So Your Parents Found You Online, Now What?

The moment has arrived that you’ve been dreading. Your dad left a comment on that photo of you in the lamp shade on your FaceBook wall. Your mom made fun of the outfit you wore to that party – the one where you took that picture in the bathroom mirror on your MySpace profile. Or perhaps the alternative happened, and you just added your dad as a contact on LinkedIn and freaked him out by being old enough to be in the real workforce. Maybe that cousin no one talks to anymore is taking revenge for the family snubbing by being a troll in your Flickr account comments. When your family and your social network use collide, what do you do?

I may make light of the problem a bit but it really can be an issue from all sides. Even the most tight-knit families are fraught with history and tensions that never really go away, and have a pile of minor slights that have had time to build up over the years between siblings, cousins, parents and more. One friend has horror stories of her parents airing their grievances from their divorce on her profiles. Another’s mother was upset at the photos she saw of her “baby girl” at a party online and didn’t speak to her for weeks. When these worlds collide it can cause lasting friction if not handled well.

The first thing for all sides to remember is that most social sites give you a way to control who sees what. Use these settings! Don’t be afraid to limit or block a relative (or anyone for that matter) who has trouble with the concept of personal space and privacy. If you want to try laying out what you expect from family members online before resorting to that, that’s fine too, but that may not be enough for those with no concept of how public their comments are making your private history.

The next thing to remember on both sides of the fence is to respect where someone sets their boundaries. If your family member takes the time to say to you “Hey, it makes me uncomfortable when you “friend” people in my life you don’t even know just to keep tabs on me”, or “I use this particular network for work, and I don’t want to tell this group of people this much about my private life, you’re putting me in an awkward position when you comment” then stop doing it, whatever it is, or accept the fact that you may get blocked or limited for your persistence.

When I say learn to use the privacy options on all of your social networks, I mean it. Even Twitter, the most basic of social networks, offers a way to block people. FaceBook offers ways to limit what people can see, group friends and family into types or block people, and it is customizable on a friend by friend basis, which is a nice touch. FriendFeed even allows you ways to block or put people in groups. Whether you get social on a business network like LinkedIn or a fun network like MySpace, take a minute to get private and set boundaries both verbally and virtually. Your relationships with those around you may be the better for it.

What should the offending person do if they get blocked? Nothing. If you get blocked, don’t make a public scene at all. It may come as a shock, but that behavior is what got you blocked in the first place. If you must comment at all, do so privately, and respect the answer you get when or if you are told why the decision was made. After all of that, if you decide to give each other a test run and allow all comments and interaction in the social media arena, here are some tips to possibly avoid a need for blocking or limiting in the first place:

1) Parents: friending your kid’s friends, whether you know them or not, to keep tabs on them is only acceptable when they are a minor and you are looking out for their safety. Once they are an adult, even if you don’t think they act like one, you need to back off and give your kids some space.

2) Kids: know that there are repercussions far beyond your parents being online for some of the things you post to your profile. Not only is your mom looking at your cleavage shots, so is your future boss, future husband (or maybe not, depending on those pics), clients, future kids and everyone who knows how to use Google. That limits the amount of indignation you should feel about comments you get, since you did choose to put that out there into the public domain.

3) Follow the person’s lead. If they were on the network first, look at how they interact, read what they post. If they are reserved, act accordingly and be reserved on their wall! If they are more personal, feel free to loosen up a little bit. If they don’t seem to have time to play games, don’t bombard them with game and application invites, etc.

4) Family secrets are never ok to post. ‘In jokes’ are not the same as secrets – those are often fine. But commentary on past poor judgements, nekkid baby pics, all of that should be left for emails, letters and the family photo album on the coffee table.

5) Keep the internet a no-nagging zone. Nudging, poking and messaging incessantly when your family member does not respond right away is not appreciated. They are probably busy. Relax. It’s the internet – it’s not going anywhere – they’ll get back to you in time.

6) Resist the urge to critique your family members choices. Often a social network profile is simply a sketch of person, not the whole person. If you think they are being inauthentic, tell them offline, not on their wall or comments. You may be surprised to hear the reason behind their holding back a bit of their private self if you open an honest, offline dialogue about. And think of it this way, you may learn something new and cool about that person in the process, just by being considerate.

If you have story to tell about family social media interaction gone wrong (or right – I have found some long lost relatives online and enjoyed getting to know them, myself), please tell us your story in the comments. Do you think I forgot a pointer? Tell us that too!

This post inspired by a Twitter conversation earlier today between myself and @PurpleCar 🙂


  1. Carolinaware February 27, 2009

    Bravo. I have posted about this before but I will definitely pass it along again on Facebook and even Twitter.

  2. Carolinaware February 27, 2009

    Bravo. I have posted about this before but I will definitely pass it along again on Facebook and even Twitter.

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