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When Mom or Dad Asks To Be a Facebook 'Friend'

Matt, 17, and Bob Florian both use Facebook, and Bob Florian knew that his son might have doubts about becoming his Facebook friend.
Matt, 17, and Bob Florian both use Facebook, and Bob Florian knew that his son might have doubts about becoming his Facebook friend. (By Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)
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Today, the fastest-growing segment of Facebook's estimated 66 million users are people 25 and older. More than half of the site's users are out of college. Whether that will have an impact on Facebook's coolness quotient remains to be seen.

For a generation accustomed to sharing everything online, it might seem odd that two more pairs of eye would raise such concern. But Steve Jones, a professor of communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago who has studied digital culture extensively, said there's a difference between the world and your parents.

"What they want to keep most private is not something they wish to keep from strangers, it's the things they want to keep from people that know them," he said. "It's 'I don't care what someone who doesn't know me finds out. But I do care about what someone I know intimately [does].' "

For Taylor Janney, the choice to friend or not to friend her mom, Karen, was not an option when she got her Facebook account a year ago. It was the only way the 15-year-old was allowed to be online.

"My mom was my first friend," she said with a laugh. "But it's cool. I'm not embarrassed by her."

Taylor's mother, a teacher at Quince Orchard High School, said she's been surprised by how much amusement she's gotten from Facebook. Early on, she made a rule that she wouldn't friend any of her students -- but to her surprise, she found that some of them wanted to friend her. Students in her first-period class have even started their own Facebook group, where they swap stories about class happenings.

Larry Rosen, a professor of psychology at California State University at Dominguez Hills and author of the book "Me, MySpace, and I: Parenting the Net Generation," said parents should be upfront about wanting to know what their children are doing online but shouldn't be upset if their friend request is ignored. After all, many young people have come to think of Facebook as theirs and see parents as interlopers. He recommended that parents and their children set up rules -- not necessarily for the young people's behavior, but for mom and dad's behavior once they're online.

"Maybe something along the line of parents not friending friends," he recommended.

Since his initial horror, Yeamans has modified his stance when it comes to parents on Facebook.

"I've come to terms with it," he said. "They can join it, but I won't add them. It's just -- well, there are some things that I don't want them to know."

Still, just when parents think they've cracked the code, one note of caution: Being "on" doesn't necessarily mean you're "in."

Students say a little fiddling with the privacy controls, and those pictures from Saturday night? Never existed.


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