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Author: Richard Singleton

Back-to-school. Those words evoke powerful emotions. For some they excitedly roll off the tongue like the verbal version of a Baryshnikov ballet. For others, they confront us like the stinging force of the molten air blasting out of the cab of our cars in the Texas heat. For just about all of us, back-to-school means preparation.

For me, as a kid, the hardest preparatory decisions about back-to-school were which Trapper Keeper to tote and which new pair of tennis shoes to don (the ones with the glossy red Lamborghini and the Air Jordans, if you must know).

Times have changed. And, how! Upgrades for students returning to school go way beyond selecting a snazzy three-ring binder and a trip to Foot Locker. You almost need a degree in computer science and information technology to pull off prep for school these days.

Even more important than the computer and mobile device hardware we send back to school are the apps that will be run and social media that will be accessed on that amazing hardware. We’ll dive into educational apps in the next column. For this month, as we hit the reset button on the new school year, perhaps it would be a good time to also hit the reset button on social media networks. You won’t find that on the school supply lists staring at you as you walk into your local big box store. But it might just be one of the best investments you make as you prepare to head back into the educational trenches.

If only kiddos had their social media as well-planned as their jeans, t-shirts and tennis shoes (before they go in the pile on the floor, I mean. All bets are off after that!). There’s a growing realization among adults that social networks that are mismanaged could spell doom for job opportunities. Right, wrong or otherwise, increasingly to the tune of about 60 percent, potential employers are on the lookout for those who seem to focus more on questionable “selfies” than on substantive skill-building and trustworthy service.

Colleges aren’t far behind in combing through online mounds of data that may reveal far more than any ACT or SAT ever could. Almost 25 percent of admissions officers in one survey noted exploring social networking sites to learn more about applicants. That’s a 150 percent increase in the last three years. That escalating inspection will likely continue to swell as more and more kids post more and more things in more and more places. Getting into a top-tier school – or any school – is already challenging enough. Complicating it even more is just not worth the momentary rant, the risqué montage or the hazy hubbub.

The same care and attention to safer, more secure reputation-protecting social media is also true for those kids who are in middle and high school. They may not quite be in the view of colleges just yet, but they are certainly in the public eye. There’s no time like right now to help them get their social media in tip-top shape before they head back to school, especially if they are moving into high school and will be surrounded by a whole new peer group, some of whom, sadly, will not have the best motives when they browse through the social media landscape.

There are some simple, practical steps that can be taken.

One website that deals in these matters,, suggests these tips for Facebook:

1) Set your profile to private
2) Delete unnecessary apps
3) Set albums to private
4) Restrict tagging
5) Stop uploading albums
6) Restrict public search

This may seem draconian and it likely won’t work for everyone, but it does give insight into just how important it is to help your child scour his or her social media and polish it up for the new school year.

Perhaps you’re struggling with even broaching the subject with your child; what a great teaching moment! What a great opportunity for you as a family to define, clarify or establish values and to work together towards a mature, responsible and functional use of social media. Like many things, it’s about the journey as much as it is about the destination.

Have a great 2013-14 school year. I’m hoping it will be one of you and your child’s best ever!.

Richard Singleton, MACE, MAMFC, LPC, is the executive director at STARRY in Round Rock.


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