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How Families Interact on Facebook

Every day, people use Facebook to connect with a variety of people in their lives—close friends, colleagues and acquaintances. Nowhere are these connections more important than among family members.

 

With the holidays approaching, and families gathering all over the world, we wanted to understand how parents and children on Facebook communicate. We investigated anonymized and automatically processed posts and comments by people self-identified as parents and children to understand how conversation patterns with each other might be a bit different from those with their other friends.

 

Who friends whom?

How do children and parents become friends on Facebook? Who sends the friend request? The chart below shows the percentage of parent-child relationships that were initiated by the child, based on the age of the child.  From ages 13-17, the child is more likely to send the initial friend request. Over 65% of friendships between 13-year-olds and their parents are initiated by the child. But the older the child is when the friendship is formed, the less likely the child is to be the one sending the friend request, with the likelihood bottoming out  at 40% for children in their early to mid-twenties. Then the probability of the child initiating increases again, eventually reaching 50% by their mid-40s. This overall trend follows the rough arc of children seeking distance from their parents as they prepare to leave the nest, and then gradually gravitating back as they accomplish their own milestones in life.

 

Who talks to whom?

Okay, so now they're Facebook friends. Who talks to whom? The charts below show how often children initiate conversation with their parents, split by gender of the child. Daughters post on their parents' Timelines nearly as often as their parents post on theirs', and after age 30, daughters post even more. This is not the same as with sons. As it turns out, sons receive more posts from their parents than they make to their parents' Timelines.

 

Wall posts are not the only way parents and their kids connect. Family members often comment on each others' photos, posts, and shared links.  Commenting activity starts out nearly balanced between younger teens and their parents. As the child gets older, parents are more likely the ones to initiate communication, possibly because their children post more photos, status updates, and other content where the parents can leave comments.

 

And what do they say?

To understand how parents and children communicate, we aggregated the comments and Timeline posts written by hundreds of thousands of English-speaking parents and children over the last two months.*

 

As you can see from the figures below, parents are awfully proud of their children, and children are grateful (thank you, ty, for everything, for always being). With the ever-growing base of Facebook users in the US, these "children" really represent people of all ages whose parents are also on Facebook, and so grandchildren are often a topic of conversation, as well, especially by mothers and daughters. Non-English terms of endearment also appeared regularly, including madre, mami, papi, and hija  (mother, mom, dad, and daughter in Spanish), and anak ("my child" in Tagalog).

 

Every day, parents tell their kids to take care and be safe, and even on Facebook stereotypical "mothering" occurs with sons. Mothers frequently say be careful or be safe to their boys (but not as often to their girls), with a few don't forget's and you need to's sprinkled in for good measure.  Dads, on the other hand, are more likely to talk about sports with their sons (game, team, play), or life matters (job, car, money), and to use swear words.

 

 

 

 

Top videos shared

Sometimes the feelings between parents and children are best expressed through song lyrics. The most-shared videos by parents included songs written specifically about parent-child relationships:

Children most often shared Carrie Underwood's Don't Forget to Remember Me with their parents.  And children and parents alike identified with this mom and son duo dancing Gangnam Style.

 

We are happy to see that our data surfaces the affection, care, and closeness of family ties.

 

Happy Holidays!

The Facebook Data Science Team

 

*All text was de-identified and processed automatically, splitting text into chunks of one-, two-, and three-word phrases, which were counted to determine most disproportionately popular ones within families.

 

Analysis by Moira Burke and Lada Adamic, and graphics by Tim Belonax.