The start of the academic year means that we welcome a new group of students to campus. It is a seminal time for many students, and their first year, in particular, can bring forward a number of rapid developmental changes. As peer leaders in their communities, resident assistants can heavily influence, and shape these student experiences, for the better.

One reality for today’s traditionally aged rising first year students is the omnipresence of technology, and in particular social media. As you construct curriculum and educational experiences for students in the first six weeks, addressing the developmental issues surrounding technology use is critical. The following are three pieces of advice you should emphasize.

Remind your first year students…

social media versus reality

1.  To not constantly compare themselves to others on social media.  It’s fruitless and a waste of energy.

First year students, typically as a result of their developmental level, will often compare themselves to others online and measure their self-worth in comparison to what others are posting. This phenomenon isn’t new, but with the online space it takes on a more pronounced form. Students feel pressure to always put on a “happy” face and show that they are having an amazing college experience. This can hide the fact that on the inside they may be nervous, scared, or homesick. Let first year students know that this is natural, and that what they see online is not always a full reflection of reality. It’s okay to be vulnerable. It’s also okay if your pictures doesn’t get 100 likes.  (Photo credit: comicalconcept.com)

emoji of different races

2.  To engage with people who are different from themselves.

This advice isn’t new, but it also extends to the online environment. When students are searching for friends or roommates, there is a tendency to look for 100% compatibility. Of course, as we all know, this isn’t the best way to pick your new friends in college. College is a time of great change and discovery. Students are leaving behind their high school selves and becoming their new college selves. This entails exploration and change. Engaging with others who are different from you is an excellent way to do this. Encourage first years students to do this both online and off.

Pay Attention While Walking

3.  To use social media to connect with new friends, but be careful not to miss out on the in-person experience.

Social media is an amazing tool in the college socialization process.  Students can meet each other before orientation, maintain ties after orientation, and begin to solidify relationships when they arrive on campus. During their first few weeks on campus, however, caution students to not spend all of their time on the phone. There should be a balance. Meeting and connecting with people in person will deepen their experience. Participating in and sharing their experiences through social media is also an excellent way to enhance it.  Make sure new students are getting the best of both worlds. (Photo credit: Colorfully.eu)

Conclusion

Although social media and mobile technologies are still relatively new, there are already emergent “lessons learned” that can be helpful to educate students about when they arrive on campus. Well crafted residential curricula and educational plans should be mindful of these “new issues” that technology has brought, although in many cases these issues are not that new, even though they may appear different. How are you incorporating education around issues of digital and social technology into your educational efforts?tr