Our Parents & the Internet: a Union that We Must Accept

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.

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  1. zoiemancino

     /  March 28, 2012

    Hi beautufl lovely perfect arielle :))) first off, I love that you put the perennial “hey why didn’t you accept my friend request” question in quotes because it still makes my heart pound when I hear it used. Having gone through the same thing with my mom, I understand only too well the plight of trying to want to keep things amiable on all fronts — on the one hand, it might be nice to share some things with your parents and know that you can connect with them beyond the dinner table, on the other hand, I don’t trust my friends nor the worst invention in the world: tagged photos. You bring up a great point though that pre-teens and teenagers can’t really hide from their parents on social media sites forever; after all, like you said, our parents do have better things to do than monitor every little thing we do on the web, like Claire Dunphy, my mom gets a lot of use out of facebook beyond trying to snoop on my brother and I, she mainly uses it to connect with old friends…I also liked that you said that both generations like to put their “ownership stamp on social networks”; I personally never saw it that way growing up, as I always thought facebook seemed to trivial for adults and always thought that social media was confined to a younger generation that is inherently networky in the first place (adults always seem so complacent with the idea of losing friends and growing up), but now I see your point. In fact, my mom used that argument against me when I didn’t want to add her, by saying “I bought the computer, without which you couldn’t be on facebook, so you have to accept me”. anyways, so sorry about all of the personal anecdotes in this response, I just could relate to a lot of what you were saying, and I agree that the internet belongs to nobody, and we just need to get used to the fact that a network online probably includes our parents, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find a semblance of privacy still.

  2. I’m so glad you posted about this episode! I found it so fitting with the week’s readings when I saw it as well! One of my favorite things about Modern Family is how the writers always go a step beyond the obvious humor. In this case, they the last moments of the episode to present a twist on the youth needing privacy from their parents online when the girls see photos that were tagged of their mom partying hard in an album entitled “Spring Break 1990 New Orleans.” Claire’s response–what is tagging? Untag it! Tear down the wall!–was priceless. I loved the way the situation was completely reversed within a matter of seconds, from the girls expressing their embarrassment about the “totes adorbs” photos their mom had uploaded from Thanksgiving to Claire slamming her laptop shut in total shock and horror when her daughters got a glimpse into her past. It’s as if we each need our own spaces online for our different circles of friends–be they family members or close friends or old college buddies–who all see us and represent us in different lights. I always love it when television shows can so cleverly present the culturally relevant issues so many of us face in our own lives like this one does.

  3. It’s so interesting how regularly “Modern Family” comes up in my MCC classes. I suppose it makes sense, seeing as how the premise of the show is bounded in ‘modernity’, certainly characterized by the very technology that we find at the heart of our course on Social Media Networking.
    As I’m sure most of us can, I can most certainly relate to this situation. My mom just recently started using Facebook under the guise of playing the games and catching up with old friends, as well. However, it didn’t take her too long to get into the questions of “who’s that boy?” or “so I see you’re spending all of your money at bars”. Kind of annoying. But I think the situation that the show presents here is a bit different. My mom feels comfortable asking questions relating to my Facebook page because it is one way that she can actively engage with my life since I’ve moved out of our family home. However, in situations where the children still live in the household, I could foresee a parent’s involvement in their childrens’ use of social media being an extension of, or in actuality, a different manifestation of “helicopter parent(ing)”.
    Digital media, and the various social media outlets located therein, are very much so a space, just like any physical world, that we as active participants in society must learn to navigate successfully in order to remain consistent with societal discourse. Before these platforms were available (or at least widely popular enough to where parents would have any interest in using them), it was necessary to let one’s child go and learn to socialize in environments where the parents could not themselves be present. Social media exist as one of these spaces, and in my opinion, by entering this space when a child still lives under the same roof (and therefore has not had the adequite time or experiences necessary to become fully socialized in the physical world, let alone a digital one) and having part in how they engage with the online social space, the ways in which the children participate in the greater society in the future can be greatly affected.
    FYI, I’m currently visiting home for the weekend, and as I was typing those last few sentences, I heard my mom yell to my brother on the phone “TAKE THAT OFF OF FACEBOOK”. #justsaying

  4. lauraportwoodstacer

     /  April 1, 2012

    Nice reflections, all of you!


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