Facing It

For the last few weeks, I’ve been all over Facebook.  I’m spying.  I’m creeping around.  I’m searching.  This isn’t how I normally spend my days.  But my 15 year old niece is in trouble, having a tough time, acting out … all those stock statements we use about kids that don’t say much but contain all.  I’d even say she’s in danger, though like most 15 year olds (me included, circa 1980) she doesn’t believe in such things.  She’s got it all under control.  And she’s on Facebook.

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I first heard of Facebook in 2005.  My son was heading off to college and I got an e-mail to sign him up for a new, yearbook-type website.  Include a photo! it said, as this was the new way for college kids to get to know each other.  I barely hesitated, signed him right up.  I was so grateful!  He was, after all, going to be hundreds of miles from home; he’d need to meet new people, establish a support system; he’d need help becoming part of his new community.  This Facebook thing was a gift for this worried mom.

It’s hard to believe that was just a few years ago.  Now even I have a Facebook page.  Reluctantly.  I remember feeling self-conscious as I posted the profile photo.  What should or shouldn’t I say about myself?  It all seemed so painfully narcissistic.  It felt, well, creepy.  But I kept going, filling out the forms.  I’d no sooner posted some vacation photos and info about myself before I was back in the “administrative options” section,  deleting most of it and setting up “controls” (which took me hours and hours to figure out).  I even thought about turning it off all together.  I’d just gotten IN, yet I wanted OUT.  I hesitated.  I balked.  If I wanted to see what my grown kids were up to (the hovering mother), if I wanted to interact on-line with my young MFA peers (be accepted as one of them?) or see photos of old friends and their families (oh, the nostalgia!), Facebook was the only ticket.  Without Facebook, I’d be off the map.

I stayed on.

About a year ago I spotted some troubling posts on my niece’s Facebook page that I thought inappropriate for 14 year old.  When I called my brother, her dad, to sound the alarm, he was nonplussed.  They’re all doing it, he said.  It’s no big deal.  A few days later, I noticed she’d “unfriended” me.  I couldn’t see her page anymore.  I sent her an e-mail:

–  I see you’ve unfriended me.  Why?  Can we talk?

–  Sorry!  Facebook accidentally deleted a bunch of my friend list.

–  That’s odd.  Yesterday, you had 830 friends, and today you have 829.  Looks like I’m the only friend they deleted.

(radio silence)

________________

When I got my new puppy 2 months ago, I bribed my niece to re-friend me.  I was not above using puppy photos as the lure.  If you want to see my page (with the puppy!), you’ll have to show me yours, too.  I’m glad I did.  Being able to see what she’s been up to lately has been incredibly helpful in figuring out what’s going on with her.  What have I learned?

I learned that a 15 year old girl from small-town Missouri can have 1,100 “friends,” and many of those “friends” can be 20 and 30-something men from everywhere.

I learned that grown men who “friend” teenage girls post unbelievable of photos of themselves.

I learned that a young girl can post photos that make her look years older, and she can take these photos all by herself.  It’s easy to play pretend on-line, and it feels safe.

I learned that it’s awfully easy for a beautiful young girl to be found on-line.  The number of “friend me” requests from strangers is astounding.

I learned that her location and phone number and e-mail address are out there for all the world to see.

I learned that she “unfriended” her dad a long time ago and he forgot about it.  He was tired of dealing with it, tired of fighting about it.  He let if go.  Just like I did.

I’m left wondering ….. do our kids really need social media?  What are the benefits?  For example, I recently heard some teenagers talking about how it’s no longer fun to go to a party; the fun is in taking photos at the party which you post on Facebook later and wait to see who presses the “like” button, who comments, whether you’re worthy of being noticed.  Not noticed at the party, but noticed on-line.  Too few “likes” and comments, and you’ve failed.

Facebook.  Does a kid need it?  I mean really, if they weren’t ALL on it, who would care?  But of course they are ALL on it, and therein lies the muck.  And there’s some very serious muck.

