Do you think dictionaries have "friending" in their newest editions. The spell check on my computer keeps telling me that it is not a word. Oh it's a word alright!!! I have a paltry 147 "friends" on facebook and I am proud to say I know almost everyone but for a few who I've met through my talks and blogs. Your teen on the other hand, I'm guessing, has well over a 1000! 950 of whom they haven't a clue who they are. But the guys are probably "hot", and the girls "hotter" and therefore fit the criteria for "friendship."
As adults we are well aware of the dangers of these anonymous friends. Just pick up any newspaper, any day of the week to read a story about a young girl who has either run away with or been lured away by some "friend" she has on facebook, but has never met. I watched a really disturbing, but excellent movie recently called Trust, that came out in 2010. The story revolves around a normal 14 year old girl, who feeling awkward and unattractive meets up with an older man who "friends" her through facebook. She thinks he is 17. Playing on her insecurities, this guy builds a "relationship" with her online, over time, which culminates in a crisis. Though difficult to watch at times, it is a must see for parents to watch with their teen as a cautionary tale. The film also focuses on the parents, and how they missed the cues that might have saved this girl from all the trauma. Normal, loving parents with blinders on. Just like all of us who would never think our kids could......
After watching this film I was thinking of ways to communicate the danger to teens of making anonymous friends on facebook. Lecturing is an inferior tool for this topic. Teens who think they are smarter than all adults will either stop listening, or argue that this could never happen to them. That's teen magical thinking for you. Asking them to go through their "friends" and tell you who they are and how they know them will probably just get them angry and resistant to hearing anything you have to say, no matter how teen-friendly you make the conversation. You know the one: " You know honey, there are people out there that hope and pray that they can find young teens gullible enough to swallow any story they may give you about themselves. Additionally they prowl these sites for information that most teens post about really personal stuff, and who knows how they will use it." Cue teen eye rolling!
Here is an idea I came up with. I have absolutely no proof that it will seal the deal, but here it is. Create a new facebook page and profile under a new name and appropriate gender. If you have a daughter, be a guy, and if you have a son, be a girl. Go take a picture of a hot guy or girl as appropriate taking care to make sure your teen does not recognize this person. So don't use your next door neighbor, be creative! Upload that picture on the profile page of this new creation of yours. Then do a "friend request" to your son or daughter saying that they are friend of a friend of her/his friend X's( fill in the name with a good friend of your daughter/son). You saw their picture on X's wall and thought you were hot. You can edit the profile page to say that only friends can see the profile, that way you only have to put up very thin info about "yourself".
Here is the learning piece. If your son or daughter does in fact "friend" you, you now can go back and have a real conversation, and by that I mean not telling them how stupid they were to "friend" a stranger. What you can say is : "Honey, I did this little experiment to show you how easy it is for you to "friend" people who can say anything to convince you that they are legit. I know it's flattering to get attention, but lets come up with a strategy for you to be able to really see who you know, who it's OK for you to know, and who is a potential sleazebag. I love you and just want you to be safe. Just so you know I have deleted this fictitious person, never to bother you again."
Though this starts off as sneaky, it really does teach a valuable lesson. Actions always speak louder than words!