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Monday question: Facebook trash-talking

Posted by Robin Abrahams  December 14, 2009 06:34 AM

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It's been a while since we've had a good juicy Facebook question, hasn't it? What do you all think of this?

My 15 year-old nephew and I have always enjoyed a very close bond. Since he's moved away, we've kept in touch through Facebook. This has been both a blessing and a curse: A blessing because I am able to keep in touch with him on a daily basis no matter where we are; a curse because, as a 15 year-old, he doesn't understand that everything you post on Facebook can be read by anyone in your contact list. Recently, one of his friends responded to one of his postings in a trashy manner, calling his grandmother (and my very own mother!) a "whore."
Offended, I sent my nephew a private e-mail, demanding that he delete the entire conversation thread from his Facebook page before anyone else saw it, and taking him to task for not standing up for his grandmother's reputation. I also told him that in no uncertain terms was he EVER to let anyone speak ill of any female member of his family and sealed the deal by stating that his lack of action demonstrated a lack of character in my eyes on his part. He responded by "un-friending" me on Facebook.
Although this was all done in private, was I wrong to call him on the carpet? I realize I was responding to the slur against my mother, but is it too much to ask a boy of 15 to defend his grandmother's honor?
He'll be coming home for Christmas, and I would dearly love to settle this matter before we sit down to Christmas dinner. HELP!
What do you all think? As usual, I'll post my response to your comments next week (the regular schedule is new questions here on Monday and Thursday; responses/summary on the following Tuesday/Wednesday and Friday. If you want more to read in the meantime, check out my other blog!)

Also, apologies for any formatting oddities. This new software is VERY different and I wasn't informed of the changes in time to take the training. I'll try to keep things as reader-friendly as possible, but I appreciate your patience in the meantime.
This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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86 comments so far...
  1. Engineering solution already in place. Facebook now allows you to set privacy settings for each post. Will teens do that - that's another question!

    Posted by Sharon December 14, 09 07:40 AM
  1. I think this just comes down to 15 yr old humour. The "Your Mom" joke, or in this case "Your Mom's Mom" joke is still sadly very popular with boys of this age. You have to understand that none of this "trashy" talk is meant to be taken seriously - both parties in this conversation probably found the whole thing hilarious. I'm sure if this friend was genuinely insulting your nephew's grandmother, he would not take it lying down.

    The problem with being "friends" with your nephew on Facebook is that you have access to all the sorts of behaviour and conversation that normally takes place when the teens don't think the adults are watching or listening. If you think what he writes on Facebook is bad, God knows what you would think of his behaviour that he's not documenting online.

    I personally think you've taken this situation far too seriosuly. The comments were a joke, albeit a joke that isn't funny to anyone over the age of 15/16 or a fan of movies such as American Pie. If you really want to sort things out before Christmas without preaching to your nephew about how he should behave, I would maybe mention how you were offended by the "de-friending" and the comments he made with his friends.

    Perhaps Facebook is not the best means of contact for you two. Maybe you can just keep it to emails in future?

    Posted by Abused-Intern December 14, 09 08:09 AM
  1. I'm sure the "whore" comment was a general joke, not a personalized attack on the teenager's grandmother...

    Auntie needs to lighten up....It was clear that Auntie can't handle FB.

    Posted by Dave December 14, 09 08:10 AM
  1. Abused-Intern, I am mostly responding to your comment to see how that works with the new software--but also to compliment you on your AWESOME login name! Now if only I could stop hearing your comment in the voice of Kenneth the Page from "30 Rock" ...

    Posted by Robin Abrahams Author Profile Page December 14, 09 08:17 AM
  1. This is exactly why I didn't except my Mom's friend request, which was not an easy discussion. She's my Mom, she's also my friend, but she and many in her generation do not know the 'nuances' of Facebook networking. Some relationships should stay in there natural state. Plus it’s nice to have a cupa’ tea with the Old Lady in person; Happy Birthday Mom.

    Posted by Diosagua December 14, 09 08:24 AM
  1. I think you overreacted. Facebook allowed you to peer into the sometimes yucky life of a teenager. The teenager was nice of enough to let you in, but then you acted like a scold so he shut you out- this is what teenagers do I understand your upset, but maybe you could have handled it in a less heavy-handed manner - either by simply commenting (!) to the conversation or by having a quick chat at Christmas dinner "Hey, do all of your friends call your grandmothers whores?" I'd just let it go - plenty of people unfriend Facebook friends and remain good friends IRL.

    Posted by PatD December 14, 09 08:25 AM
  1. I don't think it was wrong of the LW to take a youngster to task about this. You can "joke" about your own grandmother (really, calling a grandmother a whore is a joke?) but not about somebody else's, and the 15-year wimped out by not calling his friend out on it.

    That's how we create society, by instructing those that come after us on what is acceptable and what is not.

    The un-friending is that action of an embarrassed 15-year boy who might also be angry that somebody said to him, "Hey, you were wrong to let that comment slide and I'm angry because you did."

    LW, go to Christmas, and don't be afraid to talk (not confront, you already did that) this kid. Sort it out in person. You'll be surprised by the outcome.

    Posted by LaDiDah December 14, 09 08:28 AM
  1. Just when is one old enough to govern their mouth...or typing fingers? Perhaps 15 is well beyond that age? I would expect more from my 8 year old granddaughter. The trash talk excuse is that everyone does it, however everyone shouldn't publish it for the world to see. The secret here is self respect. It is self respect that carries over to a general respect for others.

    Posted by Annie December 14, 09 08:45 AM
  1. "Please delete that post in case mom or grandma sees it" would have been an appropriate response to the nephew. It sounds like Aunt overreacted a little much on this one (demanding, taking him to task, in no uncertain terms).
    As for the unfriending... You should send him a new friend request, apologizing for overreacting (we were all 15 once), and ask him in the future to make sure for his own internet reputation that things like that don't remain up on his wall.
    Sometimes I get the impression that high school students don't quite understand how this online reputation follows them - even though they've grown up on the internet!

    Posted by ami December 14, 09 08:50 AM
  1. a.) No, you were not wrong for privately expressing your feelings about the "whore" comment.
    b.) But you probably could have done it in a better way. I'm guessing he felt a bit attacked/scolded.
    c.) You're probably not going to resolve this to your satisfaction.

    As I recall, at 15, acceptance by one's friends is much more important than acceptance & approval of one's parents. Approval by an aunt, even one who you're very close to, is a distant 3rd. Even though you sent him a private email, in his mind, you effectively butted into his social life. So he took the path of least resistance - much easier to un-friend you than draw attention to himself.

    Another potential dynamic here is the risk of a "flame war". Perhaps you are not aware, but the types that talk trash on the internet are often provoked if you respond to them, and you end up with an escalating series of insults. Depending on the personality of the original flamer, deletion of the conversation might also provoke a flame war. And if this person is someone that your nephew knows in real life, even casually, the online flame war could spill over. Yes, this is online bullying, an again, much easier to un-friend you than stand up to the bully.

    If you want to approach the topic again with your nephew, I think you'll get the best results by calmly re-expressing & explaining your feelings without attacking his character & involving him in the solution. Ask him what he would have done if it had been his own mother that had been called a whore. Then brainstorm with him, listen to him, do your best to stay calm & non-judgmental. But know that it may be a long time until he "friends" you again.

