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The Facebook logo is shown at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, California, in this May 26, 2010 file photo. Facebook users are inadvertently providing access to their names and in some cases even their friend's names to advertising and Internet tracking companies, through some popular applications, the Wall Street Journal said on October 18, 2010. According to the Journal's investigation, the issue affects tens of millions of Facebook app users, including people who set their profiles to Facebook's strictest privacy settings, the paper said. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith/Files (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS SCI TECH)
The Facebook logo is shown at Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto, California, in this May 26, 2010 file photo. Facebook users are inadvertently providing access to their names and in some cases even their friend's names to advertising and Internet tracking companies, through some popular applications, the Wall Street Journal said on October 18, 2010. According to the Journal's investigation, the issue affects tens of millions of Facebook app users, including people who set their profiles to Facebook's strictest privacy settings, the paper said. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith/Files (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS SCI TECH)

Gary Mason

Boomers, stop ruining Facebook for your kids Add to ...

My college years, such as they were, are mostly a blur - and not just because they were a few years ago now.

It was the first time away from home. It was an exciting world in which I would meet people who would become lifelong friends. The first couple of years were spent mostly in campus pubs, playing darts or shuffleboard.

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It was possibly the best time of my life. And I'm so thankful my parents weren't there peering over my shoulder every time I went out to do what university-aged kids do when introduced to this intoxicating new freedom.

Which brings me to Facebook.

While people of my demographic cohort have been flocking to Facebook the last few years, I remained a holdout until a few months ago. My wife was an enthusiastic joiner long before I was, though, quickly requesting that our two sons help build her then-meagre stable of followers.

Jordan, our oldest, was at university in the United States at the time. We still recall him telling us in 2004 about this new social networking site he and his friends used called The Facebook. A few years later, my wife was among the millions of boomers who began logging in too. Soon, we could witness for ourselves the carnage of the many "keggers" our son was attending. There he was in some photo, shirt off, eyes half-closed, a delightful young woman pretending to lick his chest.

I was envious.

Then our youngest went off to Queen's and soon there was a growing body of evidence on his Facebook site that he wasn't spending Friday evenings in the library. There was Geoff, bleary-eyed, cigarette in mouth, his arm around some precious young thing pushing a breast toward his face. Ah, there he was again, this time throwing a large garbage can in the direction of a friend - good-naturedly, of course. Then one day Geoff sent me a note.

"Dad," it said. "Can you tell Mom to quit posting replies to my status updates?"

As I recall, the one that put him over the edge went something like: "Oh, my little philosopher sounds a tad tired today." It was sent with the sweetest of intentions, of course, but I knew exactly what my son meant.

By that point, I had joined Facebook myself. I had "friended" both of my sons. The day after getting Geoff's note, I de-friended them. It occurred to me, long after it should have, that I had no business attending every party my son went to, monitoring every reflection he thought to blurt out at 3 o'clock in the morning.

Now I'm more convinced than ever: Parents are ruining Facebook for their kids in university.

Monitoring high-school teens on Facebook, I get. Being friends with our children once they have left university and moved on to careers, no problem. But asking our kids if we can vicariously go back to university with them is wrong, unless by special invitation.

When my son goes to the pub he doesn't ask his mother and me along, nor does he feel obligated to. "For some reason," Geoff explained the other day, "when socializing is brought to the cyber world, this reciprocal respect between parent and child for social distance dissolves."

Now students in university are almost universally familiar with the nagging burden and associated guilt to include their parents in their social life. Every drunken, ill-conceived utterance on a Facebook wall brings dread: Did my parents see that?

That feels wrong and intrusive to me now. I think we should stop doing it - although my wife refuses to be convinced.

"The problem isn't young adults trying to get away with morally abhorrent activity without their parents' knowledge," Geoff said. "Nor is it an issue of children 'drifting' away from their parents. It is simply a case of their university-aged kids trying to maintain a healthy and historically appropriate distance from their parents."

For once, I think my son is absolutely right.

Follow on Twitter: @garymasonglobe

 

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