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Facebook keeps parents involved in college experience

When Michael Wheatley received a Facebook friend request from his parents three years ago, he said he was skeptical about accepting it.

“Sometimes I post things on Facebook they might not appreciate as other people my age,” Wheatley, a senior majoring in criminology, said.

According to a January study by Kaplan, a test preparation service, Wheatley is not the only one with such concerns. Of 2,313 students between the ages of 16 and 18 surveyed across the nation, 38 percent ignore friend requests from their parents.

But about two-thirds of those surveyed are comfortable including their parents on the social networking website – a decision Wheatley eventually learned to appreciate.

“Adding them has definitely helped maintain our relationship, even though they live 20 minutes away. It’s hard getting together with a full load of classes and full time job,” he said. “(It) hasn’t hindered my independence at all. I still get to do what I please. I just don’t brag about it on Facebook anymore.”

Mark Pezzo, an associate professor of psychology at USF St. Petersburg, said the outcome of the parent-to-student relationship on Facebook depends on how the relationship is maintained outside of it.

“The students have a right to privacy,” he said. “This is really more about the parent and the child than it is about Facebook. Facebook makes it easier for parents to see things. I think the real thing is parents should find a way to know what is going on with their kids, but give them some freedom. If a parent is demanding to be friends then you begin to wonder if the parent is really understanding of the privacy and space that their kid needs.”

Regardless of whether their parents are Facebook “friends,” Pezzo said students shouldn’t post anything that they wouldn’t want their parents to see in the first place because future employers often look at applicants’ profiles.

“If somebody is worried about their parents seeing a picture of them drinking, they need to be careful anyway because when they apply for a job, the first thing they do is go on Facebook and see if they can find the job applicant so they can see the stupid stuff they are doing,” he said. “Just like there is no end for parents to embarrass their children, there is no end to opportunities for people to embarrass themselves. The real question is if you’re so embarrassed about this, should you be doing this in the first place?”

Justin Velez, a sophomore majoring in theater, said allowing his mother to view his Facebook activity helps keep his actions in check.

“If I try to get a job, my employer may check my Facebook,” he said. “If it’s full of profanity, I won’t get the job.”

Yet, Keri Riegler, director of New Student Connections, said on occasion the digital relationship can become a hindrance to students attempting to make their own decisions regarding their schooling and future.

“If (students) were constantly relying on their family member to communicate with a faculty member or not making decisions for themselves, then they’re truly not embracing what college is all about,” she said. “So that’s when I would say Facebook becomes a barrier for that student’s growth and success and that’s when I think it’s probably not as healthy of a relationship with their family.”

Riegler said students should not exploit their Facebook relationship with their parents by using them as a “crutch” or allowing them to “lead their lives.”

“Whatever the students feel is in their best interest to be successful, they should do it,” she said. “If having their family on Facebook means they are more comfortable and more knowledgeable about what’s going on on-campus because they have an open relationship with their family member … we would encourage that for them. For other students, not having their parents as their friends may (help them) be more independent.”