Jan 22, 2013 21 Share

Friend Requests


Screenshot of Facebook homepage.
iStockphoto

“I miss my friend Emily so much,” my 20-year-old son Mickey says. Emily is away at a new school.

 “Would you like to write to Emily on Facebook?” I ask.

“Sure!” he says, excited.

Except that he isn’t on Facebook. When Mickey’s teacher suggested setting up an account last year, I resisted. It stirred up my ever-present fear of people taking advantage of my son’s naïveté.  

But now the idea seems like a good opportunity. He doesn’t like phone calls; maybe he will find it easier to communicate in writing, even though he doesn’t particularly enjoy email. He seems to see it as a chore his teachers make him do.

I look up articles on keeping kids safe online. I’m eager for advice. But all I find are safety measures I’ve thought of already—telling him he cannot post his address, phone number, or any other personal information. A year ago there was some talk that Facebook might introduce an “under 13” service, but that hasn’t happened yet. Even if it does, it won’t replace parental supervision. It’s still up to me.

One morning while Mickey is at school, I set up a Facebook account for him. I apply the most stringent privacy settings possible. Then I hesitate. Besides Emily and other classmates, who will he friend? Family? Many of his cousins are typical teenagers, and I’ve seen some of the wildly inappropriate stuff teens tend to post. Can I depend on them to exercise good judgment in what they share with Mickey? Unlikely.

Then I think about some of the things I’ve posted myself, articles I wouldn’t want him reading. But if I’m even worrying about the stuff I post, is anyone—except Grandma, or my sister-in-law’s dog Buddy (yes, even Buddy has his own page)—entirely safe for him to friend?

When I first suggested Facebook he seemed enthusiastic. But when I say that I have actually set up his page and want to show it to him, he looks nervous.

“Maybe later,” he says.

Is this his usual resistance to anything new? Or something else?

 “You can look at all your friend’s pictures,” I coax. He loves poring over cartons of family photos. He particularly enjoys what he calls “the married pictures”—my wedding album. I get it: pictures are safe. Predictable. The images never change.

He shrugs me off. “Not now. I’m a little busy.”

Briefly I consider sending out a few friend requests on his behalf, thinking to lure him in that way. But what would be the point? Then it would just become one more thing I do for him. It has to come from him because he wants it. Otherwise it has no meaning.

I know how much he wants to be social. Mickey’s never shy about approaching people; it’s that once he gets there, he doesn’t know what to say. He’s been verbal for years, but I still often need to stand alongside like an interpreter, explaining or prompting him. He struggles to understand social nuances. He enjoys humor, but doesn’t seem to recognize sarcasm. I wonder if it would be easier for him to interact online, where he doesn’t have to worry if he is standing too close, or speaking too loudly. The downside, of course, is that if you strip away all the visual cues imbedded in body language, it’s even easier to misinterpret what people are saying.

Facebook can be a minefield even for typical teens. Mickey is so literal; will he understand that sometimes a “friend” on Facebook isn’t really a friend? If he sees photos of his friends having fun without him, will he feel left out? What if he gets de-friended? I know how hurtful it feels when it happens to me—and I’m a grown-up with emotional filters firmly in place.

As a journalist, I appreciate being able to crowd-source questions on Facebook, and read and share articles. (And okay, yes, I enjoy all those cat videos too.) That’s my Facebook. But I envision Mickey’s Facebook as something entirely different: a cyber mall, a place to hang out with some buddies.

Since many of his friends have graduated and gone on to postsecondary school programs, Mickey has seemed very alone to me. He’s watching far too many videos on YouTube. He’s taken to referring to movie characters as his “friends.”

Which kills me.

Is he as lonely as I fear?

I desperately want him to have friends. But am I projecting my own worry about his loneliness?

And if I am, is setting up a Facebook account in his name really for him?

Or for me?



