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Wed, Apr 15, 2009
The Straits Times
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Mum's catching up with with me ... on Facebook
by Cheryl Ong

[Photo: Student Dew Low, 17, with her mother Dorrianne Yeo and grandfather Eddie Yeo. Dew has both her mother and grandfather on her Facebook list of friends.]

WHEN his mother added him to her friends' list on popular social networking website Facebook, SIM University student Chris Chen accepted the request readily.

But she soon discovered photographs of the Honda motorcycle he had secretly bought and things quickly changed.

Mr Chen, 22, had not told her he had learnt to ride a motorcycle, or that the money he saved from working part-time had been spent on the two-wheeler.

'She got really angry about it, so I blocked her on Facebook,' he said, matter-of-factly. 'I don't want her to see the offending pictures till she can come to terms with my riding a bike.'

Mr Chen's situation, though prickly, may not be such an unusual one. An Australian survey last month found that one in four children has his or her parents as friends on online social networking sites such as Facebook. Adults aged 35 to 54 using Facebook doubled from 7 per cent of its total users last year to 17 per cent in January.

A final-year project by a group of students from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) found that parent-child relationships actually improved when they used networking sites like Facebook.

The study, funded by the National Youth Council, interviewed 20 sets of parents and children who were online friends.

Project member Lee Weiyi, 22, said parents read about activities and pictures their children put online to feel closer to them and to find common topics to talk about. But this works well only as long as the parents do not find objectionable content in their children's profiles.

'Of course, the children are generally more tech-savvy than their parents and know how to censor what they put online,' said Ms Lee.

Some youth, she added, delete images they know their parents will disapprove of, or prevent their parents from seeing certain photo albums by limiting access to 'safe' content.

This was what undergraduate C. Ho, 22, did when her parents befriended her on Facebook, despite her misgivings. She hesitated about adding them as friends initially as she knew they would object to pictures of her drinking and dancing with friends at clubs. 'But they would have asked me why if I did not accept their requests,' she said. 'I can't say it's because I don't want them to see the photographs I post online.'

So she added her parents, but blocked them from viewing her photo albums.

Less accommodating are other youth who oppose parents using Facebook so vehemently that they have even formed an online community on Facebook, whose members vow to quit the networking site if their parents were to join and ask to be friends. The group has more than 1,000 members, with at least 20 from Singapore.

One of them is financial adviser Jessica Lee, 23, who said she would be 'shocked' if she got such a request from her parents.

'It's better for them not to know how 'havoc' my life could be,' said Miss Lee, who posts pictures of herself at clubs. 'We communicate every day at home, but I still need them to give me some space.'

Fellow community member Ivan Kua, 23, an undergraduate, said giving parents access to what their children put online 'on the spur of the moment' may result in misunderstandings. He is also concerned that they may use Facebook to monitor their children's activities.

Facebook parent Rashida Husain, 40, who has two children aged 16 and 20, agreed that the site is useful for keeping track of her children and their friends. 'But my main reason, really, is to keep in touch with them,' she said, adding that she leaves them words of encouragement when she feels they need some.

She also befriended 10 of her children's friends on the website, but only their closest friends and those she has met in person.

Her daughter Tesneem Zakir, 20, is unperturbed that her mother can see anything she posts online. 'My mother knows everything there is to know about me. I'm more afraid of what other people might think if I had strange content on my profile.'

Student Dew Low, 17, was amused, but not surprised, when her mother, Madam Dorrianne Yeo, sent a request asking to be her friend on Facebook. In fact, Dew's grandfather, Mr Eddie Yeo, 71, is also on her list of Facebook friends.

They use Facebook mainly to share pictures with relatives living overseas.

'It's a little unusual, but I think my mum is quite hip,' said Dew. 'I don't worry too much about what she'll see on my profile, since I only upload things I don't mind sharing publicly.'

Madam Yeo, 45, is not worried about what she might find in her children's online profiles. 'I won't intrude into their privacy. But if I see anything I am uncomfortable with, I would talk openly with them about it.'

Madam Dorothy Oskar, 44, a project director for an IT company, has her teenage son and daughter as Facebook pals. 'I don't use it as a surveillance tool. But I know my children are wise enough to know for themselves what is objectionable and should not be posted online.'

Her daughter, Joanna Lee, 15, said she has 'nothing to hide'. 'I know my mum gets unsure about what my life is like and making her my friend on Facebook helps reduce her worries... But sometimes, I think she uses Facebook more than I do.'

Dr Vivian Chen, who supervised the NTU final-year project, said the phenomenon of families interacting on networking sites will become more prevalent.

'I think that when technology permeates our life, people will be using what technology has to offer to make their life better,' she said.

This article was first published in The Straits Times.

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