There. I said it.

With orientation in the air and students returning to campus, some seem to be faced with the worry of what they did this summer. What they’ve Tweeted, Instagrammed, Snapchatted and Facebooked. Did they tweet out a threat and ask people to make it viral to see what happened? Did they post inappropriate pictures of themselves topless at a concert? Did they send pictures of their unmentionables to unknown users on Snapchat? Were they passed out drunk when their best friend uploaded and tagged pictures of them to Facebook? Possibly, but, that’s their fault, right?

Only a portion of the issue is the use of social media. Another, of course, is the infinite lifespan of content posted online. But perhaps the largest concern that we are overlooking here is personal integrity. Sure, we all make bad choices and we most likely make the majority of them as teenagers. Still, someone who is willing to post questionable content online is of a certain character. And maybe it’s not the kind you want at your school.

I understand that many students may (still?) not realize that posting content online or even via SMS means that it can remain out there – accessible by all – forever. That it will affect their school searches, their job applications and how they are seen by other people. Actions speak louder than words. But who should be educating them to right and wrong? Isn’t that their family? Maybe elementary through high school teachers? Living in a time where children are subjected to more violence and sex on a daily basis it stands to reason that a level of media literacy is missing here, especially in the home. Given that so many recent polls state that students are leaving Facebook because their parents are there clearly shows that students are fully aware that others can see their content and will judge them for it.

When it comes to bad behavior online, what we can and should do is hold students accountable just as we do with offline behavior. We all have codes of conduct/handbooks/standards that students are held to. These do not only exist for ‘in real life’ behaviors. Instead of creating new policies, social media and online behavior need to be disciplined in the same ways. Students should be aware of the rules that dictate both on and off-line behavior and know the punishment associated with each. Maybe this means that we’ve not done enough in teaching what is expected, behavior-wise with our codes of conduct rather than with the medium itself.

Some admissions offices monitor online behavior both before and after awarding acceptances, but fewer actually rescind those acceptances should they see behavior that go against the school’s conduct code. We only hear about the high level instances of students using social media in offensive ways, but how many other anecdotal items are we missing?

You cannot teach character. It either is, or it isn’t.

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