Acting your age on Facebook: When a status update crosses the line

When I saw the Facebook post in my stream, I was shocked, surprised and disappointed. It was from a distant relative’s son. I won’t spread the negativity by repeating it. Suffice to say that it was the violent rant of a white teenage boy trapped in suburbia trying to sound inner city gangsta tough.


I understand that teens change personas the way others change outfits. They are trying out who they are, testing the limits, blah blah blah. We’ve all been there, right? (I think I’m still there!) But now it’s acted out on Facebook for all to see, where among the 500+ million users are bound to be some relatives and friends who don’t really want to see. But now it’s right there, smacking you in the face in your morning update stream as you sip your coffee. Now you feel compelled to DO something.

But what, exactly, should you do? Do you make a condescending grown-up comment that makes him unfriend you, accuse you of being old and risk losing a chance to potentially help guide this person in the right direction…and lose your chance to tattle on him at the next family reunion to boot?

Or do you ignore it and hope it passes, like bad indigestion? This worked for a variety of transgressions with my kids when they were toddlers as well as clients and co-workers–ignore the bad behavior and reward the good behavior. If the bad behavior gets no attention, eventually they catch on.

I was torn. So I did nothing. But the comment stayed with me, acrimonious and ugly as it was. It festered as I washed the screens on my sun porch this weekend. It kept me up much of last night. I thought of my children, too young for Facebook, but teetering dangerously close to the age of acceptance.

The problem is, this particular comment was posted by a relative’s son. I haven’t even seen this relative or her family in at least ten years. So I don’t particularly want to witness her son trying out a persona that is, frankly, despicable. I barely know him! My life is complicated enough, full enough, without feeling pressured to reach out and slap a kid I barely know upside the head on Facebook.

In the end, I finally decided to post something that would make him–a budding writer–think twice. I know, I could have  “hid” his profile as easily as I hide Farkle and Farmville stuff (sorry if you’re into it, it’s just not my thing). But I was concerned that my silence might convey approval in some way. I was worried it would make me complicit in his ugliness if I didn’t speak up. And I realized that he reached out to friend me on Facebook for a reason. Maybe, just maybe, it was because even 15-year-old kids sense that sometimes they need a good verbal slap upside the head. We all need to know where the boundaries are.

We all go through our phases, sure, but now we go through it so publicly online for all to see. What do you do when a post crosses the line? When do you speak up? When do you remain quiet? When do you “hide” the offender’s profile? When do you get drastic and unfriend? To post or not to post, that is the question.


2 thoughts on “Acting your age on Facebook: When a status update crosses the line

  1. It must be so difficult to grow up with these technologies. Kids don’t understand all of the consequences and benefits of different dispositions, and probably are far from thinking about it. I am naturally an optimist, so I don’t think to post anything negative. I don’t like spreading negativity like the disease it can become. Positivity is much more interesting, inspiring, and thought provoking. I see some of my friends saying embarrassing and ugly things and I just sigh and move on. It’s touching that you were/are so concerned. That makes me feel good, like I can relate. Nice post, as always.

    1. Thanks, Nathan, much appreciated. Nice to know I’m not the only one! A friend of mine used to say this to stop from saying something negative or critical: “I don’t want to pollute.” I LOVE that. People, especially kids, underestimate the power of words. Keep up the positivity, I say!

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