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An amazing thing happened last week. My teenage niece and nephew actually allowed me to become their "Facebook" friends.

It all started a couple of weeks ago when colleagues began building Facebook pages and looking at applications and groups. So, I figured it was time for me to better understand this world that so many teens inhabit. I've been surprisingly impressed at how secure Facebook feels. I could only find my niece and nephew's names, but not see their profile pages, until they approved me. They also could have chosen to only let me see a "limited" profiles rather than their full profiles.

And it really has been a fascinating venture. I saw my nephew's graduation photo before his mom sent it via e-mail. I saw his prom photos, which his mom neglected to send. I'm fairly certain I've figured out at least one girl he's dated, something he'd NEVER admit to in person.

I discovered that my niece and I like remarkably similar television shows. Either her tastes skew old or mine skew towards age 15! I've gathered snippets of quotes she likes and her conversations with friends, things that give me new insight into the types of interests she'd never tell me otherwise. Suddenly, I feel like an aunt more in touch.

In truth, I was amazed they both let me into their world. After all, they are teenagers and I am their mother's sister. And I'm fairly certain they'd never allow their mom into these pages. So, here's the question: Am I allowed to post to their walls? Or send them messages that let them know I've actually been reading about their Facebook lives? Or do I remain a silent observer?

Have you seen the Facebook pages of the kids in your lives? What's your impression of the site? What "adult" rules do you follow when peeking in?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  June 13, 2007; 6:45 AM ET  | Category:  Teens
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Maybe I'm old, but I cannot imagine parents letting kids post stuff on the internet for the world to see (even if "the world" needs an invitation from the kid) without insisting on access for themselves.

I'd assume that you, as an aunt who's been invited in, can and should be active on their pages. If nothing else, it may serve to remind the kids that they should be careful about what they put online, because an adult they know is reading.

Posted by: NewSAHM | June 13, 2007 9:01 AM | Report abuse

While I haven't gotten on to any of these sites (Facebook, MySpace, etc) I did have a cousin who, at 16, "met" a girl in Texas through Facebook (he lived in Minnesota) and unannounced to his parents, decided to drive down to Texas to meet her. Luckily, she was in fact a real teenage girl, but I'd really stress to kids that you never really "know" who most of the people on those sites are (obvously, in the case of this blog entry, a relative is different...)

As for online ettiquette for adults on Facebook, I'd be more inclined to observe silently. If they invited you they know you can see their page, but no reason to keep reminding them of that.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 13, 2007 9:11 AM | Report abuse

The thing about MySpace, Facebook, and other sites that have similar protections is that the security is very easily bipassed by being a clever impersonator. This doesn't even begin to go into the numerous occasions of the creation of pages that effectively steal the identity of someone, and claim to be them as a source of harassment. Then there is the issue of the amount of malware distributed through social networking sites.

The internet is a pretty dangerous place and should be treated like the real world in many respects. There's nothing specifically wrong with the social networking sites per se, but proceeding with a heavy hand on the supervisory side at first is a good thing until you know that your kids are sufficiently paranoid about the internet.

Posted by: David S | June 13, 2007 10:22 AM | Report abuse

As a 25 year old who uses facebook to keep in touch with college friends, I think it would be ok for you to post something on their wall. If you were the parent, I would say no, but as an aunt, I think it would be ok. I wouldn't comment on things in their profile or pictures unless they ask you to, but a simple Hey, I am thinking of you, hope you have a great day would be fine. I wouldn't try to use their slang or "lingo," but simply saying hey I am thinking of you should be fine. You would probably be surprised at how many adolescents want adults, especially close family members, to notice them and talk to them.

Posted by: Facebook User | June 13, 2007 10:22 AM | Report abuse

as a 24 year old facebooker still clinging to my college days, I think you should cement your status as the "cool" aunt and leave a clever post on her wall. Otherwise, you are just the creepy facebook stalker so many of us have become. On a sidenote, I do not add any anyone as friend that I have not met personally. This is especially easy to do with facebook because you are pretty limited within your networks; unlike the very unorganized and IMHO, unsafe myspace.

Posted by: J-Mart | June 13, 2007 11:12 AM | Report abuse

As a facebook user and abuser with one year of college left, I feel that facebook is exceptionally secure for what it is. Intended for college kids, it should have stayed that way. That feature created a safer enviroment for college kids to network electronically. With the addition of highschool facebook, and the fact that anyone can join, that advantage has vanished. So yes, facebook is safe, but it used to be safer. Also, you could message your niece and nephew, but don't post on their walls...a little weird, not gonna lie.

Posted by: ATL | June 13, 2007 11:41 AM | Report abuse

I feel sorta the same way about my cousin's Facebook page. There's 11 years between us, so she's a sophomore in high school and I'm headed off to grad school. I rarely post on her wall or interact with her (I sent her "soup" when her status said she was sick), but I like to keep up with her via Facebook.

I agree with ATL that it might be kinda weird to have my aunt post on my wall or to try interact publicly with me, even if they accepted you as a friend. Don't ask me why - just would.