    Posted by GradSchoolVeteran December 14, 09 08:51 AM
  1. Ah, the perils of social networking........

    Since this is a new technology, the boundaries are still being drawn. I think you had a right to say something to your nephew. The sad reality is that the internet is forever and he should learn quickly that he needs to watch himself both online and IRL (in real life).

    If possible, try to pull your nephew aside and explain that as he gets older these remarks will haunt him on both a personal level as well as professionally. 15 is plenty old enough to learn how to speak respectfully of others.

    The best piece of advice I ever got was "Never do or say anything you wouldn't want on the front page of the New York Times."

    Hey, bloggers still read it, you know.

    Posted by Lyndey December 14, 09 08:53 AM
  1. Oh sweet god. This is a "yo mama" joke (essentially)...perhaps a crude yo mama joke, but a yo mama joke none the less. I'm sure the friend has never MET the nephew's grandmother and probably never will. He was almost certainly not ACTUALLY calling the grandmother a whore. And the teenager knew this, because this is how teenagers (and some non-teenagers) interact.

    I do think more of these generational problems will arise as older people join Facebook. Young people are vulgar and rude on it but no one (except perhaps Aunts and Mothers-in-laws) take it seriously.

    Teenager made a clear strategic error here. He shouldn't have defriended Autie-dearest (I mean, that will surely result in another lecture about "appropriate" on-line behavior), he should have just changed his settings so she could only see postings by certain groups or not at all.

    But overall -- and without a shadow of a doubt -- Aunt here overreacted and didn't get the joke. I'm not sure Facebook is really for her.

    Posted by TeamAwesome December 14, 09 09:00 AM
  1. It is best to attack a 15 year old by not attacking. Asking him how his grandmother would feel if she saw that or if someone said something would get him to think about what was posted.

    Posted by Chuck December 14, 09 09:07 AM
  1. I think LW was totally within her rights to say something to the nephew. Not only did he need to be called out on the comment, but it should also act as a reality check on what you say, and how and where you say it.

    While the rest of the folks on Facebook are far from exempt to this behavior, the teenage set seems particularly oblivious to how public things on Facebook are. Not to mention the compulsive need to be as crude and lewd as possible, and to document their every indiscretion. I have a cousin whose status updates I had to block, because I didn't want to be aware of every episode of underage drunkenness or how many girls he was doing lord-knows-what with.

    Wow. I sound a lot more prudish than I am. But there's definitely a line that gets crossed with teenagers and Facebook.

    Posted by Liz December 14, 09 09:08 AM
  1. I think the LW overreacted. My teenager has a Facebook page, and my spouse and I also have FB pages. We turn a blind eye to some of the stuff we see posted by her and her friends, but if we see that our daughter has posted something a bit over the top that she'll be sorry about later, we do ask her to remove it. She doesn't like this, but it's our job as parents to teach her appropriate behavior. However, I would never chastise anyone else about their postings, including my nephew--that's a parent's job.

    Posted by FBParent December 14, 09 09:09 AM
  1. Uh-huh. I have seen this with my sons (middle school and high school). I have access to their Facebook and see a lot of the trash talking. It's pretty much open season on moms/grandmoms, sisters/girlfriends as a generic running joke.

    It is what it is. My rules for my kids are: no harassing other kids, no open cursing, no talk about sex or drugs, no bad-mouthing teachers, etc. I'm not there 100% of the time but if I see anything I don't like, I temporarily change their passwords and sit'em down. I haven't had to do it for a while.

    Anyway, this is what they do. My sister was their FB friend for a while until she saw a status update from one of them saying "I am a Golden God" ... well, she freaked and sent a long FB note lecturing them about Jesus. That got her unfriended, too.

    She promptly sent me an angry FB message demanding she be reinstated as his FB friend. Little did she know I was the one who did the unfriending.

    The LW's nephew is the responsibility of his own parents, and way overstepped her boundaries. If she objected to what she saw, she should have brought it up with her nephew's parents, for them to act as they see fit in the situation. Unfortunately, the only thing this nephew learned here was that his Aunt is someone very uncool who he probably won't ever confide in in the future.

    Posted by SarahJane67 December 14, 09 09:09 AM
  1. You definitely overreacted. Kids and teens say this sort of thing all the time, and no one takes it as an affront to their family's honor. Heck, I'm almost 30, and I love a good "your mom" joke.

    It would have been appropriate for you to mention that everything people write on Facebook (or anywhere on the internet) is potentially public, and so we should all be thinking about what sort of online persona we're cultivating. However, now that you've flown completely off the handle about something tiny, you've lost all credibility with this kid, so you can't give him that very useful advice and expect him to listen. You lost a great opportunity by leaping to anger.

    If you want to "settle this matter," the best (and only) thing you can do is apologize for overreacting.

    Posted by Amy December 14, 09 09:11 AM
  1. If calling someone's grandmother a whore is what passes for a 'joke' these days then . . . . well, it's just sad.

    Half the problems that are happening in society at the moment are partly because no one ever calls any out inappropriate behaviour. I wonder how people reading this article would feel if it was their mother/daughter/sister/girlfriend being called that. Pretty sure they wouldn't take it lying down. Neither should this woman have to. It's one thing to write things down in a diary 20 years ago when FB didn't exist. It's another to put it out there for everyone to see. Once you do that it becomes public and you choose to allow your friends to comment on it - regardless of who they are (unless of course you invoke the new privacy settings).

    Posted by Annie December 14, 09 09:15 AM
  1. I never friend my children on Facebook. My kids are 23, 18 and 14. If they, or their friends choose to "friend" me, I always accept. I don't want to pressure any kid into that situation of having to friend me. (FYI _ all of my kids and their close circle of friends, have "friended" me)

    I think the aunt overreacted. In person, I expect that my kids will treat me and all family members with respect and to honor them. And, they all do.

    You must be understanding that kids, when speaking with each other, are often brutal and inappropriate. To them, Facebook is like texting.

    If you've been given the opportunity to peer into your nephew's life, you must realize that if you overreact and start demanding what his facebook looks like, you will get "unfriended". There was a better way to address it and face to face was the way to do it and not send an email dictating what he can and cannot do.

    Posted by yawkeyfan December 14, 09 09:16 AM
  1. It's a sad sign of the times. Whether or not we OLD people don't understand how teenagers talk doesn't matter. It is disrepectful to call a grandmother a whore! C'mon, now! The biggest problem is in the written word. To kid around and say to your friend, "Eh, ya Granny's a 'ho!" ha, ha is one thing but to Write it down where it can be read over and over again... not cool!

    There really is not a lot of respect anymore. That's probably the saddest part.

    Posted by BossMum December 14, 09 09:22 AM
  1. There is much more to life than "facebook" - try picking up the phone and having an actual conversation with your nephew...the personal touch should go a lot further than just sending an email.
    On the other hand, your nephew has a lot of growing up/maturing to do.

    Posted by irish lass December 14, 09 09:23 AM
  1. I'm friends with my 15yo son on FB, though I rarely log on. The comments and pictures by him and his friends, and also what he becomes a "fan" of, are a window into their world. A WORLDI don't necessarily like, but a WINDOWI definitely don't want to close! I took LW's story as a cautionary tale and will be very discreet about what I comment on from now on. Of course, I can look at the screen together with my son, and that's where LW's problem lies - she was unilateral and didn't give her nephew the chance to explain what was going on before blasting him.

