| -2°C Dublin

Melanie Morris: Dos and don'ts for elderly mothers on facebook

THE phenomenon of the "Silver Surfers" -- older people who have discovered and adore the internet -- has been growing steadily.

First, they learned to book flights and print out boarding passes. Then it may have progressed to poker, bridge or on-line bingo. Then it was all the rage to email one's youngsters and keep up with international news via the laptop.

Hooking up the over-50s to the World Wide Web was a good thing. It kept them connected and was possibly as useful a pastime as sitting a toddler in front of a Disney DVD.

But why did they have to discover Facebook?

Finding your mother, or your granny, on the same social networking site as you must be akin to walking into a bar with a new boyfriend, and finding your folks sitting up there, getting the first round in. I say "must" because, fortunately, my mother doesn't even possess a mobile phone, but I live in fear every time she mentions "taking a computer course".

It's not that we have anything much to hide (do we?), it's that, God above, is nothing sacred?

The fate of mothers on Facebook has befallen a good few of my friends, and each say they can sense their mother's silent presence prevail the minute they log in. It's worse than finding out that your boss can see your profile. At worst, with an employer, you've just got to hide updates of sickies, duvet days and being on the doss.

But the dread of your mother having a snoop at last Saturday night's photos, "liking" your updates, or trying to "live chat" at inopportune times (like when you're drunk, or trying to flirt with someone in another conversation, or both -- whoops! sorry! wrong window!) must be terrible.

And so, I think, a code of conduct needs to be established and generally agreed across the generations. Firstly, and most importantly, mothers cannot "friend" their offspring, or any of their offspring's friends; that first move should be left to the younger generation.

Of course, mothers, we know you might silently stalk just like the rest of us, but you can't admit to it, or acknowledge anything learned from lurking. Basically, keep your distance. Because if you don't we'll just find ways around it.

I know one certain young man with an active "legit" Facebook account, on which all his family members are friends, but he has a separate Bebo account that's just for his mates. And it's well buried. I've gone in search of that Bebo page and no amount of MI5-quality spying will unearth it.

Once connected, mothers must not then, without prior permission, put up (let alone tag) photos of offspring growing up/naked in the paddling pool/going to school debs/wearing Christmas jumpers.

If you do this, we will untag them, just as we will untag pics where we look "off colour", have double chins (or "secret smiles", as a friend of mine calls them) or at Electric Picnic when we've declined wedding invites because we "had to work".

Mothers must not leave "funny" comments on photos, unless we've started the banter. And just as mothers can't be offended when, as teens, we asked to be dropped off "around the corner", neither can they be offended if we delete anything they say on our page. Sorry.

Neither can mothers become online pests, or get too "needy". A friend of mine has to hide her Farmville addiction from her mother, else she'll be barraged with requests for barn doors or chicken coops. We don't like being circumspect about it but equally, mother, we have other priorities in our virtual lives. Like finding out what our exes are up to.

Basically, just as in life, an online presence is a pretty rough deal for mothers, and we're quite likely to slam our virtual bedroom doors and tell you to leave us alone.

What's even more annoying is that we're far more accepting of other people's mothers.

But hasn't that always been the way? When we were kids, didn't our pals' mothers always extract far more information on the school run than we'd share with our nearest and dearest at home over Coco Pops?

We're not saying mothers aren't entitled to get on Facebook, but please ladies, enjoy your own social network and stay out of ours, at least some of the time. Because, let's face it, there's just something wrong about being "poked" by your mother.