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Teens ignore parents' Facebook friend requests

Jan. 12, 2011 at 4:01 PM ET

I share daily on Facebook, so I can only imagine the kind of teen angst I would have unleashed had it been around when I was younger. I'm sure it would have gotten me perpetually grounded. But, that’s only if I had accepted my parents’ friend requests. I have a feeling I would not have had a choice in the matter, but for 35 percent of about 2,300 teens surveyed by Kaplan Test Prep between June and December, they’ve evaded the sandtrap of Facebook friending the parental units and ignored their requests. That said, these kids aren't isolated from parents, who are still very involved in their academic lives.

As an adult, I’ve repeatedly stuck my dad in limbo by ignoring his friend requests. But that’s mostly because I can’t bear the repercussions of friending him, which would be incessant questions about who that person is, why I’m doing this or that, why don’t I put my relationship status on there, and on and on. (Dad: if you’re reading this because one of your friends who is my Facebook friend is reading this and forwarded it to you, sorry!)

While my father and I don’t have to go through that awkward dance of should I or shouldn’t I friend you, teens in today’s world and their parents continue to navigate those tricky waters of social networking and have sometimes found an uneasy peace in the Facebook camp. Basically, parents: don’t take it personally if your kid doesn’t want to be your Facebook friend. Sometimes, it’s the one place they need to assert their independence and growing identities.

Kristen Campbell, executive director, college prep programs, Kaplan Test Prep, came out with a statement that presents those challenges when they released their study results.

Although for generations high school students have come to accept and even embrace their parents’  involvement in their academic work and the college admissions process, Facebook continues to be the new frontier in the ever evolving relationship between parent and child. When a teen ignores a parent’s friend request, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are hiding something, but it could mean that this is one particular part of their life where they want to exert their independence.  Alternatively, some parents and their children may actually mutually decide to keep their Facebook lives private from one another.

Child safety advocates have long been in favor of just the opposite: parents snooping online for the greater good of protecting their children, even as a Michigan man prepares to go to court for hacking into his wife’s e-mails, on suspicion of an affair. The UK's Child Exploitation and Online Protection Center implored Facebook in April to embed the agency's "panic button" on the site for children to report "disturbing encounters."

Now I'm at the age where friends are allowing their kids on Facebook, and I can see from their perspective why they'd want to know what's going on. I am Facebook friends with much younger cousins who are in high school, and from their posts, I have questions, so I can imagine what parents must go through.

Parents who are worried about what is going on with their kids can find more information on Facebook's Safety Center, where the company has resources for parents, teens, educators and law enforcement. On Facebook, anyone over 13 is considered an "authorized account holder," so the company is forbidden to give access to others, including parents. The site encourages open communication in the family, and gives suggestions on passwords, blocking users, removing friends, reporting harassment and attacks, as well as exercising prudence on information posted on the site.

Of the 35 percent who aren’t friends with their folks on Facebook, 38 percent of them said they’ve ignored their parents’ friend requests, but 82% say that mom and dad are either “very involved” (44%) or “somewhat involved” (38%) in their academic lives.

In an interview earlier today, Campbell said the Facebook friending question was a new one that Kaplan posed to students, whom they poll regularly as they're taking prep tests and the real deal. "Our take is they don’t have a lot of control on a lot of aspects of their lives, but when it comes to the social and Facebook aspects of their lives, it’s where they want to exert more control."

But, "If the parent suspects there’s anything wrong, they should follow-up on it, but they should not necessarily perceive ignoring friend requests as a cause of alarm. It's a personal choice some kids are making."

Kaplan also found that16 percent of teens who are friends with their parents on Facebook are compelled to do so as a pre-condition for being allowed to create their own profile.

In May, before the Facebook friending question was asked, a separate Kaplan Test Prep survey of 973 high school students reported that of teens who said their parents were on Facebook, 56 percent provided their parents with full profile access — including status updates, party photos and all, while 34 percent gave them no access at all.  Nine percent gave their parents limited access.  

Under what conditions would you let your kids run around Facebook without any surveillance, if any?

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