Comment Options

Anonymous

Facebook and your son

Hi Liane, I have 2 sons ages 9 and 13 with Autism and Asperger syndrome.  I can identify with your concerns re:  setting up a Facebook account for your son. You're doing your job as a parent. You're helping him to help himself.  He'll probably have some issues understanding how to interact on Facebook, but learning social  skills is a process. I don't know what Mickey's functioning level, but just like all of the other things he's had to learn, this is one of them.I also agree that it's difficult to pick up on the nuances of communication online. Yet, he may feel more comfortable with online interaction. I'm sure you know that most autistic kids are actually more comfortable online than in person, because they don't have to worry about making eye contact, and picking up on social cues.  Despite both of my sons quirkiness and social fumbles, they're more relaxed talking to someone online vs. face to face interaction. I am a worrier. and control freak.  My husband reminds me that the world is a tough place, and as a parent, I need to teach them the life skills neccesary to be able to survive in the world. Yes, I think you should let him go on Facebook and monitor him and "be in the background" to help him  decipher the online communcation. He'll come around at his own pace, when he's ready.Good Luck to you!MaryJane   

Anonymous

Teens with HFA

I think finding interest-based communities is really important. I knew of a child with Aspergers who found an online community around Dr. Who fan-fiction. Whatever their interests are (certain games, RPGs, certain movies etc.) - that becomes the focus and the social interactions and learning and relationships and community monitoring of behavior develops around that. Neuro-typical folk are often content with socializing for the sake of socializing, and so there is the idea 'if I just put my child in a room (or on Facebook) with others then friends and socialization will just 'happen'....and there is a frustration when as teenagers this doesn't happen. Kids around Jr. High start to reject scouting and church groups and need to seek out clubs/communities centered around interests. Are there anime clubs at the school, or chess clubs, or AV clubs? Does a local comic book/video store offer a gaming night for young teens? Visit these places, make sure things are appropriate (no predators, strong monitors) Same reasoning applies towards the internet. Good luck!!

Anonymous

Friend Requests

Our son is "high functioning high cognative," but we struggled with decisions like this.  He is now 24, living in an apartment, and still working inside of a program for austistics.  We finally decided (in late middle schoolJ) to allow most of the things that kids his own age had access to because some day he would be out in the world.  What we found was that what we had raised him with, taught him and had as family standards showed through.  Yes, he got hurt, burned, but most of the time he self filtered; and we found out that it was not so different for our next youngest "normal" son.  I don't know your son's level of function, but other parents (of "normal" and austistic kids) have to feel there way through.  There are no pat answers, but just remember what ever you do, some day, they will have to make it on their own - do what you can to prepare them!

Anonymous

Friend Request

I think this is a great idea.  I think I would monitor his activity on the site.  I know and work with young autistic adults and there are many that just love the computer.  I say give it a try, he can only grow from it.  Good luck with what ever way you should decide to go with this.  You seem to have a great relationship with your son and that will guide you.  

Anonymous

Facebook

Liane: Facebook has been so confusing for Matthew. He writes messages to all of his "friends" constantly and then is so hurt that they don't always write back. It has been difficult for me to explain to him the difference between facebook friends and FRIEND friends.

Anonymous

facebook friends

My son is 18, he also gets upset that his friends do not respond to him. He gets upset and posts things just to get people to react, things to make them angry or to feel sorry for him, anything just to get people to react. I imagine some have blocked his feed from their pages just so they don't have to see all the stuff he will post seeking attention. Since graduating High School he rarely has any contact with people outside our family except on-line. Many of the things he says to get attention are inappropriate and he has been sanctioned repeatedly on WoW for his inappropriate behavior, even being banned to where he had to open a new account and start as a newbie again. It is even more difficult to find ways he can socialize now that is is out of school. My son talks to strangers on the phone and internet, people from all over the world who he has never met but became friends with over facebook or WoW. It scares the heck out of me but he needs some contact with the outside world!

Anonymous

Couldn't agree less...