Posted by: Jenn in SF | June 13, 2007 12:26 PM | Report abuse

My sister told me about my neice having a myspace account. She insisted it was safe. I found her and sent her a private message in about 2 minutes. It scared her and she thought someone was stalking her until I told her how easy it was and how she was not as safe as she was told she would be.
She never really uses it anymore.
But I agree, she would not like it if I actually posted to her wall.

Posted by: SF | June 13, 2007 1:17 PM | Report abuse

Ever since I was oh, about 17, my mom and I have had RULE for how and when she observes my online life. When she first got ICQ, the first message I got from her demanded I change my profile because it "seemed dark" to her. I was at college, and told her that my profile was not up for discussion (my dad paid my tuition and I worked).

When I got a blog a year or two later, my mom asked if she could read it, and I said yes as long as she never mentions it to me, because my blog is my place to vent, and I often only wrote when I was upset or depressed. I also had a tracker that showed me when she logged on from work, for how long, and how often.

When my sister (who still lived at home) got her blog, my mom would FREAK OUT about everything she read on my sister's blog, so my sister made her blog private. After a while, my mom figured out how to get in, so my sister and I wrote a fake post saying my sister was on drugs (not very nice, but neither is holding my sister hostage with passive aggression). My mom blew up, my sister got grounded for a week, and I yelled at my mom at not allowing my sister any privacy. She was mad, but she got it, and now my sister has an LJ with ONLY her friends from school and myself allowed to read it.

I'm twenty-five now and both my parents are on my MySpace. My dad is a musician and had a MySpace before I did, but my mom just made her profile so she could read my new blog. She still has a problem with limits (i.e. complains when I set an entry to "Preferred" or "Diary"), and my husband thinks its weird I have my mom's empty profile friended. But my mom is lonely, and I am willing to let her look as long as she respects my limits as an adult.

Posted by: Kat | June 13, 2007 1:20 PM | Report abuse

Stacy, I'd lean towards a wall post just to say hi, but leave it at that. Honestly, your niece and nephew probably expect you to spend a few days nosing around the site, lose interest, and then forget about it. It's probably fine to comment on the similar taste in movies or some other innocuous thing you notice on the profile, but tread lightly. Also, take comfort in the fact that it's not just a generational thing: there's quite a bit of social awkwardness over how to discuss news that's first learned over facebook. for example: "So, last week on your facebook profile I noticed your relationship status changed to single. Did you and John break up?" it's a weird thing to say.

Posted by: sasha | June 13, 2007 2:54 PM | Report abuse

Interesting thoughts.

I have a 17-y-o nephew (my husband is his "weird Uncle Don" and they have a very close relationship) who might be on one of these - but if he is, we don't know about it.

My turning-15-this-month son is autistic, so I'm very sure that he doesn't have any, and doesn't see any reason to have one.

Now, when the 10-y-o gets a few years older, he's going to be "Mr. 10k Friends", and we'll have to keep an eye on him! I'm sure I'll remember these comments and try to balance protectiveness with respecting his freedom and privacy.


Posted by: Sue | June 13, 2007 3:54 PM | Report abuse

Is anyone besides me old enough to remember when we wrote our private thoughts in locked diaries that we guarded with our very lives?

Posted by: blah blah | June 13, 2007 5:17 PM | Report abuse

The whole private life in public space boom is pretty amazing to behold.

I think if the person is in school and living in the house with the parents, the parents should definitely not allow the person to have public journals without them also having full access- and to regulate what gets posted.

Of course, a private journal should still be completely allowed.

I have LiveJournal and haven't yet been sucked into the other places. I do not invite my mother to join. This is not because I do not want to share my life with her, but because she would not be able to accept or be happy with what I shared. I'm also a fully independent sustaining adult.

Should you post? Only if it's funny or good memories. Otherwise, just send stuff to her privately about what you see and want to comment on.

Posted by: Liz D | June 14, 2007 3:03 PM | Report abuse

"Is anyone besides me old enough to remember when we wrote our private thoughts in locked diaries that we guarded with our very lives?"

No, thank God. Transparency breaks down taboos and class systems. And its not as though kids can't set their information and blogs to "Diary" if it's something private, but there's no harm in posting life announcements like "I just got a puppy! An' his name is Sam!" Nor is there anything wrong with kids joining forums and learning to express their opinions. A lot of (atheist/gay/Jewish/minority) kids "back in the day" grew up in mental closets, never knowing that there were other people out there like themselves. Now they know. Now they can find communities that support them in their journeys to find themselves in an anonymous environment.

As long as parents are monitoring their child's usage, I really don't see this as a bad thing.

Posted by: Kat | June 14, 2007 4:34 PM | Report abuse

For all you Facebook supporters:

If you think that it's just a handy social engineering project so friends can connect with friends, you're wrong.

Posted by: Scorpion6 | June 25, 2007 11:42 AM | Report abuse

For all you Facebook supporters:

If you think that it's just a handy social engineering project so friends can connect with friends, you're wrong.

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