Why Teens Are Ill-Equipped to Self-Monitor Social Media for College

Today’s high school students are facing unprecedented competition in pursuit of their academic interests. Although it is widely known that colleges are increasingly likely to view student social media to recruit, screen and assess qualified candidates, most students continue to engage in public social media activities intended to impress their friends rather than college officials.

What surprises many teens is discovering how far removed their social media holograph is from the person they are and how they would want others to perceive them. Why is there such a disconnect?

This discussion begins and ends with today's currency of teen popularity:  social media likes, friends, re-posts and follows which are the driving force behind teen social media use.

When you hand your teenager a smartphone you are handing them a portal for unlimited self-exploration, discovery and expression where the audience is immediate, mostly anonymous and unbound by social protocol. As a result, today’s teens are experiencing social interactions in ways that we, as adults, can neither understand nor comprehend. Teenagers today are no different than teenagers of the past but with a smartphone in hand there are no boundaries to contain their curiosities.

The power of social media lies in its simplicity and immediacy. We produce the content and we distribute the content to our designated audiences thru self-defined social media channels. The audience for social media is generally measured in the currency of likes, followers, shares and reposts. Make no mistake, teens value how many followers they have and, in many ways, this is how teens today are measuring their popularity. Like everything else in life, it’s all about the numbers when it comes to how many likes, friends, followers and shares teens have.

The pressure many teens are facing to be funnier, racier, and more daring in order to get more followers and likes is at the heart of the problem of using social media to impress their friends. 

Just ask a group of teens if any of them has ever taken down a social media post because it failed to collect their own self-defined minimum number of likes. The response will likely startle you.

Teens understand that many of the activities they are sharing online may come back to haunt them down the road but they are naturally putting off dealing with any potential consequences until a later date. It is important to remember they are living in their moment and are using social media as a way to socialize and meet people while dealing with teenage peer pressures and their need for social acceptance.

So, when its time to prepare for college, parents expect their teen to be able to clean and enhance their social media profiles for possible collegiate review.  Remember that we are dealing with 17 and 18 year olds with judgements that are not yet fully developed. What happens is that the pressures of the moment to continue to trump future endeavors. The knee-jerk reaction is then adopting an alias or shutting down social media during the college application process.

 Unfortunately, there is no longer a safe and reliable way to simply "turn-off" one's online presence. At best, temporarily shutting down your Facebook profile or using a fictitious name during the application process will raise suspicions that you have something to hide or at worst will prevent you from effectively differentiating yourself from others. College recruiters use social media to proactively search for qualified candidates. Students without a presence or hidden by an alias will never be found and will be missing out on critical opportunities.


Alan KatzmanComment