    Posted by Mimi December 14, 09 09:31 AM
  1. Good on the kid for de-friending his uppity aunt. My nephews de-friended me (they're both teens) not because of anything I ever said to them, but because they wanted to "hide" the evidence. Teenage boys need some freedom to act like teenage boys. For some reason many women don't understand this concept that men have: Our best friends in the world are the ones we insult the most. I use horrible language and insults when talking to my buddies. We bust balls all the time. Some women just don't get this. When I meet a group of my friends for a drink, the first thing I say is : "May I buy any of you c*nts a drink?" They expect it, but still laugh every time.

    Posted by tr December 14, 09 09:33 AM
  1. This is hilarious. This aunt is one of the many many adults who take the intertubes very seriously. A comment such as the one you described was surely made in an offhand manner, and by no means do either of the parties involved think the grandmother is a whore. I applaud the kid for defriending you and keeping you out of his day to day life.

    Also, this whole situation tells me two things. First of all, you and this nephew have never shared a 'very close bond' as is evidenced by your response to the innocuous message. Second, you think you are a bigger part of his life than you really are. My suggestion? Unplug your computer from the interwebs until you can handle it.

    Posted by Hamsled December 14, 09 09:36 AM
  1. I think there are 2 issues here. One is whether the LW was correct to say something to her nephew. And I don't see a problem with her response - thankfully it was in private so there was no public chastising. But I agree with a previous post; the conversation you have in person should not be chastising, but asking whether this is normal for his peer group and perhaps asking what he thinks about making this behavior public. Kids need to know that their activity online is not private. The second issue is not directly stated in the letter, but I think it is important. Do we, as facebook readers, have the right or responsibility to tell family members that they are "oversharing" on FB? I think we do, but we can't control other people's behavior, so we can't expect them to change. I have several personal examples where I had to tell both my sister and my brother-in-law that their public marital battles were REALLY uncomfortable (they were accusing eac other of cheating!) especially since my sister blindly friended lots of my own friends from high school, her minister, my in-laws, etc.

    Posted by Lola December 14, 09 09:36 AM
  1. LW, I understand your reaction but I think you were heavy handed in your response to your nephew (really? you demanded? took him to task? lack of character on his part?). I think there was probably a much gentler way to handle this "teachable moment" that wouldn't have been you coming off like a raging nag. What you did was completely shut down any possible dialogue -- if I were him, I would have unfriended you, too.

    If you are earnest about wanting to make things okay between you and your nephew, I think you could probably start by finding a way to smooth this over which probably includes apologizing for flaming him and then explaining why you were so concerned. You are the adult here, I encourage you to start acting like it.

    Posted by anita December 14, 09 09:38 AM
  1. I think the LW was right to say something. While this behavior may be "typical American teenager," it's never too early or too late to learn that what you say, even in jest, may get back to the person you're saying it about. Also, FB is not a private medium, and this kid needs to learn that.

    Maybe tell him that you understand why he cut you out of his friends list, but that he needs to know that what he's saying is being read by more people than he's apparently aware. Also, further conversation and/or demonstration of how inappropriate those kinds of demeaning comments are would not be out of line. Condoning calling your grandmother a whore -- and other people allowing that behavior under the "boys will be boys" rubric -- condones a culture that frequently demeans women. He should be taught better.

    Posted by bluemoose December 14, 09 09:44 AM
  1. I think that the LW overreacted. I've got to imagine that the nephew posted something not-so-nice about Grandma in order for his friend to start name-calling. I think it would have been fine to speak to Nephew and say something like 'joking around is all well and good, but it's really not cool to let other people call your family members names and not stick up for them.' Demanding ( not asking??!!) that he delete the entire conversation is over the top. It's no wonder that Nephew reacted by defriending LW.

    LW, I think that at Christmas, you should pull nephew aside and apologize for over-reacting. Say what you should have said the first time, and that you were just so shocked that you reacted more strongly than you should have.

    Posted by akmom December 14, 09 09:45 AM
  1. I'm "friended" with my teenage nieces on Facebook and all they do , all boring day long, is to call each other "whore", "slut", "B**ch" and other sweet titles. I just keep my mouth shut because, especially for the younger teens, I want to be able to see if they're in any trouble or danger or are doing other typical, teenage, stupid stuff.
    I would ignore what the teens are writing because they'll grow up and get over the silliness soon

    Posted by FransBevy December 14, 09 09:46 AM
  1. I think the Aunt was wrong in two counts. I think this 15 year old and his friend were just being 15. I don't think they truly believe the grandmother is a whore...I am sure it was just a juvenile attempt at humor. The other spot I think the Aunt went wrong was in saying that the child should not talk badly about "any female member of his family” would it have been better if he said your father was a pimp/drunk/junky/bum? The lesson should have been we should not speak poorly of any one. It should not matter if it is a female member of his family, a male member of the family or a person on the street. I think the way we treat ALL people is what truly reflects our character.

    Posted by Just-dont-get-it December 14, 09 09:51 AM
  1. This is why one shouldn't friend family on FB.

    Posted by SoxIn2010 December 14, 09 09:55 AM
  1. This is why facebook started as a social networking forum for only college students. It was meant as a way to meet new people while getting aclimated to a new social environment. It has since expanded to include anyone with an email address.

    Although the two parties in question fall outside to original facebook user category, this site was not built to maintain family ties, it was to stay in touch with peers and connect with new people.

    I don't mean to be harsh, but you deserve to get "unfriended" for sticking your nose into a joke between two friends. I understand you are trying to defend you mothers honor, but you have to understand this was not about you at all.

    You nephew realized he didn't need to be connected to you on facebook, particularly if you were going to be "facebook stalking" all of his interactions with friends. If he does allow you to reconnect on Facebook, use it as a tool to stay in touch, don't be sticking your nose in all his jokes with friends.

    Posted by splittingatom December 14, 09 09:58 AM
  1. Let it go.I think you overreacted by scolding him over email. Teenagers' humor is certainly different than ours, and I can pretty much guarantee that even though it is completely in poor taste, the "whore" comment was just a joke and not intended to be taken literally. It's probably better that you two are no longer facebook "friends" because misunderstandings will continue to arise from it.

    I think a real life conversation might clear the air for both of you, but I would keep it light: "So, Nana is a whore? What's up with that?" That could help you remind him that EVERYONE can see those postings, including older relatives who aren't in on the joke and will be offended. His "unfriending" you may have actually been a solution to that; if him and his friends are going engage in private, inappropriate jokes (part of being a teenage boy) that he "unfriended" all of his older relatives so they can't see it and be offended.

    Posted by Veggiesaregreat December 14, 09 10:00 AM
  1. While I certainly understand why the LW was upset, I do think her approach did not fit the situation. This was clearly a "your momma" joke, which is meant to be an insult to the son (or in this case, the grandson) not the joked about mother. I find the best way to deal with juvenile behavior is not to be so heavy-handed. Instead, try using a lighter approach and then in person, remind him that what's on his Facebook page can be seen by more than just his friends. Encourage him to use the newly improved privacy settings. You'll get better results by giving advice as his friend than coming down as the hammer.

