Today’s episode of “What were they thinking?” features horny bourgeois teens no longer attending Harvard.
At least 10 prospective students saw their admissions offers yanked by the Ivy League school, according to The Harvard Crimson, after they shared Facebook memes that targeted minority groups and mocked sexual assault, the Holocaust and the deaths of children.
The students had formed a messaging group called “Harvard memes for horny bourgeois teens” in December, which Harvard administrators discovered. Admissions office employees emailed the students posting the memes, the Crimson reports, asking them to disclose their involvement.
“The Admissions Committee was disappointed to learn that several students in a private group chat for the Class of 2021 were sending messages that contained offensive messages and graphics,” reads a copy of the admissions office’s email obtained by the Crimson. “As we understand you were among the members contributing such material to this chat, we are asking that you submit a statement by tomorrow at noon to explain your contributions and actions for discussion with the Admissions Committee.”
Never miss a local story.
About a week later, the Crimson reports, at least 10 students received letters saying their offers of admission were withdrawn.
Most of us, by now, are well aware that universities and employers keep tabs on online personas.
Thirty-five percent of college admissions officers said they check applicants’ social media profiles, according to a recent Kaplan Test Prep survey. Of those who checked social media profiles, 42 percent said the findings negatively impacted their views on applicants.
Kaplan’s survey also found that 25 percent of admissions officers who used social media to help make decisions did so “often.”
So what gives? Are these statistics not making their way to teens? Or are they simply not sinking in?
I checked in with education consultant Ana Homayoun, author of the upcoming “Social Media Wellness: Helping Teens and Tweens Thrive in an Unbalanced Digital World.”
Homayoun said parents and teens are aware that social media footprints have real consequences, but our conversations about them have been fear-based, rather than instructive.
“So much of the last decade of social media education has been around scaring kids, ‘Don’t do this or you won’t get into college,’” she said. “All that really does is send them underground.”
Better to help them understand that their online and real-life identities are one and the same, she said, and help them think hard about the values they hold dear when shaping those identities.
“Kids often go online and feel like they have this secondary experience – maybe they try on different personalities, different viewpoints, see what kind of response they get,” Homayoun said. “Especially if they’re using apps or groups where their real name isn’t being used.”
Try to engage kids in frequent conversations, Homayoun said, about how they can shut down inappropriate comments, or at least disengage from them – just as they should in real life.
“Most adults can recall a time when they somehow felt excluded in their younger years,” Homayoun writes in “Social Media Wellness.” “Many can also recall how they did something that was ill-advised or, for lack of a better word, dumb. Social media use didn’t cause these feelings or decisions, but it’s easy to see how social media expands and amplifies such feelings to near-overwhelming levels while creating a long ‘paper' trail that can radically alter the long-term consequences of bad choices.”
Those memories, embarrassing as they may be, can offer important context when we’re talking to our kids about their behavior and identity.
And don’t be afraid to offer some hard-and-fast boundaries. In a blog post accompanying last year’s Kaplan survey, the site urges students to keep in mind one simple question: “Would I say this on television?”
Social media is, after all, a broadcast of sorts.
The writer is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.