June 7, 2013 6:32 pm

A boy’s best unfriend

Our son has unfriended his mother on Facebook and she’s taking it badly
An illustration of a boy unfriending his mother on Facebook©Lucas Varela

The boy has unfriended his mother on Facebook. This presumably is one of those stages teenagers go through, along with sulking, sleeping in and learning monosyllabia.

Suddenly life feels like the narrative to one of those David Attenborough nature programmes. “It is around this time that the young cub begins to break his ties with his family. Growing in confidence, he spurns his parents on Facebook. From now on they will have no idea which Smosh videos he has posted and he is at last free to comment without having his spelling corrected.

“In the coming months he will assert his independence in a number of ways. Soon he will insist on painting over the dinosaur mural on his bedroom wall that has been there since he was three. In the undergrowth of the kitchen, the mother can be seen muttering plaintively, ‘Our little boy’s growing away from us’. But in fact the process will take some time. It will still be years before he is ready to take control of the washing machine. In this he is still entirely dependent on his parents.”

My wife has taken it hard, especially as he has yet to get round to blocking me. But to be fair to the boy, she asked for it. She was just far too interested, writing jokey posts on his wall from time to time. I fear a spiral of retaliation as she hits back by unfriending him when he wants a lift to the cinema.

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Robert Shrimsley

He has, however, been smart in unfriending us early, while he is still fairly friendly and communicative and before he actually has anything much to hide. Had he waited till he was 15 it would have been a classic schoolboy error – a giveaway act only marginally less obvious than updating your profile on LinkedIn. By jumping early the boy is able to to depict this purely as a matter of respect for his personal space rather than a clear indication that he is engaged in the kind of illicit activity of which we would disapprove. You know the sort of thing: drugs, porn, back episodes of Glee.

There’s no point in getting too uptight about this. Perhaps we could create fake Facebook identities and trick him into accepting a friend request but sneaky parents beget sneaky kids. In any case, the spawn are way ahead of us technologically. If he didn’t block us he’d simply move his social life on to other apps like Snapchat. But it may also be for the best. Relatives have told of their shock at seeing Facebook pictures of their spawn posing in bikinis or skimpy outfits; somehow I doubt the boy was planning to go down this route but had he been it was good of him to spare us the images.

The difficult thing to understand is what exactly he was doing befriending us in the first place. It’s not as if the goings-on in our household were a major source of news for him. We suspect it was a much regretted act from the early days when he was competing to maximise the number of friends. In the headlong rush to get the numbers up he took the fateful step of including adults. You have to wonder what Facebook is doing allowing people to set up accounts once they are over 13. We know that many do it solely to stalk their own children. Does nobody police this site?

But the sad thing is that the period when he enters the uncommunicative years is exactly when a Facebook friendship would be useful. At the moment he is still relatively au fait with developments in the house. We talk at the dinner table and he is often prepared to offer impressionistic details from his day as he waits for his pocket money. But as he retreats into the sullen teenage cocoon of his bedroom, Facebook would help him keep abreast of events in the family. We could message him on Facebook with handy updates like “dinner’s ready”, and if we ever decide to move house it would be useful to be able to let him know.

Surely that’s what Facebook is for, after all – keeping tabs on friends and relatives you don’t actually want to see. It’s the perfect teenage tool.

robert.shrimsley@ft.com

Twitter @robertshrimsley

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