Kids, Adults Co-Exist (Uneasily) on Facebook

Filed under: Tweens, Teens, Media, Gadgets

Have you "friended" your kid? Credit: Chris Jackson, Getty Images

It was a battle between kids and grownups.

Good news, fellow mature adults. We won! We won! We won! [Feel free to cackle fiendishly.]

The battle, in case you're interested, was over Facebook. The little rugrats have not been completely run off, but adults 25 and older now control 62.3 percent of Facebook. It used to be the kids' turf. Just two years ago, 63 percent of Facebook users were younger than 23.

Facebook's clientele have matured, and it isn't because the kids are getting older. Recent statistics show that, without much of a struggle, the war was won.

It seems that everyone these days has a Facebook profile -- parents, children, rock bands, celebrities, even local restaurants. Everyone is a Friend, Fan or part of a Group.

But just how much has Facebook changed?

In the early days of Facebook, concern about the safety of children on the social media sites was rampant.

Stanford University's Persuasive Technology Lab took up the challenge of educating parents on the value of Facebook. They created Facebook for Parents, a Web site, book and newsletter that help parents "think clearly about Facebook" by looking at both the social and privacy issues. They advised parents to engage their children online by joining in.

What were they thinking? Children often see their parents' involvement in Facebook as intrusive.

Katherine Prouty, a junior at Tigard High School in Tigard, Ore., tells ParentDish her parents were concerned when she first created her Facebook profile. "They looked at my friends' profiles and stalked me and all my friends to make sure I was hanging out with good people not bad people," she says.

As Prouty's gotten older, understanding of social media has changed and her parents' behavior along with it. "They don't look at my friends as much, but more at what I say and do," she says.

What is said and what is posted concerns a lot of parents as their children start the college application process.

Although college officials at Dartmouth say that they don't look at Facebook pages, eCampusTours.com, a college and career Web site, advises that students make certain their "Facebook profile represents the kind of person that you would like to portray to college admissions officers."

Nothing electronic is private.

The Web site also advises students to be careful about posting negative content, a lesson that we, as a society, are still learning. As recently as February, T. Keung Hui of The Cary News in North Carolina reported on a middle-school teacher who was suspended "after students and their parents objected to comments on her Facebook page".

It is possible to lock down a Facebook page, but privacy settings change and people repost.

One answer is for Facebook users to rethink who their friends are.

Remember, not only do you see what your friends post, but others as well, depending on the settings they choose. A post can be sent out to everyone, friends of friends, only friends or a customized group.

This means that you have no control over what your friends show your other friends.

If your friends are young children, this could get embarrassing or provoke conversations you aren't ready to have.

Donna Fowler, a single mother who is dating, made the decision not to have her daughters as Friends. "The things you talk about with your friends are not the same type of things you talk about with your daughter," she says. She decided to draw the line at Facebook.

Darcy Koloc of Minnesota took another route when she got on Facebook.

She didn't get hooked until she got a Facebook pet (a little dragon) and took care of him day and night during a stint of unemployment. But this got her youngest daughter hooked as well. "The only reason my youngest daughter has a Facebook profile is because she wanted her own pet," she says.

Kroloc's daughter's obsession didn't last long, but her three older siblings are on Facebook. They range from a low user who posts one a week to a "social network addict who posts several times a day." In addition, Darcy has become friends with some of her children's friends. That let her feel "plugged in as well" and more connected to their lives.

Feeling connected is likely at the root of the most surprising statistic about Facebook this year.

The fastest growing demographic was the 55-and-older crowd. With a phenomenal growth rate of 922.7 percent, less than 1 million in January 2009 to more than 9 million in January 2010, they are the newest users and are altering the face of Facebook yet again.

Which means, if you are in your 30s and 40s it is likely that, not only are your children on Facebook, but also your parents.

Make sure you're watching your Ps and Qs.

Related stories: Brits Want to Hit the Panic Button Over Facebook

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.