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10 Tips for Dealing With Family on Facebook

It's probably the scariest friend request you'll ever get: Your mom (or dad... or, God forbid, grandparent) has joined Facebook – and they want to connect. Sure, you love them – and you're happy they're embracing the digital age – but do you really want to keep them that informed about what you're up to?

Denying the request is usually out of the question, so how do you avoid those awkward moments, when your family invades your public privacy? did some research and talked to a few people about their own experiences with parental units, and how they dealt with them. We're keeping to just their first names, to protect them -- you know, just in case their parents are reading this article. Without further ado, here are some tips on dealing with family on Facebook.

1. Don't brag about sex, ever.
When your Facebook friends are your social peers, sex is a topic that may come up from time to time. But leave it to parents to spoil the fun. Mark had a successful night out and came home to crow on Facebook. "AWESOME night," he wrote. "dry-spell=broken". Moments later, his mother hit the "like" button – mortifying her son.

The situation can easily be reversed. Erin learned this when her 54-year old mother bragged of her great day that included "couch olympics". Erin's response? "GROSS! GROSSGROSSGROSS!!! ... EWEWEW EEEWWWWWW!!!!!"

2. Know who you're talking to.
Odds are someone else on Facebook has your name – and if you don't have a profile picture on your account, that could lead to some confusion for family members. Greg found this out when he got a note from a woman named Kathy, trying to connect with her son. Politely, he told her she had the wrong person. Then it got weird.

Five notes followed over the course of the next eight hours, each spilling a few more of Kathy's family secrets – and each getting progressively angrier. The messy divorce. The feelings of inadequacy. The fact that her Greg (the son) didn't call his grandmother. By the end, she was threatening to withhold his tuition. Greg did a little research and referred her to another account that, he hopes, was actually her son.

3. Warn your friends.
Even if you manage not to embarrass yourself in front of your parents on Facebook, rest assured that your friends will find a way to do so – whether it's rehashing stories of a drunken night out or by simply posting something on your wall that's meant to get a rise out of you.

14-year old high school student Marissa once posted a few pics of herself online. Naturally, as teens will do, one friend made a particularly crude comment in jest. (Too crude, we're afraid, to repost here.) She got the joke. Her Uncle Jeremy didn't, however – and hopped into the thread to sharply remind the friend to "watch the language!" Her friend quickly (and very politely) apologized.

4. Remember the audience.
Merry's brother is a campus minister. Merry, a 38-year old mother of two, is not short of opinions, so when Kirk Cameron put out a controversial YouTube video, she posted a status update reading "Kirk Cameron got Jesus. Michael J. Fox got Parkinson's. Would love to see a debate on Intelligent Design vs. Evolution between Mike Seaver and Alex P. Keaton!"

Turns out several of her brother's students have friended Merry as well – and look to him when her posts are contrary to her brother's beliefs. The posts have been a "constant source of aggravation" between them, she confesses – but they've managed to keep the squabbles confined to the phone.

5. Rebelling? They'll find out.

No one takes every lesson from his or her parents to heart. It's inevitable we'll do something they would disapprove of – but most of us keep those transgressions secret. That's a little harder when Facebook is part of the picture.

Josh, a 25-year old professional photographer, learned this when he posted a picture that showed him drinking a beer. His parents, who are conservative Christians, raised their children with the mentality that drinking alcohol buys you a ticket on the express bus to hell. When his mom saw the picture, she promptly called him and gave him an earful.

"I now have to regulate the pictures that I allow on my Facebook [page]," he says.

6. Jokes have a generation gap.
What might be hilarious to you and your friends may be hard to explain to mom and dad (or, again, God forbid, your grandparents). This is particularly true with sophomoric humor. PJ discovered this when he posted "While I appreciate a dedicated Christian might want to get a vanity license celebrating Jesus, I must point out that most of us interpret 'JISLORD' as something completely different."

His mother, confused, posted in her status "Papa and I can't figure out JISLORD. Help please." Thankfully, someone else filled her in on the double entendre.

7. Cull the quizzes.
There's a flood of quizzes on Facebook – everything from "How well do you know..." to drinking to dating. Some folks can't help but take 'em all and proudly post the results. Sadly, when Lorenzo saw the results of his mother's "Your Female Body Part" quiz (she was the chest – complete with a chock full o' cleavage picture), it was too much. "ew, mom. ew" he commented.

It could have been worse, though. Erin took the "Lover of the day" quiz – only to find the algorithm matched her with her brother.

8. Beware the tagging feature.
They appear in your feed without warning – pictures of you from other people, sometimes in predicaments you'd rather not advertise to the world. There are, of course, hundreds – likely thousands – of stories of people being tagged in embarrassing photos that immediately become visible to any friended family members.

That's a generally known risk when you accept a parent's friend request, though. What people may not count on is mom or dad scanning in pictures from your childhood. Michael learned this when his mother uploaded a shot of him as a child dressed in a tutu. Tom's experiences are a bit less humiliating, but along the same lines. "The only photos on my Facebook account (I don't even have a profile photo) are ones my sister scanned in from when I was like eight years old and tagged me on them," the 32-year old computer programmer told us.

9. Watch out for politics.
Political arguments are no longer confined to the dinner table, thanks to Facebook. Now parents and their children can debate the issues for the entire world to see.

Sometimes, though, it's done in a more passive aggressive fashion. Jason, a 28-year old IT manager for a New-York-City-based bank, was walking across the Brooklyn Bridge last year and saw a building that had left specific office lights on to spell out "Vote Obama". He took a picture and uploaded it to Facebook, where it appeared in the news feeds of all of his friends, including his McCain-supporting father.

"My dad had like a hundred status updates of 'Bumping,' 'Trying to get something off my page without deleting the poster,' 'Status update' and other random nonsense," he recalls.

10. Accept that, in the end, you have little control.
Privacy filters can help to a degree, but don't expect your parents to keep up with Facebook's ever-changing privacy settings. If your parents are friends, you're probably going to have some sort of awkward moment eventually.

Atlanta-based newsletter editor Jim started his Facebook page a couple years ago, but quickly ignored it. He got back into the site recently and friended his daughter.

"When my name popped up on her page she got a frantic phone call from a high school girlfriend: 'I can't believe you gave your step-dad permission to go on Facebook!'," he says. "I liked the 'permission' part of the sentence."

Tags: etiquette, facebook, family, features, kids, parenting, teens, top



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