Friendship Issues

On the BBC News Magazine is a an interesting article on “friendship” between parents and their children.

When Facebook was entirely dominated by people under the age of 25, things were simple. But now an important social question has arisen – should you “friend” your child, or accept a parent as a “friend”?

The article discusses the nature of Facebook friendship and that most young people would prefer not to be Facebook “friends” with thier parents.

Lindsay Stewart, 15, completely understands why you’d refuse a parent’s friend request. Her household have agreed on not becoming Facebook friends. “Mum said that she was going to get on Facebook,” Lindsay says. “She said she wasn’t going to ask to be friends. Me and my brother were relieved.”

“It’s a community,” she explains. “Our parents aren’t there in our groups in school.”

“I primarily joined Facebook to have conversations with my friends. My mum is my mum. I like her, but she’s not necessarily what I’d call my friend.”

This attitude and reasoning is actually in my opinion quite sensible and also demonstrates why that teachers should never be friends with their learners. It’s not just about having separate accounts, one for home and one for work when working with learners, it’s about how the learner and his or her community use Facebook and the role a teacher plays in that community. If a learners doesn’t want to be “friends” with their parents, then do they really want to or even should they be “friends” with their teachers?

I usually recommend to practitioners in my college that they would be better off creating a page or group that their learners can subscribe to, so that the issue of friendship doesn’t come up. Some would say in a post 16 college environment that this is different to a school. However I would also argue that the issue of friendship on Facebook is something that should be avoided at an FE College and even at a University.

I see Facebook not as a learning network, but a social network that learners can use for learning or for communication and collaboration. As practitioners we should be streaming content and information into that network, but shouldn’t be a part of that network. Learners need to be able to choose how and where they access this content from practitioners and forcing “friendship” to achieve this is in my opinion wrong and open to future problems. This is also reflected in many of the learner surveys which indicate that learners do not want institutions “invading” their social space. This is not the same thing though as learners not wanting to learn in their social spaces. This they often do and have been doing for ever in physical social spaces, it is only logical that this will happen in online social spaces.

Services such as Facebook and for many blurred the lines between social and professional, if institutions provide clear guidelines to staff and learners on usage, it allows the advantages of such systems to be utilised., whilst minimising potential risks.

2 thoughts on “Friendship Issues”

  1. You raise some interesting points about the usage of networks and redefinition of social boundaries in the Digital Age.

    Although I think as we see services like Facebook mature (and others, and new ones establish) then we start seeing some of the practical issues dealt with. Facebook is already well down this path with reasonably sophisticated (if not always easy to use) tools for differentiating relationships.

    In that context you can have a connection with your parent/child or your teacher through the same account.

    The key thing here though is not just guidelines and discussion on the usage of social tools but giving staff real time to learn how to use these tools as well. Facebook can do pretty much all the differentiation of relationships we need but how many people have taken the time to do so?

  2. I wonder if the graded relationships being piloted by diaspora will lead towards a more nuanced definition of a friend or follower in social networks. A Facebook page is OK, but it does tend to be a broadcast rather than a discussion medium. At least in the educational context.

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