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Teens “Sanitizing” Online Profiles

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With social media a huge part of so many lives these days, it plays into the activities of children, teens and adults in more ways than ever before. Nowadays, as teens look to apply to colleges, many are wondering just what role their Facebook, Twitter and other social profiles may have in helping or hurting their chances of getting into a top school.

Some are taking new, more proactive measures – “sanitizing” their online profiles to adapt their appearance to schools they wish to apply to. This could mean untagging photos, deleting posts, or even using pseudonyms to separate the lives they live from the lives they want to portray to colleges and universities. The topic comes to us by way of a recent New York Times article, with some great information parents and teens should read.

The bottom line is that students are becoming wary of what they post online, and cognizant of how they appear to others. These actions straddle the line between common sense (using an email address with their name as opposed to slang, a nickname or something less professional) and more directed (curating an image of themselves that may or may not be in line with how they acted online prior to worrying about college).

According to the Times piece, some schools look at students’ social media accounts, others don’t (as a matter of policy), and still others take it on a case by case basis. Some schools only look for comments made about the university, and some take the opportunity to find out all they can about applicants. In response, some students are cleaning up their profiles and making their online image conform to what they think colleges want to see. Others are switching their use of social media, opting to interact with friends on things like Snapchat, and searching for new forms of social media to “stay ahead of the adults.”

While one could go about finding individual school’s policies and basing their actions on that information, there is a more important point to be made.

The bigger point, beyond whether colleges look or not, is that we all should be aware of what our online presence says about us. As technology evolves to play a greater role in our lives, for better or for worse, things like social networking do become a component of our identity and something there for everyone to see. Our children should not wait until the college application process to become aware of this. Parents should teach children from an early age, and we need to teach them our online lives and our real lives are inexorably linked.

Part of being a thoughtful, caring person, and the best version of ourselves we can be, is doing so across the board, in all our interactions and endeavors. We need to be the same people online as we are offline, to set high standards for ourselves, and to always strive to stay true to who we are.

We believe children should be taught from an early age that things posted online can easily be found  (if you need help, see our recent article “One Bad Tweet: The Power of Social Media to Change a Life“).

Ideally, our children should not need to sanitize their online profiles for colleges, but rather, they should be smart about what they are posting from the onset. We should help them learn to be consistent in who they are and how they act, both online and offline. Discuss as  a family guidelines for online conduct, and how you can show your best face to the world.