Do My Kids Have to Add Grandma and Uncle Joe to Their Facebook Page?


Dear AdviceMama,


My high schoolers have Facebook pages. We have relatives that have "friended" them who they have added so as not to hurt feelings. My kids and I are not happy that these relatives are using Facebook to find out things about their lives when they really don't interact with them otherwise. What to do?

Signed,
Seeking Privacy


Dear Privacy,

It really is a new world when it comes to sorting out cyber-relationships, and your question points to a particularly challenging aspect of this: When is it okay to pass on accepting a friend request, and are there other options if ignoring an invitation could be seen as hurtful or disrespectful?

Although this appears to be a Facebook issue, it strikes me as also being about the fact that your relatives show a "cyber" interest in your kids, without demonstrating one in the "real" world. I understand why it might feel annoying when they pursue connections with your kids online without making an effort to interact with them offline.

But I also know that many aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents are sensitive to the fact that, typically, adolescents aren't terribly interested in long phone calls or visits with extended family members. Have your relatives gotten the sense that your kids want to get to know them better, or do your high schoolers come across as disinterested -- as teens so often do around distant relatives?

Many people have found Facebook a great way to show interest and connect with nieces, nephews and grandkids, while maintaining a respectful distance from them.

If you're convinced that your relatives are, however, deliberately snooping on your high schooler's pages for juicy tidbits, keep in mind that users can discriminate between who gets to read personal news (best reserved for genuine friends) and who receives the generic information -- like your favorite pizza topping. Your kids can put relatives into a group with limited privacy settings that will prevent them from having full access to the information that their closer "friends" can see.

And in the same way that we teach our kids to have healthy boundaries by not forcing them to hug someone who makes them uncomfortable, we also need to respect our youngsters' wishes if they don't want a relative in their Facebook world. It's easy to "unfriend" someone, and fair game to turn down an invitation if your kids doubt a relative's good intentions. You might even support them in sending a message, explaining that they feel more comfortable restricting their Facebook friends to those with whom they have regular contact offline.

The fact that your teens have generously included their relatives in their Facebook world suggests that you have raised them to be respectful and caring. It also tells me that, unlike many young people these days, your high schoolers aren't posting things too provocative or inappropriate for Aunt Edna to see, which is comforting.

Use privacy settings to support your youngsters in establishing boundaries for themselves. But if there's a possibility that your family members are tentatively trying to establish a relationship with your kids but are hiding behind Facebook because they're intimidated about reaching out, consider inviting them to join you for a real-world family game night or barbecue. Chances are, they'll greatly prefer getting to know your kids offline, if given the opportunity and the invitation.

Yours in parenting support,
AdviceMama

AdviceMama, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed and practicing psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available onAmazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.

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