Being granted parental permission to setup my very own Facebook account was one of the highlights of my childhood.
It was right up there with losing my virginity – although that wouldn’t come until years later – and the first time I took a sip from one of those thick chocolate shakes you buy from low-rent cafes.
I used my Facebook account mostly to play a game called Crazy Taxi, which if you ask me is a tautology.
But I also enjoyed the sense of community. And the idea that, as a 13-year-old whose life was dictated largely by the will of his parents, it was a platform one could establish an independent identity.
My group of friends, both male and female, felt the same.
Listen: I speak about all the times my own mum overshared embarrassing moments from my life on social media. Post continues after audio.
We never shared anything truly personal on Facebook. Most interactions revolved around sharing game high scores, or crafting statuses we perceived to be funny.
Even then however, they were crafted in our own tone. With our own vocabulary and our own linguistic flair. From an account we owned. With a picture of our face in the top corner.
After living as dependents, reliant on our parents for everything from underpants to breakfast cereal, we were given control over our own public image. It was invigorating.
We were finally able to realise the unique person we wanted to be… and then simply be that person.
Each time our parents publicly interacted with us on Facebook however, it held us back from being that unique person. It anchored our identity to the mother or father or family that, as teenagers, we tried so desperately to create distance from.
You can only imagine then, how each endearing wall post or butt-naked baby photo we were tagged in made us cringe.
‘Bingo’s First Bath,’ the caption would read. ‘He loved playing with his willy!’
He still does, but that’s beside the point.
It wasn’t our parents’ fault, how much they embarrassed us. We were a guinea pig generation after all. The first brought up conversing far more eloquently online than we ever could have hoped to in real life.
Now, however, it’s a different story. Social media has been around for nigh on two decades, and parents needn’t feel around blindly for where the line lies between friendly and embarrassing.
Obviously, some parents will be stricter than others. And it only follows that some children will be more tolerant toward engaging with their parents online.
But we’ve made it to the other side. We’ve navigated social media relationships with our parents as unreasonably cocky teenagers, and now returned to tell the tale.
And there are three pieces of advice we’d offer to the parents of any teenager with a sparkly new Facebook account.
1. Make stealth your friend.
Liam Neeson once said in an overwhelmingly cheesy re-make of The A-Team in 2010, “Overkill is underrated.”
Clearly, Neeson knew very little about interacting with teenagers on social media. Because the most reliable way to see what they’re up to is to make them forget you can see what they’re up to entirely.
Don’t like their posts. Don’t comment. Don’t make memes or engage or try your hand at emojis.
The more invisible you are, the more your teen is going to post and comment on Facebook as if you’re not really there. That way you can keep an eye on them, AND they won’t yell at you for being daggy.
2. Don’t add your child’s friends.
This ties into the fact your child is probably on social media with the sole purpose of establishing their own identity, and doesn’t want anything to do with yours.
I wouldn’t take this personally – it certainly doesn’t mean they don’t love you. And it doesn’t mean their friend Amelia – the one who comes over and eats all the biscuits – doesn’t love you either. They both do.
But you’re a mum. Not a friend. And your teen’s going to be most grateful if that’s a boundary you respect.
3. Don’t post photos of them. Especially baby photos.
Any image of your teen – be it recent, or from when they were a baby – isn’t yours to share. Regardless of the fact you probably took the photo, and also grew the aforementioned child inside of you.
A lot of parents – my own mum included – grapple with the notion that baby photos could ever be embarrassing. ‘Everyone was a baby once,’ they reason. ‘What’s so embarrassing about that?‘
To tell you the truth, I don’t really know. In hindsight, there’s nothing weird about baby photos. I just know that as a teen, having a baby photo your mum posted shared amongst your peer group was nothing short of mortifying.
And having any photo shared of you without consent was a breach of trust.
What social media rules has your teen enforced with you?