College and the Social Network: Talking to Teens about Self-Censorship
TMI. Too. Much. Information. For teenagers today, every thought, impulse, rivalry, and broken heart is open fodder for the world. When they get angry, they Tweet about it. When they get inspired, they update their Facebook status. Though this generation made up the TMI acronym, they also live by it. Today, using a social network for most teens is about so much more than “talking to friends.” It is a status symbol. It is a way of life. However, it could also help determine their future. Schools, Like Employers Increasingly Turn to Social Media Although on the record any school who admits to using social media as a means for assessing applications claims that they do not use it as “a determining factor,” the truth is, more and more, it is being checked. Like employers, college admissions professionals like those at Wake Forrest University in North Carolina, are increasingly looking to social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Tumblr to confirm and deny their suspicions about applicants. In a recent press release, Wake Forrest Dean of Admissions, Martha Allman, explained the theory behind using social networks to evaluate their applicants: “We’ve used them to learn more about a service project student has written about, a musical group an applicant played in and an internship program an applicant referenced.” However, this works both ways. “Anything negative we find typically confirms other suspicions we have already.” Tips for Success As I pointed out just two weeks ago, there is a fine line between TMI and too much control as well. Teenagers these days represent the strongest age group with an online presence, according to a Pew Internet study. 95% of all 12-18 year-olds are online and of that 80% have a social media account. Barring teens from this engagement is not only going to cause conflict, but by doing so parents miss an important opportunity to discuss proper online etiquette (or netiquette) as well as the consequences of one’s actions. The admissions office at Wake Forrest offers the following four tips for teen internet usage that can easily be integrated into both home discussions as well as school tip sheets.
- Be Careful What You Post. More and more colleges, like Wake Forrest, are owning up to using social media to evaluate their applications. This knowledge is power. Teens, their parents, teachers, and counselors, should keep this in mind when posting and when discussing and monitoring posts.
- Privacy Is Key. For most adults on social media networks, this is a no-brainer. Just yesterday I was tooling with my own personal and professional Facebook accounts to make sure that what I wanted to show was visible to the public. I use Facebook to network, like many professionals, which means that there is a degree of “sharing” that I want to do; but that is a controlled sharing. In addition, several networks like Facebook change their privacy settings regularly, making it important to periodically check in on your own page.
- Be Active with Your Social Network. “Friends” on Facebook or any other social media site should be people you actually know, and as such you should be able to talk to them about what is and is not acceptable to share. If someone tags you in something that isn’t okay, speak up. Also, teens should be open about why their privacy is important, sharing with their friends tips to help them get into college as well.
- Don’t Lose You. Remember that social media can work both ways. That’s why staying away from it can be just as harmful as TMI. Colleges and jobs want to see that teens can interact with the world around them in a responsible way. They also want to use social media as a means to get to know teens better in a more “natural” setting. By being true to themselves and sharing appropriate information teens can actually enhance their college applications.