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Parents Act Like Their Teenagers on Facebook


Okay, parents, fess up: you need to feel popular and so you reveal personal information on Facebook, just like your teenagers do. According to a new study from the University of Guelph, both adults and teens tend to share more about themselves online than they might in other social situations.

Revealing personal info on Facebook can backfire

The three-person research team evaluated Facebook use among 285 non-student adults ages 19 through 71 years and 288 young people ages 9 through 18 years. Researchers included people younger than 13 (even though Facebook requires users to be age 13 or older) because about 7.5 million users are younger than 13.

According to the investigators, young users reveal more personal information than do older users, but this is a function of time spent online, not because they care less about their privacy. Teens spend an average of 55 minutes per day on Facebook, while adults access the site for 38 minutes.

The researchers also found that:

  • The more time people in either age group spent on Facebook, the more likely they were to share
  • Adults were less conscious of the consequences of sharing personal information on Facebook than were younger people
  • Parents and teens behavior similarly on Facebook because, according to researcher Emily Christofides, a PhD psychology student, “the same psychological factors underpin that behavior.”

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Christofides also explained that “people with a high need for popularity may indeed care about their privacy, but they may not be willing to sacrifice their popularity by implementing privacy controls.” Research team member Serge Desmarais, a psychology professor and Guelph’s associate vice-president (academic), noted that social networking sites like Facebook are changing social relationships.

One example of this change can be seen in divorce. Some people post incriminating pictures and information about themselves that are later used by divorce attorneys as evidence. A report in the December 21, 2009 Telegraph stated that Facebook and other social networking sites are being blamed for a rise in the divorce rates, and one law firm claimed that nearly 20 percent of the petitions they process cite Facebook.

The University of Guelph researchers have conducted previous studies about personal information on Facebook, published in Cyberpsychology and Behavior, and found that using the social networking site fuels jealousy in relationships, and that the need to feel popular is the driving force behind young people revealing more personal information on the site.

It appears that social networking sites like Facebook feed the need to be popular. Thus parents and teenagers alike reveal more personal information about themselves than they would in other situations. As Professor Desmarais noted, “This is the new reality for some; aspects of their lives that were once private are now open for all to see.”

Christofides E et al. Cyberpsychology & Behavior 2009 Jun; 12(3): 341-45
Muise A et al. Cyberpsychology & Behavior 2009 Aug; 12(4): 441-44
University of Guelph