How to Uphold Boundaries When Friending Family Members on Social Media

Photo: Getty Images/Tim Robberts

I have a closer relationship with my most-distant cousins than I do with my first tier, just-a-train-ride away relatives. When I say distant, I mean both in a geographical sense and a far-hanging family tree sense. And the only reason I've connected with these cousins who I didn't even know existed for 18 years of my life—and, as a result, now have a full lunch spread waiting for me if I ever vacation in England—is because of Facebook.

Sure, social media and family don't always mix seamlessly. But being able to link up with my extended family online allows me to access an otherwise forgotten part of my heritage (Greek, ICYMI) and keeps them delightfully in the loop of my goings-on. Facebook is the modern family newsletter, and if you’re smart about it, social media platforms like it can really facilitate closeness. 

So how do you give your extended family a window into your life without opening the door wide, wide open?

One method to approach friending family on social media safely: Create different family and friends accounts. While that may make you do a double-take at first, this is simply a variation of having a Finstagram (face Instagram) account. It separates your family from the parts of your life that feels NSFHD (Not Safe For Holiday Dinners), but it gives them a peek into your week-to-week happenings.

"This is the cleanest way, even though it's more work," says clinical psychologist Goali Saedi Bocci, PhD. "That way everything can be pretty innocuous. It saves so many headaches and unnecessary drama later on, while leaving the focus on connecting with family," says Dr. Bocci. 

Not interested in toggling between multiple accounts? The other soft boundary you can put into place is modifying your sharing settings. For example, on Instagram you may allow your family a follow so they can enjoy all your brunch adventures. But for the Instagram Story content, the more after-dark and not-always sober stuff, you may want to add them to the "do not allow" list. "Being vigilant of who can see what can allow you to be very mindful of what gets shared," says Dr. Bocci

Either way, you have the opportunity to show your loved ones a human dimension to you, something beyond their preconceived notion of “that still-single second cousin who shows up to weddings looking sullen and stressed out.” At the same time, you may find that it helps you deepen relations with family members that you thought you had nothing in common with. (As it turns out, you both have a love of Schitt’s Creek, neat!) Most importantly, everyone gets a better idea of what to get each other for the holidays. 

"At the end of the day, social media can be an amazing connector when used properly," Dr. Bocci says. "It's really all about being mindful and aware of what you are putting out there, what you are hoping to get, and making sure it ensures a positive and prosocial experience."

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