Each year, I am asked to write copious college recommendation letters for students about their character, academic status, and maturity level. Prior to writing this post, I never really put much thought or energy about how a student’s social media account plays a part in their college acceptance process or retention. However, it really matters (even the Pope agrees)! Case in point, take the latest story that hit the news regarding college student Brianna Brochu’s Instagram posts regarding the chronic torment and bullying of her roommate. Brochu boldly posted on social media that she had masterminded a plan to get rid of her roommate by performing heinous acts to her skincare products, tooth brush, and book bag. I was shocked she posted her indiscretions so boldly, but yet, was I surprised? In today’s society, students are often rewarded with likes and peer approval for posting crazy stuff. Therefore, it really did not surprise me that she believed she could safely post these acts without repercussion! Maybe if the student had been educated about posting such things as an adolescent, she may be still enrolled in her college.
In this post, I wanted to share my thoughts about how school counselors should consider educating students and parents regarding the importance of social media when considering college in their future. According to Common Sense Media, colleges receive so many qualified applicants that they are now viewing social media accounts as a way of “tipping the scale.” Educating students and parents early may prevent many students from college acceptance rejection or dismissal. Because our society is obsessed with “sharing” it is impossible to contain or prevent students from oversharing their information. In fact, the Pew Institute researched how teens overshare information that may put them at risk for online predators, compromising their personal information, and damaging their digital reputation.
SafeStudents Online found that the online life of the majority teens will not stay online, but often spills into a student’s everyday life…including schools.
Each year, our district coordinates parent nights, parent workshops, and classroom presentations regarding college preparation. These meetings often include information about test preparation, college entrance, and academic rigor; however, seldom do we include a discussion about social media. Recently, I was made aware of a free student tool called The Smart Talk. The purpose of this tool is to assist students in protecting their online identity and personal safety. In addition, another smart option for parents is to sign for LifeLock Junior identity theft protection to help parents keep a closer eye on their online safety (be aware there is a charge for signing up for this service and it is important that you mention that it is only a suggestion for additional security) . Some possible lessons to incorporate with this tool is about the importance of protecting student privacy online and the importance of a student’s digital footprint. Not only is privacy important to protect student accounts, but it can protect students from online predators who may want to steal personal information or trick a student to meet him/her as a part of a sex trafficking plan (once a year, I teach a lesson to my student leaders in sex trafficking awareness and I am shocked at how little they know about this social topic).
I know we are extremely busy with all the things we have to get accomplished each year; however, if this is something that you feel your students and parents need to know here are some lessons you can incorporate along with introducing the Smart Talk tool to parents.
Lessons for Busy Counselors
- Teen Presentation from Netsmartz on digital safety.
- Cyber Safety Videos and Tip Sheets
- College Admissions Representative Student Selection Simulation Activity by Common Sense Media
In this activity, students learn about the impact of their digital footprint and how the information they post online can help or hurt their chances for college admissions and/or employment. Students will also learn how to make a positive impression through their online presence.
Video showing a positive digital presence.
Handout “Admissions Packet”
Students will review two student candidates and determine which one is most suitable for college admissions. Following the activity, the students will discuss why they choose the candidate for their institution.
Students will reflect on their own accounts and if their digital footprint is helping or harming their chances for college admission.
To prove a point about their digital footprint, school counselors can ask their 9th and 10th grade students to “Google” themselves to see what information or photos are visible and suggest how they should clean up their social media accounts. Also, it a good to encourage students to work with their families to keep them safe online and create a positive digital footprint for their future selves. Again, one such platform parents and students can use is “Smart Talk”.
What is Smart Talk?
Smart Talk is a collaboration between the National Parent Teacher Organization and LifeLock that assists parents and students in talking about online safety, social media and respect, screen time, and texting and calling. The free application allows families to set up an agreement about computer/phone use that meets the needs of the student and parent. Although it is recommended for students who are just receiving a cellular device or social media account, Smart Talk can be a great tool for parents and students who are rebuilding trust because of social media misuse. I really wished I had know about such a tool when I handed them over a cell phone!!
Here is the online guide for getting started with the Smart Talk tool…
Special note: Again, these are only suggestions and I highly recommend that you never endorse a product or service to families or students. These are only some of the many services I discovered that may be helpful to parents.