Dear Straight Talk: Maybe I shouldn't meddle, but my son is an awkward, shy teenager and my brother's kids are popular. At a recent reunion, a lively conversation ensued about Facebook friends and I noticed my son looked painfully depressed. Later I joined Facebook and "friended" everyone involved. My nieces and nephew each have over a thousand friends. One has 1,800! My son's profile has 37. There is no sign of bullying on his profile, just emptiness. My heart goes out to him. Is Facebook the modern-day version of getting picked last on the team? How unusual is it to only have 37 friends? Should I talk about it with him? -- Concerned in Santa Rosa
Katelyn, 16: I have 25 Facebook friends and I'm not ashamed of that number -- I know who my actual friends are.
Lennon: Dude. You can't actually know and be real friends with 1000 people. I have 311 "friends" and I don't know some of them. If Facebook is leading to depression, delete your account and spend time with your real friends. Problem solved.
Chuck, 16: I used to think Facebook would be the future basis of all social activity. But for the last three weeks I've sacrificed Facebook for Lent. The main thing I've learned is this: We don't NEED Facebook. Since I logged off, I've never felt tempted to turn back -- and I used to spend over an hour a day there. I do not feel at all disconnected socially without it. Not having friends online isn't the problem you should be monitoring. Your concern should be how often he enjoys himself with real friends.
Molly, 19, Berkeley, Calif.: Facebook doesn't change how popular or unpopular someone is. It mostly reflects one's social style. Your son is probably down because of his social life in general. Bring up the subject casually without pushing; things like this can be embarrassing.
Matt, 16: There are many faces to Facebook. You can keep your network small or expand it like I have. I include best friends, occasional friends, school acquaintances, even people I've just met. Don't make a big deal about this. Huge friend lists don't necessarily indicate popularity, and limited ones aren't nerd indicators. Facebook can be addictive. Ninety-nine percent of my friends use it daily -- some obsessively. It does make communication easy and could help some people overcome shyness. Ask him for help with your Facebook account. Or watch The Social Network together. Both could provide an opening to talk.
Rachel, 19: It can be hard seeing other profiles with more friends and posts. I've felt depressed about it before. Ask him how he feels. What's important is having real friends to count on.
Dear Concerned: Rachel's response is painfully honest -- and she is someone with lots of friends -- real and Facebook. Flattering photos and sassy posts of seemingly endless good times compose the typical Facebook page. This incredibly skewed image of life can make an insecure person feel even worse. But don't be fooled. Kids with huge networks can be driven by insecurity, too, always needing more "friends." The American Academy of Pediatrics set guidelines for "Facebook depression" in their April issue of the journal Pediatrics. It's a real thing. Whether your son is depressed or not is something you will have to determine. Definitely talk to him about it -- along with cyberbullying and sexting. All parents with kids on Facebook should do the same. As every panelist pointed out, the important thing is having real friends in real life.
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