Facebook… And The Friend Test

When I was 15 I thought I had lots of friends: school friends, ballet friends, neighbourhood friends. If I tallied them up I may have had 50! Life was going well!

Fast forward 25 plus years and the concept of a friend has completely changed. My 15 year old has over 500 friends on Facebook– more than 10 x the number I did at his age.

Now either I had an undiagnosed social disorder as a teenager or, thanks to Facebook, our definition of a friend has drastically changed. For the purposes of my self-esteem, I am going with the second option.

So, what does a Facebook friend actually mean? Well in broad terms, a Facebook friend can mean anything from a lifelong chum through to someone who you have met once to someone you don’t even know but who happens to be the ‘brother of a girl who you once sat next to at school’ (aka stranger). Clearly, it is a very loose term.

Whilst most adults tend to have tighter or more traditional definitions of friends on Facebook, teenagers tend to fall into the serial friending category and see their friend count as a direct reflection of their popularity.

As adults, we all remember the pressure to be popular as a teenager but I really believe we owe it to our kids to educate them about the possible dangers of having too many friends on Facebook.

In short, sharing details of your life with strangers is risky. If you don’t know someone, how can you be sure of their agenda? They may not even be real! Cybercriminals who are intent on stealing identities can adopt random profiles on Facebook.  ‘Checking in’ or sharing your whereabouts on Facebook to an army of strangers may place your safety (or your home) at risk.

So in order to address this very issue with my two teenage boys, I developed the Facebook Friend Test. I asked (very nicely) for my boys to simply apply these three questions to each of their Facebook friends.

  1. Have you ever laid eyes on this person?
  2. Have you spoken to this person more than 10 times?
  3. Would you trust this person to mind your wallet?

As I thought, both boys had friends that they had never spoken to. My eldest son removed at least 50 friends without any problem. There are still a few that probably need to be culled but that is a work in progress!

So, next time you are driving in the car with your teenagers (and they can’t escape) tell them about the Facebook Friend Test. You will be doing them a big favour!

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Story added 29. May 2012, content source with full text you can find at link above.