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Is Facebook Ruining Your Friendships?

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Jude Buffman

A few months after being friended by your 16-year-old niece, you are appalled to see she's posted photos of herself in a teeny black leather bikini. Do you run and tell sis?

No—at least not immediately. "When someone you love is putting herself in jeopardy, you've got to do something," says Michelle Borba, author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions (Jossey-Bass). But in this case, talk to your niece first. Don't play the narc who's caught her in the act, don't scold, and don't start in about how she's ruining her reputation. Instead, drive home the long-term consequences. Remind her that everyone can see what she's posting—including college admissions officers and future dates—and that it takes just a few clicks to copy a post or photo and send it careening into cyberspace. Tell your sister only if your niece continues with her risky behavior or is breaking the law (engaging in underage drinking, for example). In that case, Mom needs to get involved.

Out of the blue, your long-lost college roommate wants to friend you. Delighted to hear from her, you dispatch a rambling, nostalgic e-mail to her Facebook inbox. But she doesn't write back. Ouch!

First of all, don't feel bad. "For a lot of people, asking to friend someone is like mailing a holiday card—you send it with no expectations of getting anything back," says Dixson. "It's more of an announcement—'Hey, I'm out here, and now we know how to get in touch if we need to down the line.'" So it may well be that ex-roomie uses her Facebook account to keep passively updated on the people in her past and isn't looking for a ton of deep new connections. It's also possible she doesn't check her e-mail regularly and hasn't seen your gushing response. "Try contacting her on Facebook one more time, but stop after that—otherwise you'll look like a stalker," advises Dixson. "If you have her regular e-mail address or phone number, try either of those one time. After that, the ball's in her court."

A glam and successful businesswoman in town who never gives you two cents' worth of attention has sent you a friend request. You accept. Days later, she asks you to "like" her most recent venture. What gives?

There are times when an FB friend isn't so much choosing you as using you. Don't feel obliged to join the fan club. And if you're still in a snit about being had, you can go a step further and unfriend Ms. Glamorpuss. "When someone has hundreds or thousands of friends, chances are she's collecting your name as one more to add to the list, whether it's to boost her business, her social life, or her ego," says Dixson. And not to worry if you bump into her: With 4,573 friends, she won't notice the count has dropped to 4,572. The bottom line? Let it go. On Facebook, as in real life, stuff happens.

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Originally published in the June 2011 issue of Family Circle magazine.