    Posted by Shorty December 14, 09 10:06 AM
  1. You went too far. He is 15 and doesn't understand these things at the same level as you do. You should also know better than to have "friends" that are basically still children on Facebook (even if they are family) and expect them to act like mature adults. Sounds like you need to grow up quite a bit yourself.

    Posted by aj December 14, 09 10:11 AM
  1. I knew immedietly you were gonna be un-friended before I even finished the second paragraph and i think you deserve it. If your nephew thought for one minute that his friend was seriously calling his grandmother that word, he would have said something. If you want to be friendly and light-hearted with a fifteen year old, the last thing you do is berate and badger the kid. You got yourself unfriended for being a stick in the mud........

    Posted by Judgenot December 14, 09 10:12 AM
  1. I think that it wasn't overreacting for the LW to be uncomfortable and angry about the facebook exchange. But the reaction? Well, whether you're dealing with a 15-year-old or someone older, that's not an effective reaction.

    Saying to him, "Hey, just so you know, the way your privacy settings are set right now, I'm able to see this thing that was said on your profile. I found what your friend said very shocking and offensive, considering that he was talking about your grandmother, who is my mother. You might want to change your privacy settings so that other family members don't get this sort of shock; I'll remove you from my news feed, just in case," would have been more effective than yelling at him and demanding that he stand up for his grandmother. He's FIFTEEN. He probably just thinks you're overreacting and you're being an annoying person.

    As for de-friending you, that's 100% his call. And considering that you took no steps to ensure that the two of you could be facebook friends without additional drama (and telling him what to do, rather than making suggestions and taking steps yourself), de-friending you is a very effective way to keep you from being further offended by whatever goes on his page.

    As someone who started using facebook as a college student, I've found it very interesting to look at the ways that people of different age groups use facebook. And while I don't mind being facebook friends with some of my aunts and uncles, I'm not friends with either of my parents, my siblings and I all sort of block each other to varying degrees, and I'll change my privacy settings using lists to make sure that my aunts and uncles can't always see certain information.

    And lo and behold, they don't pester me about what goes on my facebook page.

    Posted by sabend December 14, 09 10:14 AM
  1. I think you may be taking the matter of your grandmother's "honor" a bit too seriously. I agree with the other posts, that this really has nothing to do at all with your grandmother as an individual. It is the sort of ridiculous humor that teenage boys find hysterically funny. However I do understand in that I'm constantly asking my younger brother (18 years younger) to
    delete what I feel is inappropriate content off his Facebook page. Teenagers and young adults don't seem to have a good grasp of the fact that once posted online, their words do ever disappear entirely and can come back to embarrass them. I worked for a time for an attorney and spent a month blushing over "deleted" personal e-mails and Instant Messages that were mixed in with the corporate e-mail subpoenaed for a litigation case.

    Posted by Meg December 14, 09 10:15 AM
  1. This is why I have told both my children that anything they post anywhere on the internet or send to their friends is the equivalent of putting it up on a billboard on the Mass Pike. (I say this often as we pass that huge gun control billboard just to drive the message home.) I tell them to assume that no matter what their privacy settings may be, anyone who really wants to will find a way to see what they post. This includes the sweet old grandmothers who sit behind them in church, the nasty mean girls at school, their best friends, and 45 year old pedophiles in Peoria. I reserve the right to random Facebook access, which means that in exchange for not friending them, my kids have to show me their pages anytime I ask and without prior warning.

    Yes, LW, you probably did misjudge the intent of the post, but you are not wrong to ask your nephew to take it down. Why? Because it's never a good idea to contribute to the general filth and incivility in our society and the sooner kids learn that, the better. Whenever I see anything offensive on my kids' pages, whether they put it there or not, I make them take it down.

    Posted by Ashley December 14, 09 10:24 AM
  1. LW has taken this way too seriously. I'm inclined to agree that it was a generalized joke and that this person doesn't really believe LW's mother to be loose. If it really were offensive to your nephew, wouldn't he have deleted the comment and blocked that friend instead of LW?
    Beyond that, I would think that advising a young person to ignore insults and cyber-bullying is much wiser than encouraging them to get into a fight over it.

    Posted by pinkkittie18 December 14, 09 10:25 AM
  1. I think you (as many here) took the whole grandmother-as-whore thing too literally and overreacted by blowing your top. These types of jokes are not meant to literally be about "your mom" or "your grandma."

    Posted by your mom December 14, 09 10:25 AM
  1. Wow, she really did over-react. I am often shocked by the things people write on Facebook, but you need to know that this was most assuredly not a personal comment. And even if it was, teens often say ignorant things. Not excusing them, but still...

    Also, putting an ultimatum out there means that auntie loses. "Me or your friend"... tough call.You really don't have the right to make demands on this kid. Many others here have offered good comebacks, and that would have been better. She could even have written a comment after the offensive one, saying "Gee, that's a really nasty comment. I hope you didn't mean it". End of story.

    Posted by N. Spivey December 14, 09 10:40 AM
  1. Since you seem to want to put the kid on the spot, why didn't you just post back a bunch of pictures of his potty-training? Hey, everybody, here's when Johnny pooped himself at his birthday party!

    Telling a 15-year old kid that he shows "a lack of character in [your] eyes on his part" is as close to meaningless to him as possible, the rough equivalent of the teacher in a Peanuts episode--you know, the off-screen voice played by a trombone with a mute--or, if he's a little less dim, an insult to his very being.

    Do *yourself* a favor and get off of Facebook, now.

    Posted by Allan Holdsworth December 14, 09 10:43 AM
  1. I'm of the 'facebook generation' and I'm appalled by the number of people here who think that the main problem here is the letter-writer's rigidity! Misogynistic insults are not "mere" jokes. I agree with the other commentators who say that the nephew and his friend surely didn't mean seriously to call the grandmother a whore -- but in that case, what a disappointing thing for the letter-writer to learn about his or her nephew -- he's the sort of person (or will defend the sort of friends) who will casually toss out gendered, sexualized slurs, and avoiding any thought about the implications of this is more important to him than responding to his aunt or uncle's concern! Unfortunately Facebook reveals that many of our fellow human beings share this mindset (if we hadn't noticed it already from blockbuster movies, comdey sketches, statistics about violence against sex workers, etc.), and there may be little we can do or say about that, but of all instances of casual misogyny on the Internet, surely the above instance is an acceptable teaching moment. We don't know exactly how the letter-writer phrased his or her message to the nephew -- I am sure there are some possible versions more calculated than others to exasperate and shut the ears of the nephew -- but I am surprised at how many commentators here take the question to be whether the letter-writer should have engaged with the nephew at all, let alone dared to be troubled by the incident -- rather than how best to handle the situation so as to get the nephew to think about it carefully.

    Posted by Susan December 14, 09 10:56 AM
  1. Dear Auntie:

    When it comes to FB, or blog posts, or any internet conversation medium, often times it's better to just not respond to those who purposefully try to get a rise out of people by saying something over-the-top. Believe it or not, there is actually a term for such behavior and it's called "trolling". Your nephew has grown up in the internet technology age and understands this. I don't believe he was allowing his friend to dishonor your family by not standing up to him. Instead I think he showed quite a bit of restraint by not giving this kid the satisfaction of an angry response, which would then fuel a long back and forth argument. Kind of a modern day "turning the other cheek" or "stick and stones" lesson. By you jumping in angrily just made it clear to him that you just don't get it. So rather than making a big deal out of it (which it was not something to make a big deal out of) he just de-friended you so that you couldn't stick your nose in his business again.

