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Wednesday September 18, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Wednesday September 18, 2013 MYT 5:35:38 PM
by xu lin
Graphic by LI MIN/China Daily
Social media is changing China’s parent-child dynamics and prompting some children to use cloak-and-dagger measures to protect their privacy.
LIN ZHISHAN’S greatest joy is browsing her son’s micro blog – without his knowledge. Her 24-year-old son, who is studying in Japan, has no inkling his mother monitors his online social networks. And Lin hopes to keep it that way.
“He only tells me the good news and never lets me know anything negative,” says the 51-year-old mum from Liaoning province’s capital Shenyang.
“If he knew I secretly follow him online, he’d never post about the hardships of living overseas. I just want him to have an outlet to blow off steam.”
Lin is one of a growing number of Chinese parents who interact with – or spy on – their children’s social networking sites, such as micro blogs and WeChat.
But many don’t want their parents to follow their every post.
Magazine editor Xu Xiaoying says her 16-year-old son Yuan Jinshun blocked her from his micro blog after a week – even though it was his suggestion she started an account.
“I learn about his interests through his micro blog,” says the 42-year-old from Hunan’s provincial capital Changsha.
“I followed his idols, such as Taiwan singer Rainie Yang, on Sina Weibo. I even took him to Yang’s concert.”
The high school student says having an online relationship with his mother proved too invasive.
“I post what’s in my heart on my micro blog because I need my friends’ comfort,” Yuan says.
“But I couldn’t post freely with mum reading. It’s better to communicate with her in real life. I’ll tell her what I want her to know.”
However, he says such social network relationships with his mother did bring them closer. For instance, he’s happy his mom likes the songs he re-posts.
Xu takes a different tact from Lin, who employs a cloak-and-dagger approach to track her child on social network sites.
“It’s OK he blocked me,” Xu says. “If he doesn’t want me to see his micro blog, I won’t see it. The more I dig into his secrets, the deeper he’ll bury them.”
In other cases, parents encourage their children to hide their personal affairs from public view.
Liang Yun says her mother would scold her for sharing too much about her personal life on social sites.
“We have different views and values,” Liang says.
“Mum commented I was posting flippantly and she would post that it’s improper to share everything online. Her words embarrassed me.”
Liang uses her WeChat Friends Circle to share her inner feelings, including those about her family. Her mother regularly prowled her circle, until the daughter finally pushed her out – unbeknownst to her mother.
Some people are getting around the nosy parent problem by creating two social networking site accounts – one for family and one for friends.
That’s the approach 21-year-old Yang Yunmeng takes. And the university student in Guangdong’s provincial capital Guangzhou says she doesn’t feel the least bit guilty about it.
“I try to balance protecting my privacy and my parents’ feelings,” Yang says.
“My family doesn’t know about my other account. But I think they’d understand. We all need more space and freedom.”
Her mother, who only gives her surname, Yang, says she’d understand if her daughter uses two accounts or blocks her on SNS.
“Everybody has their secrets,” the mother says.
“Parents also have things they keep from their kids.”
Unwittingly echoing her daughter, she says: “We all need space.”
But while Yang Yunmeng keeps one account secret from her family, she enjoys sharing the other with them.
“Social networking has improved our family’s relationship because they generate convenient communication,” she says. “We should use it in a good way, rather than make it a barrier.”
But generational differences manifest online. Youth typically document their lives on such social networking sites as WeChat, while older users often share links about street smarts, health tips and inspirational stories and quotes.
Yang Yunmeng’s mother fits that bill. The daughter says: “The street smarts are based on rumors. The health tips are unsubstantiated. And the uplifting stories are meaningless.
“As a Virgo with obsessive compulsive disorder, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry at Mum’s posts. I can’t tell her these things don’t make sense.”
But Yang Yunmeng believes it’s her mother’s right to share what she wants online. She realises most parents want their kids to see their posts.
While some parents secretly spy on their children using fake accounts, some children sneakily tamper with their parents’ actual accounts. Often, the children set up their parents’ accounts in the first place, so they know their passwords – or at least how to get them.
Yuan, the 16-year-old, started his mothers’ accounts, so he knows her passwords – and uses them without her knowledge.
“If she posts something embarrassing about me on her micro blog, I’ll log on her account and delete it,” he says.
Lu Dan’ni, a 32-year-old primary school teacher in Guangdong province’s Shantou, says: “The older generation don’t have an awareness of privacy. They had to report their marriages and divorces to service organisations and companies in the old days. It’s easy to understand their actions if you know their background.”
Monitoring their children isn’t the only reason parents start SNS accounts. Many enjoy their own social media lives.
Lu, the teacher, helped her 60-year-old mother Xie Yanying open a WeChat account because her mum was curious about the new technology and knew relatives her age were using it. Xie says it’s also a great way to get news.
And Xu, the editor, often uses her micro blog for work, to share experiences and views, and communicate with colleagues.
She has continued using her micro blog long after her son – her original reason for getting her accounts – blocked her.
The mother and her boy, instead, discuss experiences and thoughts face-to-face, and share with others online.
And, they agree, that’s the way they like it. – China Daily/Asia News Network
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Lifestyle, Family & Community, social media, China, parenting, parent-child, children, online, privacy
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