Monday, December 12, 2011

Starting Social Media Education in Middle School

From their 2011 survey of the top 500 college admission office, Kaplan Test Prep reported that:

  • Nearly a quarter (24%) reviewed publicly-accessible webpages and social media sites of their applicants to get a complete picture of the candidates;
  • About one fifth (20%) Googled their candidates;
  • For around one eight (12%), things that they discovered online, including admissions of underage drinking, photos of inappropriate behavior, the use of vulgarity in blogs and comments, and evidence of plagiarism and copyright infringement, had negatively affected the admission chances of the candidates in question. 

In general, I'm not one to start the college preparation madness in middle school.  It's bad enough how positioning oneself to be attractive to colleges can overtake one's high school education, so I would prefer we protect our middle schoolers from that as much as possible.

However, as I've been reading some college entrance preparation stuff lately, I've come to agree with what many experts say.  I think students should be educated about the potential consequences of what they post online in such public places as their (non-school protected) blogs, Facebook pages, and other social media.

Current legislation has most places, including Blogger and Facebook, restrict accounts to people who are 13 and up.  So they are aiming for high school and up, but most students turn 13 in middle school.  In addition, many students establish accounts when they are underage, with or without their parents' knowledge or permission.  (Full disclosure:  I allowed our son to create a blog when he was underage, but with the agreement that his account was under my supervision as a legal-age adult and that I would review his posts and had the ultimate decision to remove any posts I thought were unappropriate.)

Typically, formal social media instruction is given in high school, but apparently students are finding that by then, it is too late.  Students can delete regrettable posts and comments, but since at least one poll found that 75% of high schoolers "friend" someone they have never met, they often find that their most embarrassing items have been spread around the net and it is impossible to eradicate them.

So this is a matter that can vary tremendously among families and even individuals in the same family.  However, if your middle schooler is blogging, or commenting on blogs, or doing Facebook or other public social sites, then I advise you to be having a conversation with your young adolescent about how these "funny" posts, photos, or comments could come back to haunt them in a few years.

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