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30 thoughts on “Facing It

  1. Jennifer Sanford

    I think Facebook is like anything. The user makes the difference. Just like a telephone, credit card or car. It doesn’t matter if they are 11 or 68. I allowed my (underFBage) son to have a profile this year. He’s amazingly responsible, leaves it open all the time (proving he’s not up to anything) and can only friend someone if he asks me first. He knows that if I see someone I don’t recognize, it’s over. This kind of trust has taken years of discipline and hard parenting work. I’m not so blind to think he won’t do some dumb things down the road, but knowing his personality – he’ll be safe and careful for the most part. It is a tragedy, these kids that get lost in the dark side of our culture, but I still believe, you can’t shoot the messenger…or message board…or wall…

    (By the way – thanks for the card. It made my day!)

    1. Teri

      I’m not shooting the messenger, but what I am shooting is our idea of what this is and what it does. And it is completely different if you’re 11 or 68.

      I imagine how much trouble I could have gotten into with this tool. And of course that’s all it is. A tool. But it’s a power drill with a strong current for the right kid. My question is: why do they need it? “Need” being the operative word. There are always those who will get lost on the dark side, this is just another tool (and an easy one) if you’re wandering.

      It’s interesting how we (me included) think it’s basically benign. We are kidding ourselves. It’s a whole new animal and we don’t yet know what it will bring. A new culture is born.

      1. Jennifer Sanford

        By the way, I meant to compare one 11-year old to another and one 68-year old to another, not the two ages against each other. That being said, my son is far more responsible with FB (and cautious) than my mother (who is 68!)

      2. Teri Post author

        How in the world did I not know you were talking about your mother!! Your mom is on Facebook?! See now that’s a surprise to me.

  2. Averil Dean

    Oh, I’m so with you. At this point, I detest social media. All of it. Not just because I’m sick of it, but because it’s EVERYWHERE. I saw something on Nathan Bransford’s blog, this huge long list of all the networking he does. I’m sorry, but that’s ridiculous. A healthy person needs time to think her OWN thoughts and get out of the house and get a life.

    Drew keeps a facebook page, which I use to spy on my daughter. I had to put the smackdown on her once, but now that she knows we’re watching it’s not too bad.

    I do feel though (and I’m basing this only on my own reactions) that facebook will get old and the kids will be on to something else. But I’m afraid social networking as a culture is here to stay.

      1. Teri

        From one blogger to another. Though like I said above, it’s different when you’re an adult. As grown ups, we choose the trouble. Kids, not so much — for some kids, especially, all attention is good.

        Even though the age limit is 13 and over, there are 14 million kids under 13 on Facebook. Call me fucking old, but I still don’t see why a 9 year old needs a cell phone and a Facebook page.

  3. Teri

    Check out the latest: Reddit. Underage girls can post photos of themselves, though of course they’re supposed to be legit. The more clicks you get, you move closer to the “front page.” The slogan: Keep your teens off line, put them in my van.

    Nice. How many of you real adults even knew this existed? In the immortal words of Kurt Vonnegut, “and so it goes.”

  4. macdougalstreetbaby

    Oh, Teri, this is so terrifying to me. My eldest daughter will start middle school next year and is already begging for a cell phone. Even that terrifies me. I’ve heard of young girls using their phones to photograph themselves inappropriately and send the pictures to boys who then download them to sites like FB and, bam, their entire world has changed. They’re all so young, have no idea how this will affect them later on in life.

    Kids at this age are going to rebel. It’s natural. I think the only thing we can do is hold them and tell them how valuable they are and how much they need to trust us on this. And then, of course, track down anybody who’s taking advantage of them and threaten them with their lives.

    1. Teri

      Obviously in my niece’s case, there is a serious lack of parenting. A girl lost in the big shuffle. It used to be that, if you were this girl, you had to go looking a bit, put yourself out there, in person. It’s too easy now to get in very deep without meeting anyone in person. Until it’s too late of course.

      I can’t even imagine the trouble I could have gotten into with such a tool when I was a kid.

