By Julie Jargon 

Kim Adam has refused her 15-year-old daughter's requests to become Facebook friends.

"I need to have my little corner of the internet where I can share memes and post things without fear of my teenage daughter reading them and teasing me or confirming in her mind that I'm not cool," Ms. Adam, an administrative assistant near Richmond, Va., said.

Just like teens don't want their moms following them on Instagram, TikTok or Snapchat, many moms don't want their teens following them on Facebook -- or at least seeing their every post.

Many women have been posting to Facebook since they were teens or young adults themselves. Now that many of them have children old enough to have their own social-media accounts, they're learning they might be exposed in ways they hadn't anticipated.

Some moms worry about past (or even current) photos showing them engaging in behavior they discourage in their teens, such as drinking. Others worry about family secrets being revealed. Mostly, they tell me, they worry about all the mom-venting they do on Facebook.

I posed a question about this in -- where else? -- a Facebook group with thousands of members. Few dads replied, while dozens of moms reached out.

Many shared stories of times they embarrassed their kids with rants they didn't realize their kids would ever read. Some moms declined to speak on the record for fear of causing family rifts. Many said they only share personal things in private Facebook groups they describe as their "safe space," free from the eyes of children, spouses and their own parents. Countless posts from moms in various Facebook groups begin, "I can't share this on my own page..."

While teens typically write off Facebook as being for old people, many are on it because schools and sports coaches post information there, or because they want to keep up with relatives. At the end of 2019, nearly 10 million Americans between the ages of 12 and 17 used Facebook at least once a month, according to research firm eMarketer.

Ms. Adam said she isn't revealing any deep, dark secrets on Facebook but wants to share things freely with her adult friends -- and particularly those whose kids are friends with her daughter.

At one point she accepted a friend request from her daughter but excluded her from seeing posts. You can do this by indicating within a post whether to share it with "friends except" a specific person, or by choosing specific friends to share with. You can create a restricted list of friends on Facebook -- they'll only be able to see what's shared publicly. You can also choose who sees specific past posts -- or limit all past posts -- in the privacy settings.

"She asked why I never post anything," Ms. Adam said. Eventually, she just unfriended her daughter altogether.

A few years ago, when Julie Kaigler's youngest daughter was 15, Ms. Kaigler thought she was safely sharing personal details about her long-ago divorce while commenting on a friend's post. She had never shared details of the split with either of her two daughters, so as not to put them in the middle.

"A couple of days later, when I picked up my daughter from school after a trip, she said, 'I need to ask you a question,' said Ms. Kaigler, of Wexford, Penn. "That's when she told me she had seen the post."

Her daughter was upset that she had to learn the details of the divorce on Facebook. Ms. Kaigler said they had a good talk about it. "I'm generally pretty open with my kids," she said. "That was the one thing I had tried to protect them from."

Michelle Dightman, an accountant in Leawood, Kan., wasn't thinking about her two teenage sons when she shared an article about Stone Temple Pilots frontman Scott Weiland, who died in 2015 from a drug overdose. It was written by his ex-wife, who pleaded with fans not to glorify his death. Ms. Dightman posted that she appreciated the article, as she was the daughter of a father who had died of alcoholism.

She had never discussed her father's drinking with her sons, but a few days after she shared the article, her then 14-year-old asked her about it. Ms. Dightman said it gave her a good opportunity to open up to him about it.

"If I'm going to be credible as a parent in giving them advice, I have to be humble, transparent and honest with my kids," she said. "They can go back and look through my timeline and posts and see that their mother and father worked through stuff and made mistakes and posted things that maybe we shouldn't have posted. It will prompt conversations."

Even when moms think they're being super-careful, they can get busted. Barb Hogan, a small-business owner in Cincinnati, only shared personal things in a private Facebook group for mothers where all the members are moderators.

"It's locked down tight," she said. "Nothing any of us post can be seen by anyone who isn't in the group -- unless you're dumb and you leave your computer open and step away to put in laundry and your teen sits down to look up something on Google and reads your rant."

Ms. Hogan had been venting about some drama involving her then 16-year-old daughter when she stepped away. Her daughter, who is now 23, saw the post and became furious. "She got over it," Ms. Hogan said.

Some moms can now laugh with their kids about old posts.

Back in 2012, Sarah Tucker, of Omaha, Neb., made fun of her daughter after a singing audition at school. On Facebook, she'd written, "Abbie is good at lots of things. Singing isn't one of them."

A few years later, when Abbie turned 13 and got her own Facebook account, Ms. Tucker tagged her in a bunch of old posts, not thinking about the comments she'd made. When the audition post surfaced later as a Facebook memory, Abbie herself reposted it with the comment, "Sarah Tucker thinks I'm a bad singer," followed by an eye-roll emoji. "She did that to poke fun at me, which was totally fair," Ms. Tucker said.

All of this has been weighing on Tennessee mom Amy Brown. "When I allow my teen to get a Facebook account, I assume I will want to be her FB friend to keep an eye on things," she posted on the social network, asking about ways to maintain boundaries. "There's nothing on my page I'd just die about, but I've had this account since before the kids were born, and can't guarantee I filtered every single post through the 'would I say this to my kids' filter."

When I spoke to her, she said she's worried her 13-year-old daughter will think she complained too much about parenting. She doesn't want to delete the old posts, but she's considering blocking her daughter from seeing them for now.

While her daughter isn't exactly clamoring to get on Facebook -- she'd prefer Instagram -- Ms. Brown feels it's where the teen could learn how to conduct herself on social media under the watchful eyes of aunts, uncles and adult friends.

"I can see the irony," Ms. Brown said. "At the same time that we're telling our teens never to post anything they wouldn't want shared with everyone, we're realizing we don't want everything we ever posted to be shared with our teenagers."

Write to Julie Jargon at julie.jargon@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 26, 2020 05:44 ET (09:44 GMT)

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