As I did this week’s readings for class, I could not help but think about the most recent episode of Modern Family, “Send Out the Clowns.” This particular episode deals with Claire’s introduction to Facebook and how her daughters, Haley and Alex, react. Although the situation is highly satirical and an over dramatization to what may go on between parents and children in real life households, the TV show does call attention to the relationship between parents and youth when it comes to social media.
After Claire confronts her children about accepting her Facebook friend request, her kids privately tell the camera, “We got her request the first time but ignored it. I can’t have her on there snooping around seeing what I’m doing at parties. Or posting pictures of us on family vacations wearing old, dorky clothes ” (Modern Family). This resistance of parental access completely represents danah boyd and Alice Marwick’s Social Steganography: Privacy in Networked Publics definition of privacy according to teens and its importance to them. boyd and Marwick note, “the absence of parents is regularly a key factor for teens to feel as though they have privacy” (boyd and Marwick 3). At one point in the episode Claire continues to nag her kids to allow her to access their profiles. She says, “what is so private that I can’t possibly see it?” (Modern Family). To this, the girls quickly answer, “nothing,” yet they still resist their mother’s access. Similarly in boyd and Marwick’s piece, 17-year-old Bly takes the same stance. “It’s not like I do anything to be ashamed of, but a girl needs her privacy. I do online journals so I can communicate with my friends. Not so my mother could catch up on the latest gossip of my life” (boyd and Marwick 5). Even on a public forum, teens consider what they post private.
To many teens’ dismay though, parents are finding ways to access their so-called “private” information. According to a survey by OnePoll, 55% of parents check up on their kids’ social networking profiles.
So how do teens deal with parents who try to snoop? In the Modern Family episode, Haley tells her mom that she didn’t even receive her friend request, claiming, “you know they have a lot of blocks on there to protect kids from weirdos” (Modern Family). Haley uses her mom’s lack of knowledge about the medium to her advantage. In fact, this avoidance strategy is not far off from the teens that use Text Free and Text Plus as a way to trick their parents into bypassing information they might want to see. Both Haley and the Text Free/Text Plus users can get away with lying to their parents due to their parents unfamiliarity with technology in the first place.
I think adults’ lack of knowledge about social media makes them feel as if they should be more concerned about youth social media use than what is actually necessary. This reminds me of Amy Adele Hasinoff’s piece, Sexting as media production: Re-thinking dominant ideas about teen girls and sexuality online. Hasinoff says the that moral panic surrounding social media is similar to that of the, “fears about the telephone and the telegraph when they were first introduced: that young women might use these communications technologies to make contact with inappropriate or dangerous romantic and sexual partners” (Hasinoff 4). With each new technology that is introduced, adults repetitively let social anxieties fall on the technologies themselves, rather than addressing the true, underlying problems in the situation. Because adults don’t fully understand the platforms, they blame the platforms, when really they are nothing but media for affairs that would probably still happen if the technology didn’t exist.
To that end, Claire demonstrates her lack of understanding about Facebook by asking her daughters to, “tear down the wall,” when she is tagged in drinking photos from college. This brings up a point that I don’t think was mentioned in the readings, but surely exists in everyday life. Do parents want privacy from their children just as children want privacy from their parents? Teens may not want their parents to see what goes on their profiles because they are embarrassed or gossiping, but parents may not want their kids to see reconnections with ex-lovers or college partying pictures. As being the biggest influence in a child’s life, parents seem to have a bit at stake too when they allow their children to access their social media world.