    There's a saying about arguing on the internet, but it's very offensive so I'm going to modify it so as not to get anyone mad. "Arguing on the internet is like competing in the Idiot Olympics. Even if you win you're still a moron." It doesn't have quite the same ring as the original, but oh well....

    Posted by rebss December 14, 09 11:13 AM
  1. Honestly, I think this is an over reaction. My best friend and I are 37 years old, and have been making jokes about each other's mother since we were in 8th grade. It's not actually about the mother (or in this case the grandmother)... it's just a joke. I get that you would be offended by the joke about your mother, but you have to take it in the context of 15 year olds making jokes...

    Posted by Cush December 14, 09 11:26 AM
  1. I don't think your wrong at all!!!!! I signed on under my friends account and noticed what my 19 yrd old nephew wrote, shocked I very nice told him to watch what he wrote no matter if it is from a movie or a song other people can read it.. his response, deleted my friend and my wife who had nothing to do with this.. you hear every day of people getting fired for such postings even thought he doesn't even have a job...spoiled no respect, already lost his license for a year 6 months after he got it..

    Posted by phill December 14, 09 11:30 AM
  1. I agree that the handling of the situation could have been handled better.

    But I think it is important to look at the complacency when it comes to "your mom" jokes. When I was 15, I didn't think they were funny then, but they didn't bother me. But in a few years I will be in the LW's shoes and thinking of my nephews writing "your mom" jokes on FB turns my stomach.

    Where do we draw the line on jokes like this? By turning a blind eye, are we just encouraging that behavior? I'm almost 30 now and I still encounter men (boys?) who now think it's ok to call their girlfriends "b----es." And when those girlfriends get upset, the guys respond "but my friends think it's funny." I know not all men are like that, but it's depressing to see so many who are, and how many women put up with having their feelings disrespected. The whole "boys will be boys" mentality gets a little out of hand sometime. If guys want to make crude jokes with close friends who get it, that's fine, but letting them think they can be crude just anywhere - to their girlfriends, publicly on Facebook, wherever - should be addressed.

    Posted by sometimes December 14, 09 11:34 AM
  1. Hasn't the letter writer ever heard of a "yo mamma" joke? It's simple and outdated 15 year old boy humor that is pretty harmless.

    It seems as though Facebook has become yet another means through which the old and the young misunderstand each other.

    Teenagers are not stupid. They are well aware of the privacy settings Facebook has to offer and many take advantage of them. However, maybe the kid just doesn't care if you happen to see his friends' "yo mamma" jokes appearing on his profile. He probably knows it's not that big of a deal and was shocked that you responded to him so harshly. Unfriending you was probably the right idea - it's clear you can't handle Facebook and what really goes on between 15 year old boys.

    Posted by Meg C. December 14, 09 11:49 AM
  1. I may be missing something here, but I find it interesting that everyone is assuming the LW is an aunt, not an uncle. I didn't find anything in the letter that indicated either way.

    As for the actual letter, I do think that the LW overreacted, but so did the nephew.

    Posted by Mira December 14, 09 11:58 AM
  1. Yes, we get it. It was a "yo momma" joke. But it was told on the Internet, which, even if your Facebook settings are marked for privacy, is not nearly as private as you might think. It is absurd to claim that no one should mention anything to the nephew -- even if you don't take the joke seriously, the nephew should be disabused of the notion that things written on the Internet are in any way private.

    That said, the LW's approach was terrible. This was a "teachable moment" in which the door was open to discuss the Internet and the need to be somewhat careful; but the LW turned it into a slamming door. Yelling at the nephew and attacking his character because he did not respond to another commenter's joke was far too harsh as response for the crime; but more to the point, of *course* the nephew would simply bristle, get defensive, and write off his aunt. If you want a teenager to listen and learn, you have to do more than yell and attack.

    Perhaps something more appropriate would have been a private message along the lines of this: "I was really upset when I saw the posts about your grandmother. I hope you don't really think this way, and I hope it isn't a habit to talk about your family members this way. The Internet, even Facebook with all its privacy settings, is really quite a public forum. Making jokes like that at someone else's expense is like shouting it from the rooftops or pasting it on a billboard -- you would be surprised at how easily posts get around. I hope in the future you will delete hurtful or vulgar jokes. I would hate for such comments to come back to haunt you some day, or to get around to the people who are the butt of the jokes."

    Posted by jlen December 14, 09 12:09 PM
  1. Even if it was just a "yo mamma" joke, it is demeaning, and the LW has a point. I agree with her desire to teach her nephew that it is important to stand up for the women in his family. This is not about facebook. This is about coaching teens to think for themselves, to recognize trash-talking isn't harmless, and to stand up to their peers.

    With that said, the email she sent sounds quite heavy handed and she completely botched this one up. I find teens respond best to two approaches:

    1) Being a good role model
    2) Appealing to their own good judgment

    As for #1, auntie failed on this, big time. Because she attacked her nephew's very character herself! Ouch. She is doing to her nephew exactly what his friend did to grandma. She is no better. A better approach would have been to respond herself to the friend's comment, or to have uncle respond to it, to role model how one might stand up to such comments.

    Yes, this may get her un-friended too - but it demonstrates that sometimes we stand up to people, even if there are negative consequences for doing so. But I will tell you that when I've responded to my kids' friends because they have cursed or posted incriminating photos, it has worked. What I do is post a link about how employers and colleges are now checking facebook to determine whether they want to hire someone, and junk like this can hurt the candidate. I don't denigrate their character or tell them how to behave. I just post the link, assume they don't know any better, and trust they can learn. This has been highly effective.

    As for #2, auntie failed once again. She told him what he should do and how he should feel, instead of asking him to use his own good judgment. A better approach would have been to engage him in a dialog about why accepting such comments as "just jokes" degrades respect for women everywhere. Start with an email, IM or phone call that asks "Do you think that comment was okay?" and go from there. Explore with him possible ways to handle such situations in the future, "how do you think such comments should be handled?" Assume he's got a decent character - she's his nephew, afterall. The goal is to be a coach, not a dictator.

    Posted by bah humbug December 14, 09 12:10 PM
  1. Folks who say its an overreaction are themselves part of the .oderm communications breakdown.
    The only mistake was not calling or talking face to face

    Posted by steverino December 14, 09 12:11 PM
  1. Pick. Up. The phone. And call him.

    E-mail never solves an already-inflammatory issue, it just inflames it.

    He needs to know that there are people looking out for him and letting him know that there are limits to behavior, but it has to be your voice telling him that.

    Posted by FBwary December 14, 09 12:13 PM
  1. I'm of 2 minds on this. Yes, kids need to be taught how to behave, and yes, they really need to learn that things they post on the internet are seen by people, and last longer than a joke in the locker room.
    On the other hand, kids do need to make locker room jokes. They need to experiment with being naughty, with how far to take things, how to draw lines. That has to be allowed.
    So, it is reasonable for the aunt to say, I saw this, and I didn't like it. But she is over reacting, and the tone of her email was not one that was likely to elicit the desired response. No one likes being scolded, especially not teens.
    The de-friending seems like a reasonable response to me. He was behaving according to the social rules/norms of a particular setting. The aunt really doesn't belong in that setting. If she's going to use her window into his interactions with his friends to take him to task on his friends' bad jokes.

