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)

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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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