News & Politics

Secret Life of Teens: Facebook – What’s in a Profile?

Editor’s Note: To protect the kids’ confidentiality, we’ve used pseudonyms and photographs of models.

All About Me

In high school, where nothing matters more than appearances, a Facebook profile picture is a big deal. Molly, a student at the nationally ranked H-B Woodlawn in Arlington, changes hers every few weeks.

“I’m already tired of this one I put up yesterday,” she says. “I look really fat.”

Molly, who’s skinny, doesn’t always stick to the facts in her profile. She’s “Facebook engaged” to one of her girlfriends. Girls on Facebook often make up relationships and claim to be married to each other when they don’t have boyfriends. “It sounds sad to say I’m ‘looking for a relationship,’ ” Molly says. “I feel like there’s a stigma attached to that.”

In the favorites section of the profile, Molly lists rap music, which surprises people because she’s conservative in her tastes.

“Everyone is sort of a dork to go to H-B in the first place—they’re not like mainstream Abercrombie kids,” Molly says. “I’ve sort of tried to make myself look cooler than I really am.”

Posturing to impress the crowd is common on Facebook. Todd, a junior at Paul VI Catholic High in Fairfax, sees kids who list favorite books they’ve never read. Kids who don’t go to parties show up in Facebook chugging beer from the red and blue plastic cups synonymous with a keg party. “They put it up as their profile picture so everyone can see it,” Todd says.

Teens spend hours looking at profiles of classmates they barely know. Some call themselves Facebook “stalkers”—they’ll pore through a stranger’s vacation photos or eavesdrop on wall conversations.

Because they realize it’s not just friends checking out their profiles—maybe it’s the hot upperclassman from math or the cheerleader on the rebound from a breakup—they try to get noticed. Girls who’d never wear miniskirts to school might pose provocatively for Facebook photos.

“It’s ‘artistic expression’ mixed with ‘Look how hot I am—don’t you want me?’ ” says Becky, a junior at the Madeira School in McLean. “Girls get guys that way. They’ll take pictures, edit them, touch them up, make them black and white.”

The teen caught up in his Facebook alter ego may forget the rules of high school’s social hierarchy. “When we see junior guys talking with freshman girls via their wall, we’re like, ‘What the hell are you doing? We don’t approve of this!’ ” says a junior at Sidwell Friends School in DC.

Some freshmen may confuse Facebook’s definition of “friend” for the real thing. An online friendship often means nothing. “You don’t walk up to somebody you’re friends with on Facebook and expect to be friends,” says Erin of Jefferson High. “It’s totally weird.”