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Social Media and 3 Easy Steps to Stay Connected to Your Teen This Fall

Shari Bender

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I’m not here to debate the merits of social media use. Your kids are using it, and if you want to stay connected to them, social media way is a good way to keep in touch.

My oldest child graduated from college in 2019. I liked her school’s Facebook page and enjoyed the occasional Facebrag of a University Rhodes scholar or the cute video of the bulldog mascot running around the football field. I received the weekly official college emails and felt good about being in the loop. My daughter’s school was a two-hour drive away, so we could drive up for short visits and get the vibe on campus.

Four years later as my son started his higher educational journey, the five-hour drive to his university made a pop-in lunch logistically improbable. So, I upped my online game and discovered more options to keep in touch with college happenings.

Keeping a connection to my college student is especially important to me. Here are social media strategies that work for me that you may want to try with your own student.

1. Get an Instagram Account and Follow Your Student’s Personal and College Instagram

The personal Instagram can get a little tricky. Your child may have more than one Instagram account. The real Instagram account, sometimes referred to as rinsta, is the account they will likely allow you to follow. You will see the best version of them on this page, and it will allow a glimpse into their college life.

Even though this is their “real” Instagram account, don’t be fooled by social media glamour, and know that they are probably sharing a more authentic look into their life on other, private accounts. These are known as fake Instagram accounts, or finstas. I've gotten only a limited glimpse into this world, and it isn’t pretty. It's unlikely your teen will tell you about their finsta, and even unlikelier they will let you follow it.

Stalking your child’s Instagram does not substitute for FaceTime and real-world communication, but it can be a good starting point for conversation. Word of caution: Don’t let your child know if you social media stalk them or you risk getting blocked. I discovered I was blocked from my oldest child’s social media account when she took a photo of us at a college football game and told me she was going to post it, and she did. Only problem was that I couldn’t see it, even with her Instagram account open on my phone. Busted!

My son has threatened to block me a couple of times. First reprimand was after I couldn’t contain my momments (mom-comments) regarding his freshman partying ways when he had an 8:40 a.m. class next day. After the second warning, I’ve learned to keep my momments to myself. I commiserate with my fellow Empty-Nesters and let my son grow into the man he needs to be without his mother hovering and analyzing his every post.

I follow the official University account, the account of the President, and Campus Student Life as well as numerous other school-related Instagram accounts. They post stories each day of campus happenings and showcase daily highlights on their feed.

Stories, for those of you less Insta-savvy, are shared videos and photos that disappear after 24 hours. The Instagram feed is where photographs or videos remain unless actively deleted. I love seeing these snippets of campus life, a small window into my son’s college home. It’s all public information so there is no snooping involved to stay connected.

The Instagram search (magnifying glass symbol) is located bottom left of your screen. You can identify the official college page by the small blue check after the name. There are likely many college Instagram accounts linked to various clubs and activities — find the ones your student is involved in and follow along. I find this particularly useful in the time of COVID, as my son's school is being very proactive on their social media accounts to broadcast information to the student body and the college community at large.

2. Join the Parent Facebook Group for Your Teen’s College

These parent groups are a place where parents can vent and seek information. Engagement varies widely. Some have little activity while others receive a daily onslaught of mostly well-meaning and sometimes over-sharing parental posts.

My favorite college Facebook group so far was a spring admission parent sub-group at my son's university. It allowed for exchange of knowledge and sharing tips that were very helpful to his specific college experience. I'm also in a larger subgroup Class of 2023 Parents.

Be warned: Unintentional misinformation can spread widely in these groups, so put a pause on parent panic and gather info from multiple sources before jumping to conclusions. This is especially true when it comes to coronavirus conversations. Be sure to check your sources. I recently joined a University Meme page, adding a little college levity to my daily scroll.

To find your student’s school on Facebook, just type the name of the college along with “Parents” in the search bar (upper right) to see what FB groups populate for the specific college or university.

3. Snap Your Way to Social Media Connection

I joined Snapchat when my daughter was in high school. Sharing Snapstories, photos and video messages have become one of my favorite ways to connect with my kids. I look forward to the upstate campus snapshots from my son and the glimpse into the Seattle happenings of my older child. I often send private Snaps to my kids of the pets at home, whether it be a frisbee catch with Foxy or a purrfest with Gil. It's a nice way to connect and send a little TLC their way.

Bonus of being on social media, particularly Instagram and Snapchat, is that your child’s friends may think it's “cute” that you're on the latest platform and will want to follow you. This means that, without even trying, you have been granted a priceless look into your teenager’s social life.

Social media can truly be a wonderful way to connect us. It can also be an overwhelming and stressful place. Keeping a balance between the virtual world and the real world can help enhance the connection to your college student. Maybe even post a photo (with your teen’s permission) from time to time and tag them to share your #proudmama moments.

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Shari earned her BA in Communication from Stanford University and freelances all things Communication and Marketing. She is a cat-loving spiritual vegan and former admissions interviewer. With two grown children, Shari is happily and sentimentally embracing her Empty Nest along with her husband of more than 30 years. Her musings delight parents in numerous publications and online platforms, including CollegiateParent and Grown & Flown.
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