  5. amyg

    my hope for your niece is that she finds her way to stable ground. not all who get so lost stay lost and some even triumph (because the getting unlost makes them that much stronger, that much smarter). i hope she can eventually feel how much you love and care about her. and, i hope you can breath steady enough until that times comes.

    nothing is as heartbreaking to me as a young girl who can’t see her worth, beauty and what could come from all of it.

    who knows what our kids really need. not me. i give what i have and lose my patience too often. mine are still too young to whine over not being able to play online. and i’m too old to say things that turn into “famous last words” (you know those things; they start with words like, “I’ll never let…”). i’m hoping by the time my daughter’s in middle school, this Internet fad will have past.

  6. erikamarks

    Oh, Teri, I’m with Amy–I am holding out some ridiculous hope that, like Barney, the internet will go the way of the dodo just in time for my daughters to reach the age when they might want it. This story of your niece chills me–and confirms every fear I’ve been harboring about the downsides of Facebook (well, let me rephrase that. That implies there are UPsides to Facebook and I’m not sure about that one…)

    Ladies, what do we do? I worry especially for our daughters and our nieces and our friends’ daughters and nieces. We do our best to affirm feelings of self-worth but then we have to say: Okay, let’s be honest for a second? If WE had had access to FB at that ripe and crushing age of 14, 15, wouldn’t we too have taken full advantage of FB to feel wanted? To feel validated? Is it enough to say: Trust me, sweetie. It WILL get better? Clearly not.

    I am so grateful for blogging, if for no other reason that it has connected me with all you wonderful gals. I have a FB account but don’t use it often–and FB to me merely represents this strange fascination with wanting to reconnect with high school classmates who didn’t give you the time of day when you actually KNEW what was going on in their lives–and now, 20 years later, you can read when they’re going to get a filling? Really?

    Thank you for opening this dialog, Teri. This must be breaking your heart–and you are doing so much by continuing to keep the lines of communication open with your niece. But God, it must turn your stomach to read/see the stuff put out there. And the worry is tremendous. Please keep us posted. We’ll be thinking of you and your family.

    1. Downith

      The parent of one of my son’s classmates is a teacher at a senior school. It’s a boarding school so they are also responsible for pastoral care. She has told me such horror stories of 17 and 18 year old girls putting really compromising photos/stories up on FB. She is horrified and worried but when she tries to explain the potential harm they are doing to themselves – future employers, their own safety, etc – they just laugh at her.

      I don’t know what the answer is but it scares me as does MSB’s point about cell phone photos.

      1. Teri

        Kids (and even some adults I know) think none of this is a big deal, that it will pass, that it’s like any generation’s “thing” or rite of passage.

        But my having a husband who works in data storage doesn’t help alleviate my fears. He tells me all the time how everything we post on-line is stored forever, how it can be copied and manipulated, how no matter if we erase it or take it down, it’s too late. Much like words said in anger that we wish we could take back — it’s already out there and can’t be taken back.

      2. erikamarks

        This is SUCH an important point. My husband teaches high school kids and he wishes there was a way he could impart to them how permanent this all is. Once it’s on the web, it’s there FOR EVER. Deletion does nothing in terms of that, from what I understand. It is so true that what seems fun and harmless at 15 will be judged harshly by a future employer, 5 even 10 years down the road. It is already so commonplace for employers to do these searches now–what does that say for our kids in the future?

      3. Teri

        My daughter, who is 30, is already one of the people who checks someone’s Facebook page before she hires them. And she’s one of their own generation.

        This is the way it will be.

  7. Lyra

    This breaks my heart. I have a niece who is 14 and has had her Facebook page for well over a year. I can’t even look anymore as I for the door she has opened and the things she posts. Now her parents are going to get divorced ( no one knows yet) and I dread the repurcussions of what will be happening on all of their “walls”. Nothing good can come of it.
    As for my daughter, she got a cell phone this year which I fought against but alas, sometimes the stepmom has to back away to keep the peace. I got certain things though. Her mom monitors all texting and e-mail. No boys until further notice. And it does not have picture capabilities. Now that she’s involved in sports and band, it has come in handy more than once.
    All that being said, I was a smart girl once and I did stupid things. Thank God Facebook wasn’t around then. She will not get a Facebook account if I can help it until she’s 18…or 30. I don’t plan on keeping the peace on that one but fortunately I think all 4 of her parents are on the same page.
    Love to your lost niece.

