Likes, status updates, tweets, and friend requests: if you’re familiar with any of these terms then you—like most teenagers in America—are using social media. According to a study by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, 95 percent of US teens aged 12-17 are online and 80 percent of these connected teens use social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter.
You probably cannot recall a time before the internet or social networking. Social media is the norm when it comes to sharing thoughts, opinions, pictures, videos and links with your friends.
But keep in mind; it’s not always just your friends who can see what you post!
College admissions counselors and employers are beginning to use social networking sites as a way to assess your communication skills, values, and personal life to see if you’ll be a good fit at their college or company. And, since privacy features on Facebook are constantly changing, your content may be visible for anyone to search and see. For both Twitter and Facebook, this means that your posts and pictures could show up when someone searches your name in Google.
Here’s the good news: you do have control over what you post. Be aware, take your time, use good judgment, and think before you make anything public. You are your own personal publicist, and have the power to mold your online presence to be a positive or negative one. Posting a negative comment about a teacher or school and uploading photos depicting questionable behavior will, ultimately, negatively impact how people perceive you. And unlike a comment said out loud, your activity on social media can live a long time, online.
Make some rules about what you’ll post online, and then actually follow them! Would you talk that way to a teacher? Show that picture to your aunt or uncle? Share that information with your boss? Social media is a place to have fun and interact with friends, but keep in mind the consequences of these actions in the offline world.
Think long-term when posting online content. What you put on the internet isn’t easily erased, and can remain attached to your name for years to come. Even if you plan to delete it later, someone else could re-tweet or share it, and then it is out of your control. If you have any uncertainty about what you’re about to post, then don’t do it!
Finally, use social media to your advantage. Deciding to use social networking sites is not a foolish choice. By remaining aware of your posts—and even what your friends are writing on your wall—you have the ability to put forth your best qualities. Tailoring your online presence in a way that represents yourself positively will give you a leg up on others by appealing to future employees and schools.
We’d like to hear your thoughts about social media. Is it fair for employers and college admissions counselors to check applicants’ social media profiles, or should teens get a break? Please share your thoughts in the comments box below.