Social Media & Parents in the College Process
- Guest blog written by Emilia Copeland Titus for Strategies For College, a college planning affiliate I work with.
In our previous newsletter, we discussed the impact social media may have on teenagers during the college process. Here is the second in the two-part series, in which we look at how parents may be influenced by social media during the same period of time.
Nowadays, it’s common practice for people to join Facebook groups or similar online spaces that represent the parents of students at a certain college. These communities are sometimes run by a person employed by the school, but more often than not they are moderated by a fellow parent or group of parents.
Such platforms can be a great resource for both you and your student as they prepare for and then adjust to their new life at college. You may be able to find insider information about dorms and roommate selection from parents of older students, or discover local business recommendations from parents who live near campus. And, naturally, you will find yourself among a group of people from all over the world currently in this particular stage of parenthood, which may provide a feeling of solidarity. However, a dependence on these groups can become toxic. Just as excessive social media use can harm students’ mental health and productivity, so too can it be a source of stress for parents. It’s important to exercise discretion when utilizing these forms of communication, both for the sake of privacy—your student’s and your own—and for the sake of your well-being.
As we mentioned in the previous letter, the urge to compare oneself to others through social media is a powerful one. You may feel equally tempted to share every moment of success—or frustration—with a group of people who understand what you’re going through. However, it’s always a good idea to step back and consider whether something needs to be shared with the whole group or if it would be more appropriate in a chat with someone one-on-one. The same applies to photographs and stories posted on other platforms like Instagram, Twitter, etc. Consider what you would have wanted your parents to publicly share about you when you were your student’s age.
It can be frustrating for a student to think that their parent is trying to micromanage their life from afar—they may feel that you don’t consider them competent enough to make their own decisions, or that you simply don’t trust them. An important part of the college experience for every student is understanding how to live independently. Your student will feel more empowered to learn from their mistakes and celebrate their victories if they know that you trust them enough to navigate their life for themselves.
Again, try to maintain an open dialogue between yourself and your student so that if they are truly struggling, they feel comfortable reaching out to you for help. The goal is to foster their independence so they feel capable both inside and outside of the classroom.
These groups should primarily serve as a platform for commiserating with and seeking thoughtful advice from fellow parents. For example, if your student is interested in a study abroad program, you could ask for tips or pointers from parents whose students have already participated in a similar program. You may connect with other parents in your student’s degree program or on their athletics team, and then coordinate attending a capstone presentation or sports game. These online connections can be brought into the ‘real world’ in a meaningful way so you no longer have to rely exclusively on the Facebook group.
Don’t treat these community spaces like Google. For general questions about the school calendar, resources available on campus, or academic policy, first look at the college’s official website to see if the answer is already listed. If you’ve already searched online and still can’t find a solution, then it might be a good idea to pose it to the group. It’s always better to get this kind of information directly from the school so it’s as accurate as possible.
On that note, try to refrain from engaging with school-specific speculation or rumors in these spaces. Every school has policies in place to alert both students and families if there is an emergency or urgent information that needs to be shared. Keep in mind that these Facebook groups are frequently run by fellow parent volunteers rather than official representatives of the school, so the person posting may not have the full story.
Look into whether your student’s school has a newsletter that you could subscribe to—this might be a weekly or monthly email sent out to parents and alumni with updates about important initiatives on campus, upcoming events, and any other relevant news. This way you will be able to keep up with what’s going on at your student’s college without having to sift through every comment in a Facebook group. It also gives you the opportunity to talk about current campus events with your student in a more organic way.
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