    Posted by JP December 14, 09 12:15 PM
  1. Sounds like Aunt whoever is taking things WAY too seriously.

    This is exactly why teenagers and young adults should NOT be facebook friends with their older relatives! Totally different sense of humor. I bet your nephew didnt want to be rude by not accepting your friend request, but your over-reaction is exactly why he wouldn't want to be FB friends with you in the first place!

    I'm on team Nephew!

    Posted by Steve December 14, 09 12:17 PM
  1. The kid's behavior and that of his friends speaks volumes about their upbringing. I would never have spoken, written or tolerated any such language or insults to my family or friends, no matter who might read it.

    A better reaction might have been to complain to his parents, but I think this kid is a lost cause.

    Posted by Bob L. December 14, 09 12:23 PM
  1. Wow, how awkward, but not so much worse that what is posted, or attempted to be posted, on the sports pages forums.

    I agree, this is a "yo mamma" joke moment and possibly the offending poster was unfriended too. I think teenagers and friends do deserve a modicum of privacy and perhaps being a facebook friend is not the best idea in every relationship.

    Posted by Timbuk3 December 14, 09 12:26 PM
  1. I think the LW is overreacting. Facebook is a medium that teens/young people use to communicate with each other. If they allow us into their world by "friending" us, then we need to understand that they are really not talking to us, but only to their peers. While the grandmother comment was not funny to us, we have to remember that kids that age - particularly boys - have very strange senses of humor.

    I am "friends" with my 17 year old niece on FB. If she posts good news, I will certainly comment to offer my congratulations. If she is upset about something, I may comment to try to cheer her up. If she posts bad language or things I find a bit disturbing, I keep my mouth shut -- I would not intervene unless I thought she were in danger in some way. I know that teenagers behave one way among each other and a different way with family. I understand that by communicating in this way, I am going to get the "unfiltered" version of her life rather than just what she would choose to share by phone, e-mail or family visits.

    Posted by FB Aunt December 14, 09 12:30 PM
  1. Can I just point out that this comment/joke was left by someone else on the nephew's page, not the nephew himself?
    Therefore, it was not the nephew who made the comment/joke. Therefore, it's no use trying to tell him why he shouldn't post such comments/jokes on Facebook. He didn't post it, his "friend" did.
    Whether he left it up because he thought it was funny or because he didn't feel like getting into an endless cyber-bullying war of words is anyone's guess.

    In other words: it's not your nephew's fault his friend posted that comment/joke, so give the kid a break!
    to lecture a teenager about something they've done is almost always ineffective. to lecture a teenager about something his friend did is definately going to be ineffective.
    He ignored the comment/joke. That's all you can hope one will do. To dignify such a comment/joke with a response would be ridiculous.

    Posted by pinkkittie18 December 14, 09 12:30 PM
  1. you run the risk of being their friend on their ghost account-the one they maintain for uptight freaks and bosses. their real account is where they express themselves fully-and you will never know.

    Posted by kali-opi December 14, 09 12:36 PM
  1. If my son allowed that to be said about my mother, I'd slap him,. Literally. And take away his PC.

    I am shocked and embarrassed by the people here who blame the victim, and think it is acceptable for any youngster to treat an elder in this fashion - especially their own flesh and blood.

    For instance, rebss writes "When it comes to FB, or blog posts, or any internet conversation medium, often times it's better to just not respond to those who purposefully try to get a rise out of people by saying something over-the-top."

    You're dead wrong. If someone says "F**k you" or "you're a whore" to your MOTHER than that person is clearly way out of line. You, rebss, and others of your ilk, are also way out of line. You are creating a new generation of foul mouthed juvenile delinquents.

    Children should respect and honor their relatives. The child's response should have been to (a) delete the conversation with the insult, and (b) un-friend the person who made the derogatory remark.

    If I found out that my son refused to do this, but instead had de-friended his own Aunt (my sister), I'd punish him. When you don't do this, you re in effect raising a juvenile delinquent. Shame on you all.

    Posted by Jeff Mandel December 14, 09 12:41 PM
  1. It's all in the delivery. I hope that the LR has a close enough relationship with her nephew that she could ask questions the way others have been mentioning. Personally I'm with those who think that just because it's *done all the time* and *doesn't mean anything* you should just let it go. It's right to ask a teenager to think about how they communicate.

    I think it's interesting that the LR didn't seem to think about her deliver - that the message might have been valid but the way she put her message was bound to shut down the conversation. The poor woman was lashing out at the hurt she felt rather than getting enough perspective to see how best to discuss this with her nephew. She didn't do this in a way where he'd be prepared to listen.

    It seems to me that she's going to have to let this episode go, as there's no way he's going to listen to her. To be honest, you also need a close enough relationship with someone in order to talk to them about this sort of thing. At Christmas she can try to re-build a closeness so that if he's being disrespectful again, she can talk to him about it over the phone and in a way that won't make him defensive.

    Posted by AntoniaB December 14, 09 12:46 PM
  1. I understand that the friend's comment was offensive (although probably not in the eyes of the average 15-year-old boy), but I still think the LW overreacted. I'm curious if there was any rational dialogue about the posting between the LW and the nephew before the e-mail rant was sent. It just seems like quite a leap from a dumb joke to deciding the kid's character is deficient for not "defending his grandmother's honor." I don't understand how that e-mail was ever going to be the beginning of a productive conversation. Getting preachy and/or shouty with teenagers is rarely the best way to make your point.

    He's still quite young and will eventually learn how to manage difficult situations with his friends. Although I think he should probably keep an eye on what he and others post on his page, I really doubt it'll have serious ramifications on his long-term job prospects (now a few years, it'll be a different story).

    As for Christmas, it's probably best to just apologize for your rant (you have certainly made your point and belaboring it will do nothing to mend this relationship) and leave it at that. I wouldn't make any other efforts to connect on Facebook. This relationship sounds like it's best kept offline.

    Posted by angela December 14, 09 12:51 PM
  1. The aunt in this situation was completely justified in confronting her nephew about the comments. Internet bullying, of which these comments appear to be subsidiary, is an enormous problem among high school students today. The internet teaches no boundaries, so we must teach them instead. The nephew was lucky on this occasion that the comment only pertained to a grandmother unlikely to view it, but what if it had been a comment about a fellow classmate? While I think it is asking a bit much for a teenager to overcome social pressures and stand up to his friend "defending his grandmother", the better move would have been for the aunt to tell the nephew that she saw the comment and others could see it next time and it reflects poorly on him, reminding him that facebook profiles are viewed by employers and college admissions officers alike. The nephew should not have responded to the comment and should have just deleted it, this would have been the most appropriate way to handle it.

    Posted by ValPal December 14, 09 12:51 PM
  1. Sounds like the 15yo did the most efficient thing given the situation: the LW told him she was bothered by the comments, so hey, if he unfriends her she no longer has to see any comments. Problem solved--not just this time but in the future too. I would've done the same thing.

    Posted by Sara December 14, 09 01:05 PM
  1. It took me awhile to let my family friend me on facebook. I kept getting alot of requests from family members, and I wasn't too sure if I wanted them to hear or read what I have to say. I keep my page with full privacy settings, and only allow people I actually know on my pages. My solution to the family problem, was what #61 posted. I created a second account which I do check and update, but without all the trash talking, this way I can keep family and friends seperate.

