As I sat down at my computer to pump this blog post out, my roommates sat in my living room watching last week’s Modern Family episode, Send Out the Clowns. When I heard one of the characters, Claire, ask her teenage daughters “hey, how come you guys haven’t accepted my friend request?” I immediately realized how important this entertainment content obviously was to my college career and hopped on the couch with them to watch what America’s favorite lovable family had to say about the contextual collapse that so many teenagers and young adults find themselves experiencing nowadays.
Claire’s daughters explain that to them, its an issue of privacy as well as identity:
“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.”
Not only are they hesitant of her catching them doing something wrong (she is what many youth would consider their nightmare audience,) but also, they are concerned with what her entrance into their online world could bring to their social lives. In their minds, along with those of many youth nowadays, the world they’ve crafted on the Internet is simply somewhere their mother does not belong. The pictures, discussions, events, etc that occur on their Facebook page form a network that a large number of youth want separate from certain people in their lives, often their parents or other family members. As danah boyd and Alice Marwick explain in “Social Steganography: Privacy in Networked Publics, “teens are trying to vocalize that social network sites should have understood boundaries, driven by a collective understanding of social contexts…attempting to clearly mark Facebook as a space for friends” (17). They also make note in their article that since social network sites first emerged, they have become a place where teenagers can finally feel that they have a “place” in society, as well as somewhere they can express themselves freely: “as physical spaces for peer sociability have disappeared or been restricted, and as teens have found their access structurally or socially curtailed, the value of mediated spaces where teens can gather has increased” (8).
As teenagers spend their days crafting their own personal identity through their interactions with the world and others, many stray from the grasp of their parents who have raised them thus far. They are yearning for a sphere to call their own, but more importantly a place that they can experiment and grow in without having to censor themselves. Facebook provides what boyd and Marwick refer to as an “illusion of control,” where youth feel in control of the content they publish as far as who will see it. One of Claire’s daughters explains this very thought to her mother, “you know they have a lot of blocks on there to protect kids from weirdos.”
Aside from showing us why many teenagers don’t want their parents in their online social spheres, Modern Family does something much more important: it shows teens that although they may think otherwise, their parents could have reasons for wanting to join their online social circles other than to “spy” on them. Claire explains, “I figured if you can’t fight it…there’s nothing wrong with catching up with a few old friends or doing a little social networking with my BFFs (referring to her daughters).” With social networks expanding every day and becoming such an important part of so many aspects of our lives, it is possible that many adults simply have the urge to be more involved with their children’s lives as well as the online world in general.
While teenagers and young adults today seem to have placed an ownership stamp on social networks, it’s important to realize that the Internet is becoming a more welcoming environment to every age group by the minute. Its expansion is not something that can be fought, and thus simply must be accepted. Technology is advancing and users of all age groups are grasping onto it. However, what may be good news for many youth is that as their types of users grow, these sites continually take shape to balance this. For example, Facebook (with its own astounding 845 million monthly active users,) has done so by implementing many ways to customize the privacy of every bit of content published. Although it may soon become very common place for parents and their children to become “friends” online, it is becoming easier every day to create separate networks within social network sites, allowing youth to maintain the privacy that they may feel is being torn away from them.