Parents and teachers are on Facebook, and their numbers are on the rise.
Created in 2004 for college students, Facebook started allowing high school students to join in 2005. Then, in 2006, the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company invited the general public to create Facebook profiles and begin inviting people to be their friends (a.k.a. “friending”).
With a reported 175 million members worldwide, Facebook has evolved way beyond the latest teen fad. So now, if Mom, Dad and teacher have e-mail addresses, they can create Facebook accounts.
Some might see this as Facebook, once a hip destination, verging on the uncool.
But some teen Facebookers see friending their parents and teachers as a chance to reap mutual benefits, with adults and young people getting to know more about each other’s lives across generational gaps.
Serving as a role model
Brandon Dell’Orto teaches history at Granite Bay High School in Granite Bay, Calif., and is a father of three. He has been on Facebook since some of his students formed a group on the site called “Brandon Dell’Orto for President in 2008.”
Granite Bay student Kurt Chirbas says Dell’Orto is “one of the cool teachers” whom students are happy to friend.
Dell’Orto is Facebook friends with current and former students, and his profile on the site consists mainly of pictures of his wife and kids.
“I have nothing to hide about my life, so I have nothing to hide online,” he says. “For myself, and I think all teachers, we can use this site to be a model for what it is to be a happy adult.”
He says he doesn’t think of Facebook as a “teenage thing” and also uses it as a tool for keeping “in tune with what’s going on.”
At the end of each class, Dell’Orto makes a point of shaking his students’ hands so he can look them in the eye and see how they are really doing.
Facebook, he says, “is just shaking hands in a different venue.”
Nothing he has seen recently online about his students has shocked him.
Instead, he has noticed that kids are “smarter and more aware” about the fact that what they post is public information.
For example, in 2006, he busted a student for bragging about a ski trip online when he had missed a test and phoned in sick.
“I feel like there was a learning curve. ... These things that kids post on the Internet, at this point in time, they know it is open game,” Dell’Orto says. “Kids have started to learn, and they know what is and isn’t appropriate.”
When mom signs up
So it’s one thing to have a teacher as a friend online, but what happens when it’s your mom sending you that friend request?
Tammy Collins of Folsom, Calif., is Facebook friends with both her daughters, Candace, 18, and Katie, 15.
When Collins wanted to join members of her rowing crew and create an account, Candace and Katie didn’t protest. In fact, Candace actually helped set her up.
Candace, a graduate of Folsom High School, is attending San Diego State University, and now that she’s away from home, Facebook has proved to be an easy way to keep in touch as a supplement to e-mail and phone conversations.
“It’s absolutely more common to have parents on Facebook. My roommate’s mom is on Facebook, too,” Candace says. “Moms and dads aren’t clueless; they know what’s going on and they are not necessarily spying, but they can just be involved.”
When Candace posts things — like a photo of herself in a outfit her mom might not approve of — she says she realizes her mother will probably see it.
“I’ll think, ‘How is my mother going to feel about this?’ and everyone should think like that, really,” Candace says. “If you’re going to post something that you are afraid of your mother seeing, then you need a better relationship with your mother or watch what you’re doing.”
Katie, still at Folsom High, lives at home. She’s unfazed by her mom being on Facebook.
“It’s not a positive or negative thing, really. ... It doesn’t matter,” Katie says. “(Teens) shouldn’t be too worried unless their parents are on there just to go into their personal lives. ... Adults are on there to connect with people, too.”
Collins maintains that she is not on Facebook to “spy” on her kids. Rather, she aims to put faces to names. She warns, however, that parents who are “too nosy” don’t belong on Facebook.
She recommends that parents be ready to play the role of a supporter unless something looks seriously wrong.
“You need to be willing to let your kids grow up, even if you don’t like everything you see,” Tammy says.
Another teacher who’s on Facebook with her school administration’s knowledge and approval is Maureen Wanket, the English department chairwoman at Loretto High School in Sacramento, Calif., as well as a freelance writer who has written articles about online networking.
Wanket says a responsible adult presence online is a benefit to young people. “Facebook is not just for the young set anymore, and it has to make the kids behave better knowing that adults can see their profiles,” she says.
It’s also important that adults are online so they can stay informed with their kids’ lives, she says. Not doing so is “willful naivete” and makes the Web more of a “shadowy place for our kids.”
Tamar Kuyumjian is a senior at Loretto and a Facebook friend of Wanket’s.
Kuyumjian says she is “comfortable” and “cool” with having a teacher as a friend on Facebook and argues that teens shouldn’t feel imposed upon by authority figures on social networking sites.
“I’m just myself online, and it’s not like Ms. Wanket doesn’t know me,” Kuyumjian says. “(Facebook) is for everybody, and if you are that worried, you don’t have to friend older people if you don’t want.”