    Posted by Tom N December 14, 09 01:05 PM
  1. HI Robin- I thought I would help you out this week :)

    I think the following 3 commenters really hit the nail on the head:

    #16 SarahJane67
    #37 Sabene
    #48 sometimes

    I have nothing to add to their thoughtful comments

    Posted by Sarah December 14, 09 01:07 PM
  1. I think that a subtle chiding (in private) would have been appropriate. The scolding is probably why Nephew unfriended you. At 15, I got plenty of lectures from all sorts of adults in my life. I didn't need any extras. Especially not on a medium like Facebook, where things should (theoretically) be more casual.

    Something more along the lines of, "I know you and your buddy were just joking, but I'd hate for Grandma to discover the internet and see that. Or to have it get back to her from one of our less discrete relatives. I'm looking forward to seeing you at Christmas. [insert relevant comment about his life here]."

    Posted by Hope December 14, 09 01:16 PM
  1. Jeff Mandell, are you kidding with this? "You are creating a new generation of foul mouthed juvenile delinquents."

    "Juvenile delinquent" is an extreme phrase to use. I find it hard to imagine that you were a perfect teenager who was kind to everyone and never uttered a foul word. You sound like someone who has completely forgotten what it's like to be a teenager, and how kids in this age group interact with their friends.

    Anyway...what people seem to be missing here is that the nephew CANNOT control what his friends post on his page. Sure, he could delete the comment his friend made, but 1) he probably took it in jest and 2) eventually, one of this friends will probably write something else that his aunt would find offensive.

    It sounds like the nephew understands he can't control what his friends post, and knows that similarly "offensive" comments may be made in the future. Defriending the aunt is therefore the best option. Give the kid a break.

    Posted by ACM87 December 14, 09 01:47 PM
  1. The aunt could have posted something to her nephew's FB page AFTER he refused her private and reasonable request. Something along the lines of "Gee, Jake's gramma won't be wasting a cent on gifts for Jake" . Jake will change his settings PDQ when he see that, you betcha.

    I am personally shocked and disgusted at the FB photos of herself that my niece has been posting since she turned 16. I decided that nobody in my family would ever have any chance to connect me to such trash.

    Posted by Irene December 14, 09 03:00 PM
  1. I'm surprised he friended you in the first place! I would think he'd be embarrassed for a relative to be able to check up on him via facebook. I just stick to cousins on there. Luckily my parents, aunts, and uncles haven't figured the thing out. If they did, I guess I'd have to make a limited profile for them.
    I don't think that facebook is the right way for an aunt to keep in touch with a 15-year-old. Her response was definitely an overreaction.

    Posted by E December 14, 09 03:17 PM
  1. To set aside comments about use of Facebook, how harsh the ersponse was, and whether kids these days have manners, I thought it would be best to answer the LW's plaint: "I would dearly love to settle this matter before we sit down to Christmas dinner. HELP!"

    Two steps:
    1- call the nephew and apologize for over-reacting; it's rare for adults to apoplogize to mere children and your doing that will probably go a long way to mending the fences

    2- if the call is going well, admit your (relative) ignorance about how to act on Facebook and ask him how you should have handled the issue; treating the nephew with the respect you'd give anyone with superior knowledge about a topic with genuine curiosity and a willingness to listen and learn will go a long way to mend the fences


    P.S. In anticipation of pushback here, these suggestions are NOT predicated on who was REALLY at fault and who REALLY owes whom an apology. That's for social arbiters to figure out (you know who you are.) If the goal is mending fences, apologize forthrightly and move on.

    Posted by Kei December 14, 09 04:54 PM
  1. The aunt definitely over-reacted. I think any reaction is an over-reaction, really. One of my friends and her best friend are always calling each other 'ho' or 'slut'. She's 28. That a fifteen-year-old boy jokes this way--or rather, that the friend of a fifteen-year-old boy--would make similar jocular comments should be no surprise, should not be taken seriously, and is no reason to take him to task.

    (I'm reminded of Nick Swardson's stand-up routine discussing the current generation reaching old age. Sixty years now, eighty-year-old ganstas will be telling their grandkids 'You know, your grandmother was a ho.')

    Posted by Luca Masters December 14, 09 05:01 PM
  1. I deal with this every day. I'm 28 and all my parents have jumped onto FB. I have friended them, because I'm an adult, but I admit, I can't sometimes say what I want to say.

    Then there are instances like these...I just started a new job and its more political than I expected. I had a nice convo about that and other things with my Mom last week. Then, this weekend in response to a comment about how I felt "tired" she asked "did your week at work go better after we talked?"

    I usually find it is the boomers and older who don't use common sense when it comes to privacy actually. I can either delete her comment (and have her be hurt), answer truthfully (which isn't flattering to my place of work), or lie (which defeats the purpose of being online in the first place). Why can't adults twice my age get this?

    Posted by Issy December 14, 09 07:34 PM
  1. Let me guess, LW. You don't have kids, do you?

    Your letter is...amusing. What a Victorian reaction! You leapt to the defense of your mother's honor against a 15-year-old's "yo mama" joke?! There's just no way not to look a little ridiculous here.

    (And what is up with all the commenters assuming that LW is a woman? I assumed a fussbudget uncle, myself, rather than an uptight aunty – defending-my-mother’s-honor is far more a male trope than female, no? Interesting assumptions, anyway, which say more about the readers of the letter than the writer.)

    But about you, LW. As others have said, if you wanted to test that so-called "close bond" (which I believe existed primarily in your head, as you don’t seem to have known the boy very well or had an effective communication dynamic with him), you certainly did so. You reacted in a way that could hardly have been better calculated to alienate a teen-age boy: you scolded, made demands, and generally threw a temper tantrum. And you usurped the role of his parents, in attempting to discipline him. You excuse all this by invoking your sainted mother. Gosh, I don’t even know you, and I’m ready to defriend you too.

    And now, Kei (#75) assumes, charmingly, that when you say you want this settled by Christmas, you mean that you want to repair the relationship. I’m not so convinced; I think when you say settled, what you really mean is “how can I make it clear, as my temper tantrum apparently did not, that my nephew is WRONGWRONGWRONG! How can I make him grovel in shame and acknowledge the error of his ways?” But Kei is right to focus on the question you asked, and gives excellent advice: acknowledge your inappropriate reaction, apologize for it, and see if you can learn anything by listening for a change instead of yelling.

    Posted by MelissaJane December 14, 09 08:53 PM
  1. @Robin Abrahams - thank you kindly. Funny you should mention 30 Rock, I was considering buying the Kenneth talking doll for my desk as I currently have a sore throat and have lost my voice. Phrases like "Would you like me to dance for you?" could definitely come in handy if I miss any deadlines.

    Posted by Abused-Intern December 15, 09 06:25 AM
  1. LW overreacted.

    1-The whole "never let anyone speak ill about a FEMALE member of the family"?'s not the 14th century and her nephew isn't a knight obligated to defend the family honor with a sword as needed. It's 2009-women are considered human beings, not property too weak to take criticism, poor jokes and not stand up for themselves.

    2-As others have noted, this is the height of "your mama" and such nonsense. Ignoring the comment was in and of itself a diss on whoever posted the comment. Or for all that LW knew, her nephew sent a "not cool, dude" comment to the poster privately. If he took it down, he'd lose face in his peer group.

