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It’s no surprise to anyone – youth aficionado or not – that social networking has captured the attention and imagination of young people. In the first half of 2010, in fact, 16% of kids, 43% of tweens and 71% of teens reported visiting at least one. And in addition to causing us all to grapple with fundamental questions about our private and public selves, social networking poses force parents to ask themselves a critical question related to online parenting etiquette: do you friend your child or not?

Today’s parents are no strangers to social networking themselves – 71% of parents with children 6-18 years of age report having a profile on a social networking site. But when it comes to parenting in the digital domain, this generation of parents is pioneering. And every day, new dilemmas surface.  As parents and their children’s play spaces begin to converge online, so have questions about what to do when they virtually bump into each other.

What we know about parents ”friending” children tells us a slightly unexpected story. 45% of parents who have profiles on social networking sites have friended their children. And we might even predict that younger kids are more likely to be friends with their parents than not. Many of the youngest users of these sites (which restrict usage to those over 13), have profiles established by parents, who often set up the accounts to enable their kids to keep in better touch with distant family members, or parents who don’t live with them or who sometimes travel without them. It might be safe to assume that teens would take offense to parental invasion into their “personal” (despite being very public) spaces. But in reality, 12% of parents of kids, 47% of parents of tweens and a full 75% of parents of teens report “friending” their children.

What’s behind these numbers? Perhaps teens fear not “friending” their parents because they’re savvy to the privacy settings on Facebook. (Mom and dad might think they’re seeing all their child’s activities, but are getting a highly edited version). Have today’s tweens and teens begun to realize that they shouldn’t say anything online that they wouldn’t want their parents to see? Probably not. It could be that teens actually don’t mind when their parents know what’s going on with them. Today’s youth seem to crave connection with their families more than ever. When time with them is limited because of busy work and activity schedules, meeting up online might be more of a treat than a trial. Or maybe teens don’t mind just a tad bit of supervision – or even the insinuation of supervision – in a space where bullying and aggression can spread like wildfire, and where even the most confident teen might be willing to admit that a little guidance couldn’t hurt.

What do you think? Should parents friend their children or leave them to their own devices when they’re in these online lounges?