Everyone has a Facebook. And you? You have, like, 3,000 friends! It’s easy to feel popular every time you log on. And you are getting to know all these people as they update their statuses. At any given hour, you can find out what your friends ate for breakfast, that they are bored, that they have a lot of homework to do, that their parents are dweebs, that they went to the bathroom 5 times in an hour…..
But is it real?
I heard this term – cotton candy friendships – the other day, and it stuck with me. It was regarding the social life of teens online, especially when it comes to Facebook. Think about it. Cotton candy is the kind of treat that we all crave. It is super sweet, has a great texture, and dissolves in your mouth. Who really wants to share their cotton candy? Not me! When you buy cotton candy, you want it all to yourself. You can eat a whole bunch of that yummy cotton goodness! But what happens 30 minutes later? You’re hungry. You want something real. You need to be fed.
The thing about the internet is that it is incredibly convenient. When a teen can’t really leave the house because it is after hours or they can’t drive anywhere, Facebook is wide open for socializing with friends. Their friends list can include the people they are close to all the way to the most popular kid in school that they have never talked to in person. And while it is so easy to get swept into the socialism of Facebook and let that take over, inevitably, teens get….hungry. They need to see people face to face, to know what it’s like to connect. Knowing what everyone’s doing at all moments can be exhilarating, but it can also bring up feelings of jealousy as they watch their friends make plans without them. And then there are the false friendships that are created. A Facebook friendship is not the same as a real life friendship. Just because you know every movement of someone you have only talked to online does not make you great friends in real life.
It’s cotton candy, remember?
So how does a teen make friends? I found a great article by Vanessa Van Petton, the very person who coined the phrase “Cotton Candy Friends”. In it, she urges parents to talk about the differences of online friendships and real life friendships, and the different needs their real life friends might fill. Your teen might have one friend that they can confide in, one to shop with, one to study with, and one to gossip with. And they are all considered your teen’s best friend. That’s ok. And know what else is ok? Having only one good friend. That friend can be the one your teen can call when they are incredibly sad or when they have really good news to share – and they are really there for them, not just “liking” their status. And that is worth way more than 3,000 friends and their status updates on Facebook.
Is it ok to have Facebook friends? Sure. But it’s important for your teen to understand the difference between their real life friendships, and the ones that only exist online.