When I first read this article - posted to an aspie listserv I subscribe to - I was infuriated. I do not know the level at which your son functions, but if he is 20 years old, why search for an "under 13" social networking option? It's berating, coddling, and the antithesis of empowerment that those struggling with mental illness/impairment require to obtain agency over their lives. Perhaps the (overwhelming?) level of social supervision you seem to be enforcing holds him back from social growth, or at the very least limits self-expression for the fact of his being watched by his mother at every move. I can only imagine how trapped he may feel. Or not... I don't presume to know the specifics... To elaborate: Had I not had Facebook at a crucial time of self/social development, I would not be the highly functioning aspie I am today. From it, I learned from observation so much about the social cues I had long "missed" in IRL interactions. Look at it as a vital learning tool, not some site of potential crisis! The bottom line though is that Learning/Life is not about keeping your son "safe" from the real world: there will be snags, he may feel slighted from the workings of the social network... but IMO, he will never gain any independence/self-reliance if you continue in this modality. He has friends, he is verbal, he is 20 years old: he is ready for this sort of thing..,

Anonymous

Great story I can relate and

Great story I can relate and feel the same way

Anonymous

We are just beginning our

We are just beginning our journey into the teens year. I enjoyed your insight on this tricky subject. I don't think there is a right or wrong answer. Thank you for sharing. ~ Jamie ( hopping over from Love That Max)

A thoughtful and thought-provoking piece

Just wanted to say thank you for this, Liane - an elegant and thoughtful essay, leaving me lots to ponder. I appreciate your honesty and vulnerability here! 

Anonymous

This is such a tough one, The

This is such a tough one, The question always remains... "whose eye is on the prize?" And what is the "prize" for Mickey. Would it be possible for Emily to write to him? Will that be a catalyst? Well thought, well written. The trials never cease; but somehow we do find answers.

Anonymous

Another heart-wrenching piece

Another heart-wrenching piece about struggles that most of us never even have to worry about....thank you, Liane, for these insights. 

Anonymous

i think you should do it

i dont think there is anything harmful, especially if you keep track of what he is doing.i found the best way to deal with facebook for me is not to friend anyone that i am not particularly close with.I cant believe he is 20, and i am glad to hear that he is quite verbal. we have never met. would you say he is childlike, like mentally 10 years old in behavior? you know autism is not exactly my forte, so forgive me if i ask or say something stupid. i had an autistic friend in college, irwin, and in those days people werent aware much about autism. he took a lot of ribbing, but laughed and interacted quite well. he couldnt look you in the eyes but communicated well.i know the maidman relatives had a 'slow' son that i met when he was 30 or so, when i was 13.  i dont know if he had autism or what, but they got him married, set him up close by, and that seemed to work ok. is he interested in girls at all? such a good looking boy!anyway give it a try, if it doesnt work, you can always end it.larry    

Thank You

Larry, thanks for taking the time to read my piece and post a comment. I'll respond to what you said in a private email. 

Anonymous

I saw you set up a FB account

I saw you set up a FB account & I friended him! He is my friend on & off FB... Thanks for bringing this important topic to light & reminding us all to keep our kids safe online.

Anonymous

truly profound

As usual, my friend and master of the written word, Liane, has hit the ball out of the park. The issues raised and questions posed are so profound. I, for one, have no answers. I hope those with some experience will share what they have learned. If Mickey does jump on the bandwagon, I wish for positive outcomes--and for his mom to continue to share the journey with her readers, as she has done so generously for so many years. 

Anonymous

Facebook

Loved your article some of it really relates to my son
Sammy. Here is another problem we encountered what if you try to friend someone and they don't friend you back. Rejection is not a good feeling either and often gets blown out of proportion with our kids.

Anonymous

Facebook could be wonderful

Facebook could be wonderful opportunity for your son to connect to other people - but I understand your concerns about seeing inappropriate content. Nevertheless, I vote yes.

Anonymous

Friend Requests

Liane Kupferberg Carter makes me think about things in a completely new way.  I feel such compassion for her as she tries to sort out the challenge of friendship and the use of technology for her son Mickey.

Anonymous

Facebook

My 20-year-old daughter with Autism absolutely adores spending time "real time chatting" with her Facebook friends. It is one of her main hobbies when she has leisure time at home. I find that people she chats with are kind and supportive. 

Anonymous

Oh Liane so beautiful.

Oh Liane so beautiful. It is so hard in any aspect of parenting to know what we want for them and what we want for ourselves.  We guess what we think will make them happy, but so often it is colored by what makes us happy, isn't it.  You have explained this so beautifully.  Just found this site, it is wonderful.