    3-By attacking him, LW probably made him feel horrible (which was the intent). But a 15 year old's response to that is to do exactly what he did-to unfriend the offending party.

    If she wants to build amends, she might apologize for overreacting. Then she might gently suggest that if he wanted to refriend her that he use different privacy levels for stuff that he wants her to see versus not.

    Posted by c December 15, 09 10:01 AM
  1. Wow. That's...a fascinating issue. Yes, I think she should have pointed out how wrong it is to make fun of anyone. But she went about it in the completely wrong way. It may have been a "joke" but jokes like that can be taken badly. If her nephew ever wants a girl to take him seriously, making fun of your grandmother is not the way to do it. However, he just saw it as an attack out of the blue. Most kids probably don't remember who they have friended and that anything they write is public, including the comments. I'm very glad she took the conversation private, but scolding him with demands obviously didn't have the effect she was looking for.

    Posted by Eeeeka December 15, 09 10:55 AM
  1. @76 MelissaJane - you took the words in my head and wrote them far more eloquently than I would have. I totally agree.

    Posted by Jen December 15, 09 11:31 AM
  1. I think the problem is that you took the position that it was your nephew's job to police his peers. If your nephew said something about his own grandmother, then there would be cause for a discussion. Your nephew saw his friend's bad behavior but didn't act like it was his job to be responsible for the other 15 year old twerp's lousy sense of humor. That is typical high school behavior...hell, that is typical adult behavior. As a manager I have to squash certain kinds of joking amongst my crew that almost certainly bothers other members of the group, but they aren't in a position of power to say so. If grown men in their 30s and 40s have a hard time taking someone to task for an inappropriate (even racist) joke, then expecting a boy in mid adolescence to do it is...well, idealistic at best.
    Secondly, private message and email is not the place for these kinds of conversations. Email is static. You can't have a real-time dialogue, you can't look at his body language and facial expression and get a sense of what is going on. You didn't have a conversation with him, you slammed him and gave him a lecture. Were you right? Yes. Did it get you anywhere? No, or rather it got you exactly where you didn't want to go, fast.
    If you had seen the post and then asked for advice, I would have advised you to wait it out, and talk to him at Christmas. I would have suggested that you take him aside and tell him, calmly, that you thought his friend's comment was rude and ask him if there was some kind of joke that you were missing. Let the kid speak his mind, ask him questions, have a dialogue...communicate with instead of at him. At the least it would have shown that you respect him enough to have an adult dialogue with him, and at best, maybe he would learn something and you would learn something about him, bringing you closer. I think you drove a wedge between the two of you and that is really sad. It is going to take some work to build up that connection again, and I suggest you still brave a dialogue with him at Christmas, about what happened, and about how your behavior was out of line if your outrage was not.

    With teenagers, and in fact with nearly everyone, you don't want to just say what makes you feel good to say, but step back, be strategic and instead of saying whatever you feel like saying, say what is most likely to get the results that will make your communication effective. If you want to express your outrage, vent to a friend. If you want to teach your nephew that the kind of comment their friend made wasn't cool and empower him to stand up for people, then talk to him like the adult he is becoming, and don't lecture, have a dialogue!

    Posted by merilisa December 15, 09 11:52 AM
  1. I second Kei's advice (#73)! All too often I see adults lecturing young people when they (the adults) are upset, rather than trying to have a conversation about whatever the problem is. Maybe it's just that the Socratic method got beaten into me in law school, but there is much to recommend the process of asking open-ended questions and engaging in real dialog to teach, learn, and help discover truth and justice, er, I mean solutions to a particular problem. It means making yourself vulnerable rather than appearing as the righteous expert who knows it all, but therein lies the possibility of a true relationship and friendship between this LW and her nephew. Who she obviously cares a great deal about, since this episode has upset her so much. Good luck!

    Posted by JP Gal December 16, 09 04:53 PM
  1. One theme in these responses that bothers me is the "every other 15 year old does this, just let it go" attitude. I know it's cliché to say "if everybody else was jumping off a bridge..." but there are many times in life when people rationalize their own behavior away by comparing themselves to others. I did it myself for a long time, until I met a stronger person than me who opened my eyes to just where that leads - to not respecting yourself or others enough to stand up for your own values. It may have been a lighthearted comment, or no big deal in this situation, but that doesn't mean that LW shouldn't have said anything.

    When you let attitudes like that linger in young adults, they grow up into adults who don't know how to judge their own behavior except by comparison to others. And from where I stand, humanity in general is not really setting a high bar these days. I think it's important that this nephew see someone in his life who IS standing up for him/her self against the thousands of "fifteen year old boys" who trash talk and generally act out. Whether the nephew will change his behavior or not, who knows, but it might make a difference to him in the future when there is a more important issue on the line.

    Finally, whether or not LW went about it in the correct way is different story. I would advise her to talk to her nephew over Christmas in a way that doesn't scold, but rather asks him to think about what he is doing and the consequences. Rather than tell him it was wrong, why doesn't LW explain her point of view in a more personal way, and reiterate that his friends do represent him (on fb as in life), and he does have a choice as to how he reacts. Discuss with him what else he could have done, or how he would feel if someone called him an "a**hole" as a joke on another person's fb page. It might not get through to him now, but hopefully he'll remember it later.

    Posted by Cambridgian December 17, 09 09:28 AM
  1. Unlike aunt/uncle, I suspect, most teens have HUNDREDS of Facebook friends--my teenager is "friends" with most of his high school. That volume changes the dynamics. Teens don't have time to even read all the posts, much less respond to the offensive ones. The nephew might not have seen the post in question, and he might barely know the "friend" who made the comment. He's not responsible for all the stupid things his 500 friends write.

    Call him, apologize for overreacting, and have a good laugh about the different ways adults and teens use Facebook.

    Posted by nightowl December 18, 09 01:04 AM
  1. Many commenters have written eloquently the sentiments I would have shared (generally, that the aunt/uncle overreacted), so I won't repeat.

    I did want to pose this question, however: what exactly did the nephew do wrong? We don't know when the comment was written, when the aunt/uncle saw it, when the aunt/uncle sent the ranting email... For all we know, the nephew hadn't even seen the comment before receiving aunt's/uncle's tirade!

    I'm sorry to burst the excitable bubble of commenters spouting about "juvenile delinquents" (which, by the way, means kids who've BROKEN THE LAW), but this particular 15-year-old did NOTHING wrong. You're all upset about what he apparently DIDN'T do. We do not have all of the facts, therefore do not have the right to question his character.

    Posted by circles December 18, 09 04:45 PM
  1. I once saw photos on FB of one of my kids doing something bad, and called them out on it and grounded them. Of course I was then un-friended and blocked by my kids and their friends -- I was the facebook "narc". My older daughter then told me "Mom, you just can't use your facebook power for evil." So I've learned my lesson, have been re-friended by everyone, and no longer "use my power for evil". So now if I see something objectionable (my own family ONLY), sometimes I'll just post the comment "Not everyone appreciates that" or else speak to them directly about it. I have also use the "Hide" feature to hide postings of people who I know always post stupid and inappropriate status messages. It's helps not to know sometimes.

    Posted by Marie January 7, 10 09:52 AM
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Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at

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Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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