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Dear Mom, Please Ask Us First Before You Post About Our College Decisions

Recently, a mother named Angie spoke to me about the importance of obtaining consent before sharing news about our children on social media. Angie is usually thoughtful about asking her daughter’s permission before posting, but her excitement over her daughter’s college scholarship got the best of her, and she posted about it without checking with her daughter first. Her daughter was not happy about it.

“It was my bad,” Angie said. “We had a conversation about it. She asked me to take the post down, so I deleted it. Our conversation revealed that she was having so much anxiety about the debt. She didn’t want the pressure of everyone knowing she got into this great school because she wasn’t sure if she could handle the debt and what she wanted to do about it.” Angie realized that posting about the college scholarship wasn’t her news to share, it was her daughter’s. Her daughter had the right to decide on the limits of her privacy and whether to share the news or not.

As I travel around the country to promote my latest book, “Growing Up in Public,” I  also hear from parents of high school students who read posts like Angie’s. They often confide in me that seeing other parents post on social media about college visits, college acceptances, and College Decision Day can feel overwhelming. 

High school students also find these #humblebrag posts unnerving. Students tell me they don’t want their parents oversharing on social media because they’ll feel embarrassed, sometimes even demoralized, if their future plans don’t take shape as they had hoped. 

High schools can add to this pressure by posting photos on Instagram of seniors with a sweatshirt or pennant or other college swag, often with a note about their planned major attached. Or, they might track college acceptances on massive bulletin boards. 

Did you know some high school seniors are posting videos of their reactions to College Commitment Day notifications on YouTube and Tiktok? It’s a whole genre! It’s very easy to get caught up in the college admissions craze.

But, don’t let their oversharing fool you. Most of the teens I spoke with across the country are more sensitive about bragging, humble or not. 

Our kids don’t want us to post about college visits or admissions on social media.

It might seem strange that our kids don’t want us to share good news that concerns them, and it’s very easy to get swept away in the excitement of future plans. But it’s a good idea to hit pause before posting, because if you learn anything from this example, you probably want to practice some restraint.

One student shared that she had to beg her parents not to post her early acceptance to a university in their Christmas letter. She was worried it would stress out her cousins who were still waiting to hear, and put the news out to some of her friends who had applied and been deferred.

High school students are aware that the nature of college selections leads to comparisons, and that those comparisons might make friends or family members feel bad about themselves. Typically, and especially among friends applying to the same school, they have formed agreements about how much to share about college visits, where they’re applying, and ultimately which schools accepted them. They’re also very supportive of friends who don’t get in. Rather than posting broad self-congratulatory announcements on social media, teens tell me they prefer to use social media apps in a more nuanced way. And, when a topic is sensitive, they prefer to talk to people face-to-face and one-on-one. We can learn from their example.

Here are a few suggestions when it comes to posting about college admissions.

  • First and foremost, consent is everything when it comes to social media etiquette. As with any social media post, but especially in the face of big-deal news, get permission before posting. Even if you think mentioning them in your post would be okay, be sure to obtain their consent first. If your kid doesn’t give you permission to post, don’t do it.
  • Timing is important. Even if your kid is into sharing, consider holding off on your posts until your child has decided where they’re going. If your teen hasn’t decided yet, sharing the list of possibilities may create undue pressure, as people may ask them about these different schools. Also, posting each acceptance one by one may become a source of anxiety for your followers, whose kids are making decisions of their own.
  • Don’t blame the kids for their parent’s oversharing. That teen may be cringing (or blissfully ignorant) about their parent’s post.
  • Respect your own limits. Did you know Facebook has a feature called “snooze” where you can unfollow someone’s posts for thirty days? You can also mute people on Twitter and Instagram. If scrolling through brag posts makes you feel stressed, unplug from social media and take a break, at least from late March to mid-May. Go outside! Ride your bike. Find a way to connect with your teen and other people in real life.
  • Your kid can’t possibly plan their entire future right now. Life is complicated. Some 17-year-olds may seem to have their future planned out, but how many of us are in careers now that didn’t exist when we were seventeen? If you have a kid who is not sure what they want to do for a career or even what they want to major in, that’s normal. Appreciate their honesty and let them know they’ll be okay.

It’s easy to fall prey to the opinion that a child’s acceptance to a highly selective college represents a gold star for “parenting well done,” but I urge you to look at the big picture instead. Be proud of how hard our kids are working, no matter where their future takes them. And remember, if you’re going to post about them, make sure you have their consent.

Need some guidance on the college admissions process? We have a quick and easy course for you!
Destination→College 2023

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Dr. Devorah Heitner is the author of Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World. Her new book, Growing Up in Public, comes out in September 2023 with Penguin Random House. Dr. Heitner’s work has appeared in the New York Times, The Washington Post, and CNN Opinion. She is delighted to be raising her own teenager. You can follower her on Instagram @devorahheitnerphd.