Teens on Social Media: They Just Can’t Win

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about college admissions and social media. While it’s generally accepted that employers will check your online presence before hiring you, few people realize that admissions councilors also check on prospects before approving their applications.

The New York Times ran a story about a girl who attended a university’s information session and sent tweets about how bad the university was the whole time. Administrators said her application was rejected because of her academic credentials, but had they been up to snuff she probably wouldn’t have been invited to the university anyway.

shutterstock_131270519The article stemmed from recent media coverage of a study by Kaplan Test Prep that found a five percent increase over the past year in the number of college admissions officers who research an applicant’s social networking sites to learn more about them.

This year, 31 percent of admissions councilors said they check the social presence of applicants, up from 27 percent in 2012 and 20 percent in 2011.

Side Note: This study is a perfect example of data manipulation by media. While the New York Times couldn’t believe that so many admissions councilors were checking up on social media (More than thirty percent!), Business Insider rejected the data as if it meant nothing (Fewer than one in three advisers actually bother.) Data means nothing until you interpret it.

The data that’s hard to argue with is the significant annual increase in the number of admissions officers turning to social media when selecting applicants. Each year it increases by at least five points. If 31 percent still seems low, compare it to the 37 percent of companies that check the online presence of interviewees when making hiring choices. We expect employers to check our social accounts, so why don’t we think admissions councilors will?

Fortunately, the state of California has a plan. Governor Jerry Brown signed the “eraser” bill into law last month that gives kids the ability to permanently erase their embarrassing social media content. Proponents say this will help kids leave their bad decisions in the past, while opponents say adults make bad decisions too.

Think about all of the dumb stuff you did when you were in high school. Did you suddenly become wiser when you turned 18? If you answered yes, think about all the dumb stuff you did in college and reconsider. This law, combined with the data by Kaplan, emphasizes the pressure minors face to make responsible Internet choices at an early age.

shutterstock_85044751Not only are kids being pressured to keep appropriate accounts from day one, they’re expected to be professional and proactive. LinkedIn has been promoting their services to minors and growing out university pages. Students who want to go to college and get jobs shouldn’t stop at clean Facebook and Twitter profiles; they should keep going until they’re sharing content related to their future career field. They should keep going until they post like adults.

This is where the real debate lies. It’s not about the numbers or the tone; it’s about asking teens – children even – to act like adults as soon as they’re old enough to go online.

When boys and girls turn 13 they become men and women. I’m not talking about Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, I’m talking about creating Facebook accounts. Like it or not, the choices they make from that day on could affect what colleges they attend and what jobs they get. Anything they say can and will be used against them for the rest of their lives. Welcome to adulthood, kids.

About the author

Amanda Dodge