    1. amyg

      i have my daughter convinced that you can’t get married until 30 b/c that is the earliest they will give you a marriage license. “it’s like your driver’s license, honey. you get it when you’re 16 and then you have to use it to go to college and get a career started and then at 30 they’ll let you get a marriage license.”

      oh the stories we tell our kids…

      1. erikamarks

        Amy, I love that. I recently said something to the same effect to my 5 yr old who wanted to know if teenagers could get married (??!!)

        And we don’t even have cable!!!! Argh!!

  8. catherine

    This makes me think I should be checking up on my daughter more often! She knows I could scale down her socialising the moment she steps out of line, and I know Facebook is key to almost everything they do. But – am I weird? – I trust her and want to continue doing that. My ex and his lady check on her on FB and he once said very seriously We Think She Has A Boyfriend. It was something gg had told me months back.

    I really think parenting is about establishing open communication channels from an early age, but I’ll admit it’s hard to keep track of twenty-somethings and I give up there!

    1. Teri

      I believe we can trust them, and they have to feel our trust, our belief. I also believe it’s in a teen’s DNA to put their feelers out and break free and try things their parents don’t know about. I remember listening to a therapist say that when a kid does something wrong and you ask, “What were you thinking?!?!” and they say, “I don’t know,” it’s because they really don’t know.

  9. Bobbi

    Oh guys you have no idea how bad this is, no idea. It was without a doubt one of the biggest issues I dealt with back in my days as shrink to the teens. But it’s not going away and the generation will adapt and perhaps devolve or hopefully rise above. So much risk there it was hard to even comprehend. We’ll have to wait and see just how bad it gets. I’m thinking it’ll hit a tipping point and good will triumph over evil.

    1. Teri

      As always, Bobbi, thank you for the reality check.

      A friend tells me her 12 year old girl is on Facebook, But Monitored! A Good Girl! Raised Right! To which I say, yes, yes I know, I know you and I know you’re a good mother, I know that your daughter knows you care, that she knows you’re watching. And even though I’ve only seen a smidgen of who’s out there looking for this girl, even if she’s not the one seeking him out, I’m scared for her.

  10. lisahgolden

    Having a mom who is out there all the time might have served as a bit of a deterrent for my kids because so far (fingers crossed) they’ve had very few online incidents. I’m always braced for it though.

  11. Laura

    This post gave me hives. And while I know it’s completely inappropriate for me to judge….I am absolutely dismayed by her father’s nonchalance about the whole thing. This sounds potentially dangerous. And beyond that, it’s just sad — sad that she needs validation from these men, sad that this is apparently how teenage girls interact now. Just sad all around. Years ago, I knew a 13-year-old girl who listed herself as 17 on her Myspace page. Her mother was aware of it. What could I do if her mother allowed it? I did try to talk to the girl about it, but of course she wasn’t responsive. I feel so helpless in these situations.

    Also, I’m glad you called your niece out on her passive, blame-passing “oh, Facebook accidentally deleted some of my friends!” She needs to learn right now that kind of garbage doesn’t fly.

    I feel like there has to be some loving way of helping this girl or at least approaching the situation, but obviously I am at a loss.

    1. Teri

      Be dismayed, Laura. I’m dismayed, and angry, and wondering “where in the hell are the parents” just like everybody else. Hopefully she’s on a new path now and will move on from this. She has deleted her old Facebook page (with the 1,100 friends) and has, of course, started a new page. Because haven’t you heard? Kids can’t live without Facebook.

  12. Sherry Stanfa-Stanley

    My 12-year-old nephew has had both a cellphone and a Facebook for two years. Interestingly though, my two sons–in their early twenties–have little interest in Facebook anymore. Guess it’s just like any other teenage temptations… you just hope they survive long enough to grow out of it.

    Your niece is fortunate to have you looking out for her.

  13. Angie

    Gracie wants a Iphone, I say no…why does a 10 year old need a cell phone? So now I’m a baddd Mom! I let her have Facebook, because her great grandma does and other family members. Now here come the boys! I keep tabs on what she is doing on Facebook, and its a
    everyday job..lol So far its been okay. But a Iphone…no way! So she can just be pissed at me. I’m getting used to it!

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