Should parents "friend" their kids on Facebook?

NEW YORK Wed Aug 25, 2010 9:45am EDT

A Facebook page is displayed on a computer screen in Brussels April 21, 2010. REUTERS/Thierry Roge

A Facebook page is displayed on a computer screen in Brussels April 21, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Thierry Roge

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - To friend or not to friend is the big question facing many parents dealing with teenagers on Facebook.

Three quarters of parents questioned in a Nielsen survey said they are friends with their children on the popular social networking website which boasts 500 million active users. But a third admitted they are worried they are not seeing everything their children are doing on the web.

Perhaps with good reason, as nearly 30 percent of teens said if given the choice they would unfriend their parents.

"The No. 1 parenting issue, as least with my discussion with parents, is living on Facebook," said Regina Lewis, a consumer adviser with online services company AOL, which jointly developed the survey.

"It is part of the modern-day parenting reality."

The average number of friends on Facebook is 130 but for teenagers it can be much higher, according to Lewis.

"I thought the percentage of parents who were friends with their kids was strikingly high. It is more than 70 percent," she said, adding that children were twice as likely to want to unfriend their mother than their father.

For some children friending a parent is not always an option. In 41 percent of households there was a rule that children who use Facebook have to be friends with their parents.

"For some parents that became a non-starter," said Lewis.

The friending issue is a delicate balancing act between children thriving for more independence and their parents' desire to see what is going on to make sure their children are safe.

In nearly half of cases, children said they would prefer to be friends with their parents privately on the web without their parents having the ability to post comments.

Nielsen questioned 1,024 parents and 500 children aged 13 to 17 for the online poll. More than half of the youngsters admitted they do not personally know all of their Facebook friends, and 41 percent of parents said they knew half or less of their children's Facebook friends.

"Friending friends is certainly a way to populate your list quickly," said Lewis.

"That is why the number of mutual friends is one of those really important factors in figuring out who may be a outlier," she added, referring to someone who shouldn't be there.

Twenty percent of parents admitted they had told their children to unfriend someone.

Whether they are friends or not, Lewis said that to be responsible parents need to keep an eye on what their children are doing online.

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