Virtual Parenting With Facebook

I recently read an article on the Wall Street Journal about someone who got “unfriended” by another person. That person was his son. The reason? After often hearing his son complain that he was broke and needed money, he wrote a message on the son’s Facebook wall that read like this: “I can see what you are blowing your money on, so don’t come whining to me about money.” The article continues to say that “in the new era of helicopter parenting, more and more parents and kids are meeting up, and clashing, on Facebook, MySpace and other social-networking sites.”

I’ve been around the social networks since 2002, starting with Ryze.com and Friendster.com. Though the latter became an instant hit with the Asian communities around the world, especially Filipinos, Facebook captured the North American market from MySpace and has become today the leading social network in that region. For Filipinos in their thirties up to the forties, Friendster wasn’t that appealing as it has always been with teens and the post-teens (do you still call them “Yuppies?”) But Facebook suddenly became appealing to the older generation because (in my own words) it wasn’t as “messy” as Friendster. It was cleanly laid out and functionally useful.

I have my daughter (13), son (11) and some of their friends, as well as nieces and nephews, in my Facebook network. But the Wall Street example above is a definite “No-No” for me. I kid around or quip a short, inspiring quote on the photos that my daughter posts, knowing well that her friends will see my post, or comment at her wall posts, but hardly will I write a new message on her wall. I must always respect and be conscious of the fact that writing her messages where the whole world can read must be a careful exercise for a parent to continue a relationship with his children in cyberspace. It is often times rewarding for the parent to be seen by their children’s friends as “cool” or “into the times” when they see dear, ol’ Dad actively participating in commenting (discussions) on their posts in Facebook.

It’s very easy for us parents to glare at something we don’t like for our kids and are tempted to write our remarks. These are usually perceived by your kids to be “snide remarks” or bordering on being a “pest.” I’m already imagining these kids asking themselves, “Do I need this?” In fact, I’m pretty sure many kids dread getting a friend request from Mom or Dad. Gee whiz! You’re putting your kids on the spot — if they ignore your request, they’ll think you’d get mad; if they accept your request, they dread the inevitable.

Many parenting professionals have often said that we will always be parents to our kids, not their friends. If you want to get involved in the cyberspace networks of your kids, be prepared to be ultra patient, understanding and tempered in responding. I read my kids’ posts and sometimes wonder if I should react — DON’T. Like a good leader in the business world, always praise publicly but reprimand privately. You don’t do the latter in Facebook. Just think about it as your kids standing around having a conversation and you butt in, “Hi, guys! What’s up?” They all stare at you thinking, “Duh?” Be careful with enforcing your law online — it’s not always the same as in real life.

The good side about this passive behavior online with your children’s social networks is you get to know more about them, the type of conversations they have with their friends, and many other things that usually doesn’t come up on the dinner table. It’s a great way to have another type of contact with your kids. It can also become a nice conversation piece on your Sunday family days or back to the dinner table. What happens in Facebook doesn’t stay in Facebook — they are helpful conversation starters.

Virtual parenting must have its limit for parents. Think of how it would make you feel (when you were in your teens) if your Mom or Dad would listen in to every conversation you had with your friends. There’s a limit to listening in and being tempted to remark (badly) to every item. As you try to give your children space in their lives, so must you do the same in the online social networks. All relationships need boundaries. Today, there are no foolproof guidelines in online parenting. As this generation matures, the virtual parent-child relationship will have to sort itself out positively.

What do you think? What are your online experiences with your children?

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