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Is that your Mum and Dad on Facebook?

With more parents hopping onto Facebook, how are young people dealing with prying eyes or embarrassing parental gaffes? Chrystal Chan pokes her nose in

Don't look now, but your folks could be spying on you… virtually.

This revelation isn't new – parents have been hopping onto the Facebook bandwagon since its peak in 2009, much to the chagrin of their children, who found themselves struggling with the decision whether to "befriend" Mum and Dad, which would give them a ringside view into their teenage world.

Facebook-savvy youngsters soon found a way around this by restricting what they posted online or tightening their privacy settings. Some even resolutely refused to add their parents.

"I didn't really want to add my mum on Facebook at first, because I felt it would lead to a loss of privacy. It's not like I have anything to hide, but on the other hand, I also don't want her to know every single thing I've been up to," admits third-year mechanical engineering student Monica Sharyl.

"When I finally added her, I realised I had to pay more attention to what I was uploading and had to make sure I didn't post anything I wouldn't say in front of my parents. In the end, I decided to put her on my 'Restricted list' for peace of mind," she says.

And it isn't just the children who have to watch what they post online. Their friends, too, have to be careful about what they say, lest it gets their pals into trouble.

"The parents of a friend of mine are quite extreme – they comment on every single thing my friend posts, including pictures, and say things like: Shouldn't you be studying? ," says third-year electrical engineering student Melissa Long.
"That's why we also have to be careful about what we say to her on Facebook, in case her parents pick up on it," she adds.

But with the surge in new social media platforms, it seems the young today have found other ways to escape their parents' scrutiny – by detailing their social activities elsewhere, like on Instagram or Twitter.

"To get away from excess attention from family or acquaintances, I sometimes use Twitter and, more recently, Instagram, as my parents don't know about it," says Roy Lee, a final-year humanities student.

A 2013 study of social media usage among youths worldwide, conducted by web-based market research company GlobalWebIndex, found that the number of teenagers who said they were active on Facebook had dropped from 76% in the first quarter of 2013 to 56% in the third, while Instagram saw an impressive 85% jump in active users over the same period.

This finding follows last year's admission by Facebook's Chief Financial Officer, David Ebersman, that younger teens are becoming less active on the world's biggest social networking site.

Conversely, according to social media analytics platform Social Bakers, the number of Facebook users aged 45 and up is growing steadily, from 9.8% in 2011 to 15.1% in 2013.

Tan Phei Chieh, a second-year mechanical engineering student, estimates that around 90% of his friends have added their parents as "friends" on the social network.

"It's so easy to start an account, and I think it's quite natural for our parents to want to add us as 'friends'," he explains.

"To parents, Facebook is another platform for them to connect with their children. Rather than spying on them, it is a way for them to be part of their children's world, and to connect with them in a way they are most comfortable with," says Asst Prof Trisha Lin from the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication & Information, who has studied the social impact of new communication technologies.

"In order for parents and their children to have a positive relationship on Facebook, both parties must have an open dialogue, where parents should explain that they are not on Facebook to check up on them, which is a common misconception," adds Asst Prof Lin, who is "friends" with her 11-year-old son on Facebook.

Even for those who are fine with sharing everything they're doing with Mum and Dad, there is perhaps another reason that is moving them towards other forms of social media – embarrassing parental Facebook fails.

A quick search on Google yields countless lists – "32 Worst Parent Facebook Fails", "12 Painfully Embarrassing Parents on Facebook" and more – that showcase the odd and sometimes downright cringe-worthy things parents do or say on Facebook, like posting awkward baby photos of their children or being completely unaware of various Facebook social mores.

"Everyone knows that if you check out someone's photos from years ago, you shouldn't 'like' them, because your friend will know you've been stalking his or her profile," says Monica.

"But my mum didn't know that and went to like almost all of my cousin's old photos, so now my cousin knows her aunt has been stalking her. I felt so embarrassed."

"Parents embarrassing their children is nothing new. It is something that happens even in the real world, so it all boils down to mutual respect. If their children are unhappy about what's posted on Facebook, they should understand how it affects their kids and remove it," adds Asst Prof Lin.
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