Facebook connects people across oceans, and generations. My family and friends back home in England wouldn’t feel as connected to me without the social media posts, updates and the photos I share on these mediums. It’s clear that I am a fan, but I strongly believe teachers should not accept friend requests from parents of students they teach.
I made this mistake many years ago. A parent of a child in my class sent a request and I accepted it without thinking twice. The next day as she dropped her daughter off I was fielding queries about permission slips, uniforms and concert dates. She asked me about an ex-boyfriend I hadn’t thought about in years. The following day she queried where I bought my living room curtains. And the week after, she started to judge me on my social activities.
Perhaps this particular woman was just a little overzealous and went into Facebook creeping overdrive. But the situation highlighted for me some of the main issues that can develop when educators allow boundaries between home and school life to blur.
We are often reminded by administrators, unions and the general public that teachers shouldn’t do anything in public that they wouldn’t want their students to see. We are held up as pillars of society and are expected to maintain standards of our profession, even outside school premises. What happens when we connect with parents online is that we invite them into our home, which is really the only sanctuary teachers have to be themselves and let off a little steam.
With this in mind, the dangers of accepting Facebook friend requests from a parent include:
They will think you are actually friends.
Clicking that little friend acceptance can change the relationship between you and a parent in ways you might not have imaged. Some people can think that means you are also friends IRL and that can cause all sorts of problems.
There is an unequal power balance.
Because you are in a position of power and authority, any ‘friendship” can have inherent problems. The parent may expect you to do their child favors, be more lenient or make exceptions. You know…because you’re ‘friends.’
You won’t have a private life.
Be prepared to surrender your personal life once you make a virtual connection. I was questioned about my boyfriends, dance classes and home decor. Take a look through your photos and past posts. Even though there may not be anything overtly inappropriate, do you really want parents of your students seeing everything? Your inside jokes with friends, political views, the details of your social life? Your vacation plans or the status of your love life? it will all be up for social fodder and gossip once you let one in.
They may dissect your life.
One teacher I knew had her Facebook status marked as single. Once she accepted parents’ friend requests, she had to start fielding blind date suggestions as though her being single was a problem the moms needed to solve.
They will probably show their kids.
Anything on your profile is not only open to the parent you invite in but also to their child and their child’s friends. Think about whether you would show your profile to your class. If not, keep parents out.
Your Facebook page can be used as a weapon.
You may think you have a great relationship now, but be prepared if you let a parent into your social media circle. If things ever change in the future, a parent could potentially use your private life against you. A colleague of mine gave an ‘F’ grade to a student and the mother made a complaint to the principal that the teacher was probably just grumpy because she had been out until midnight the night before. She knew this because the teacher had checked in on Facebook from the movie theater she had attended.
Facebook friending parents can create a false sense of intimacy between the two of you, where a professional boundary should exist, it might also make you the victim of intrusive questions about photographs on your profile or activities or events that you have attended.
My suggestion is to ensure your settings keep your personal life private. Direct parents to follow you on LinkedIn instead of Facebook if they wish, as it’s a professional site. Alternatively, create a Facebook page for your class where you can share homework, events and educational updates.
Teachers give so much of themselves to their vocation they deserve to have a private life. Click “delete request” and maintain a healthy professional distance.
Do you accept Facebook friend requests from parents? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.