Darcy &Tyler Harper look through Facebook together in their Norcross home. Tyler reluctantly became cyber friends with his mom last year. It turns out such parental guidelines aren't all that unusual. According to a new study on social networking trends and practices, 16 percent of teens say friending their parents was a precondition for joining the social networking site.
On its face, Darcy Harper's year-old Facebook friendship with her son Tyler might look like a match made in cyber-heaven. Indeed, the same could be true for Madelyn Spiegelman and 16-year-old Clyde Stewart-Mathews, and Andrea and Spencer Shelton. But the truth is those friendships were forged with a stern caveat: friend me or no Facebook. "That's just the rule, " said Spiegelman of Dunwoody, Ga. "You either do it or you're not going to be on Facebook." Turns out such parental guidelines aren't all that unusual. According to a new study on social networking trends and practices, 16 percent of teens say friending their parents was a precondition for joining the social networking site. "Facebook continues to be the new frontier in the ever-evolving relationship between parent and child, " said Kristen Campbell of Kaplan Test Prep, which conducted the study. Although roughly two-thirds of U.S. teenagers feel at ease having their parents friend them on Facebook, for many teens getting friended by their parents is like, OMG, sharing a tender moment with them in public. Andrea Shelton has personal experience with this when she posted "Spencer, you're the man, " recently on his wall. "I thought it was cute, " said Shelton, a resident of Atlanta. "He was mortified, and I learned a lesson: Lay low, Mama." While Shelton agreed she wouldn't post on Spencer's wall, she and other parents say they refuse to relinquish all control. They say they constantly monitor their children's activity on the site so that they not only know who they are talking to and what they are saying, but how they say it. Spiegelman said that on a few occasions she woke her son from a deep sleep after he mistakenly left his chat open exposing inappropriate language. "The consequences weren't good, " she said. Darcy Harper of Norcross, Ga., said she, too, monitors her son's Facebook activity all the time and has seen things posted by other teens on his wall that made her heart flutter. In retrospect, the 44-year-old mother of three, including 10-year-old twin daughters, said she probably would've waited two more years before giving 13-year-old Tyler the green light. "That would be my advice to other parents, " she said. According to Campbell, when a teen ignores a parent's friend request, it doesn't necessarily mean the teen is hiding something, but it could mean that this is one particular part of his or her life where the teen wants to exert independence. The study found that 65 percent of teens "are not hiding and that is positive, " said Campbell, an executive director at the company that develops college prep programs. A separate 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 — status updates, party photos and all — than with no access at all. Only 9 percent of teens gave their parents limited access. (The survey was conducted by e-mail to 2,313 Kaplan Test Prep students who took the SAT and/or ACT between June 2010 and December 2010. Shelton, who admittedly was late coming to the site, said that friending children was some of the best advice she'd gotten. "As much as I'd like to withdraw from this cyberworld, we've been thrust into it, " she said. As it were, Shelton and other parents said they've taken a more proactive stance and counseled against engaging in course talk or bullying, for instance, and warned that "whatever you put out there a future employer can use it against you." "So far so good, " Shelton said. "My big worry is what if he has another cyberlife I don't know about." Then in another breath she said that in a few years, "Facebook is going to seem like nothing compared to driving. I understand my prayer life will increase at that moment."