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Should You "Friend" a Student?

I got my first student friend request around the second or third year of teaching. I was on Myspace at the time and I simply ignored it, figuring that it was the most polite way to reject an invitation. A week later, I got another request.

Eventually, a few students cornered me and asked me why I denied their requests. I struggled for words. "It would seem wrong," I said.

They looked at me like I was crazy.

"I mean, I'm not your friend. I'm your teacher. I wouldn't go with you to Great Skate and I wouldn't invite you to the mall. We're not friends, you know?" To me, it was black and white. I didn't want to be the creepy guy with the treehouse open and no kids of his own.

Over time, I started to see a different perspective. Students came by to visit and shared their life stories with me. They said things like, "I tried to send you an invite to my graduation, but I realized you never accepted my friend request."

One student challenged me on the definition of a friend, "A friend is someone who has your back. If that's what a friend is, I'd like you on my friend list." It was touching in that macho, fist-bump kind of way.

Still, I have always been worried about rumors. I've heard stories of reputations ruined by allegations. My only solution has been to tell students they could friend request me once they are ready to graduate.  I have a few who seniors who slipped through when I wasn't keeping track of the years correctly. However, accepting a friend request has given me insight into the beauty of social media. Our stories aren't lost forever. We have a place to reconnect.

So, it leaves me with a lingering question:

Is it ever okay to "friend" a student on Facebook? If so, when is the right age?
Professor. Maker. Speaker.
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