I do like keeping in touch with my brother and my cousins because I don’t get
to see them much in person,” she says. “My brother’s away at college and my
cousins live in other states. I also get to see what my brother’s working on
because he puts his art on Facebook.”
On a more serious note, another Baltimore
family has felt the reach of Facebook at home, at school, and in the workplace.
“I do not use Facebook, MySpace, or any
other social networking site,” Fran Bennett states flatly. “I’m a counselor who
works with people who suffer with both addictions and mental health diagnoses.
People dealing with these issues often struggle with understanding personal
boundaries and the inability to accurately assess what information should be
private or public.”
“Facebook and other social networking sites have been known to confuse people’s
judgment regarding personal boundaries,” she continues. “These sites often make
it difficult for clinicians to stress the importance of being able to identify
public versus private information—and the essential need to develop this
Until recently, Bennett’s children also did not have, nor did they want,
a social networking website.
“My middle-schooler doesn’t use Facebook and still has no interest in starting
to use it,” says Bennett. “According to him, a majority of the kids in his
school who use Facebook are only using it to be rude to other people and to
brag about things that aren’t true.”
Bennett’s high school-aged daughter, however, recently was required to begin a
Facebook account for one of her classes. The teacher explained to Bennett that
it was necessary in order for her daughter to communicate with her work
“I was really put off by my daughter being made to have a Facebook account,”
“Yet, I’m realistic,” she adds. “I understand that, if used for its original
intended purpose—for students to communicate and work with one another
despite difficult schedules—this could be a great tool.” BC
FB 411 for Parents
For parents who want to better understand this 21st-century communication
phenomenon without embarrassing their children (or themselves), Stanford
University’s website, Facebook for Parents, www.facebookforparents.org,
offers some basic FB 411, including an e-newsletter.
© Baltimore’s Child Inc. November 2009