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Facebook: A parental user’s guide

The Facebook logo at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, California. (ROBERT GALBRAITH/REUTERS)

Have you heard of this thing called Facebook? I have! Let me tell you about it.

It’s blue — well, blue and white — and you can use it to see what your friends are doing. You can also use it to tell your friends what you’re doing, but, trust me, you’ll use it more for the other thing.

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

Oh, I forgot to mention that it’s on your computer.

So, to recap: Facebook = blue, on your computer, see what your friends are doing.

They don’t even have to be your friends. They can be your relatives. Like, for example, on Facebook I’m “friends” with my wife. And she’s “friends” with me. (That’s just the way it works. On Facebook, unlike in real life, if you’re going to be someone’s friend, they have to be yours, too. No backsies!)

Both My Lovely Wife and I are “friends” with our college-age daughters. Aren’t we lucky to live in an age where we can keep tabs on our teenage children from thousands of miles away?

For example, maybe one of your daughters will post on her Facebook wall “i am drunk out of my bum.”

Oh, sorry, let me explain: It isn’t a real wall. It’s letters on your computer. And on the other person’s computer. She types the letters on her computer and they show up on your computer. Cool, huh?

Anyway, maybe one of your daughters will post “i am drunk out of my bum.” As a parent, this might worry you. But then you will remember she explained that where she goes to college, students occasionally pretend to be one another on Facebook. My advice: Don’t leave your computer turned on when you leave the room!

The truth is, Facebook can be kind of awkward. Sometimes it seems that offspring are embarrassed by their parents’ Facebook behavior. Even mine. I asked one of my daughters — let’s call her “drunk bum” daughter — what her specific objections were to having her parents on Facebook. She responded:

1. When parents (cough, Mom) comment on photos uploaded by other friends, posts by friends, etc. It’s okay to comment if I posted it, but not if someone else did.

2. When parents (cough, Mom) immediately stalk people as soon as you’ve mentioned their name.

3. When your dad gets more likes on his statuses than you. TRAGIC.

Sometimes the problem isn’t that too much information is posted on Facebook. The problem is that there’s too little. Let’s say your other daughter doesn’t post a lot. Why not? What is she hiding? Has she created a separate, secret Facebook identity, like a Swiss bank account?

Or maybe she’s just busy studying. But what if she has been abducted? Would it be okay to post on her Facebook wall: “Honey, we’re worried. Have you been abducted?”

But she might not like that, for she has told us that she sometimes finds our hovering Facebook presence embarrassing. I asked this daughter — let’s call her “curiously silent/possibly abducted daughter” — why that is. She e-mailed back:

Sometimes I am not very active on Facebook, or at least not as active as Mom. My Facebook wall becomes filled entirely by links and posts from Mom. I enjoy all the things she posts, but do cringe because it makes me look like someone who has an abnormally close relationship with her mother as opposed to with friends her own age. . . . Maybe this is a truth I have to face.

So, it sounds like the real problem on Facebook is the mothers. Perhaps this is a job for Mark Zuckerberg. He is sort of the mother of Facebook. Also, he is blue.

Next time: Twitter. It has nothing to do with birds.

Feeling peakish

Reader Charlie Wellander pointed out that I put a mountain in the wrong place last week. Mount Corcoran, the subject of a painting by Albert Bierstadt that hangs in the Corcoran Gallery of Art, was in California’s Sierra Nevada, not the Sierra Madre, which is in Mexico. And there is a Mount Corcoran in California, though not the one Bierstadt painted. His scene is a composite.

Children’s Hospital

I’m ecstatic that we’ve reached the six-figure mark in our fundraising for Children’s National Medical Center: $102,484.07, putting us a quarter of the way to our goal of $400,000. I confess I haven’t made my donation yet, but I’m doing it this week. Will you?

You can make a tax-deductible donation by going to or sending a check (payable to Children’s Hospital) to Washington Post Campaign, P.O. Box 17390, Baltimore, Md. 21297-1390.

To read previous columns, go to


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