My 13-year-old son recently "friended" an old elementary school pal - I'll call him Pete - on Facebook. The two of them drifted apart after they were no longer at the same school, but I remained friends with Pete's mom. My son knows that I know his Facebook password and we are "friends." Recently, I took a look at Pete's Facebook page and read banter back and forth between Pete, who is almost 13, and his Facebook "friends" (not my son). I was shocked at the anti-Semitic and anti-gay talk, and suggestions about girls performing fellatio on him, as well as Pete talking about his size etc.
Do I say anything to Pete's mom?
It's interesting you distinguish between a real friend and a Facebook "friend" with quotation marks (especially vis-à-vis your son, who I assume is not only your "friend" but also your friend).
There's a lot of unreality in Facebook interactions. All you have to do to make a friend is point and click. You could have 1,617 Facebook "friends" and be furiously writing on their "walls," engaged in discussions, signing petitions - meanwhile, back in reality, you're alone, staring at a screen.
Me, I prefer the kind of friends you can sit down and have a drink and a quesadilla with, the kind that are hard to make and can be a pain (sometimes) to maintain - to look at their faces rather than a photo, to shake their hands and inhale their unique aromas.
Likewise, Facebook "problems" often seem unreal to me: "Dear Dave, I just found out my girlfriend 'friended' her ex!" Yawn. Point on "get over it" and click.
But this is more of a parenting and friendship problem, really. Take Facebook out of the equation and it's basically: "My friend's kid has been spewing anti-Semitic, homophobic, misogynistic rhetoric and I don't think my friend knows. What should I do?"
My advice: Go ahead and rat out the little putz.
Maybe if his rhetoric were less objectionable, my advice might be different. Let's face it: You were snooping a bit, and some might say your proboscis was probing where it didn't belong when it wound up on Pete's Facebook page.
And maybe I've seen too many episodes of Law & Order, but Pete may argue he had an "expectation of privacy" from his friend's parent on Facebook.
But that's just another illusion. Put anything on the Internet, and it's out there, babies, especially if you have 1,617 "friends." The sooner Pete learns this, the better.
Now we all know that some people, when they get on the Internet (just like when they get in cars), fill with a mighty rage, and are emboldened to spew venom and vent spleen in ways they would never dream of in a real-time, face-to-face encounter. They become like Mr. Furious, Ben Stiller's character in the movie Mystery Men: His superpower is he gets really, really angry.
Maybe Pete's just striking an online pose and it won't be a hard hand grenade for his mom to defuse.
On the other hand, you say this kid is "almost 13." In other words, he's 12. Anti-Semitic, homophobic rants, boasts about penis size and fellatio from a 12-year-old: That's more than typical early-adolescent braggadocio and/or tweenage "acting out." This kid could be a real freak show in the making.
At the very least, we can say Pete puts the "weenie" back in "tweenie." And if I were his parent, I would certainly want to know about it, so I could nip this in the bud.
Tread carefully, though. Remember, by pointing out Pete's misbehaviour, you're indirectly pushing the Bad Mom button, which has a way of causing the fur of some momma bears to bristle and their claws to become unsheathed. Approach your friend as diplomatically and gingerly as possible, with an attitude like "it could happen to any parent." (Even if you secretly don't believe it.)
If she's at all a reasonable soul, she'll thank you (eventually, it may be) for caring enough to let her know. If she isn't, and doesn't - well, you're probably better off.
The other thing that could happen if you drop a dime on Pete is he freaks out and "de-friends" your son. Who might in turn get mad at you and stomp around the house, Mr. Furious-style, for a while.
But I don't see that lasting. Sooner or later, I'm sure he'll see you're just trying to protect him, momma bear-style, from (virtual) interaction with a (potential) bad seed.
Anyway, Pete's just a "friend." Easy come, easy go. I'm sure your son has hundreds, if not thousands, more where he came from. If he needs one more - just point and click!
David Eddie is the author of Chump Change and Housebroken: Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Dad. Damage Control, the book, was released in March.
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