College and Other Transitions: Does Social Media Help or Hurt?

Social media has been changing the transition from high school to college for years. How can it help or hurt your child as they head off to campus? Read on to find out.

Delaney Ruston is a coproducer of the documentary Screenagers: Growing Up in the Digital Age. The film explores the many struggles students have with social media, cell phones, video games, academics, and internet addiction. This article originally appeared on

Transitions are challenging—from entering a new summer program to starting a new school to going off to college. Students are facing these transitions with new forms of communication and self-presentation. Yep, you got it: social media platforms. These platforms can help and hinder these transitions.

When it comes to getting new roommates, youth often use social media to do some pre-meeting investigation and connection. I know of teens who said they were already “friends” with their roommate before they ever met because of the cyber-snooping and Snapchatting they did over the summer. They felt having this friendship made the transition more comfortable. Others have told me that this preconceived idea of who this new person was made them anxious about the upcoming transition because they didn’t like or felt intimidated by what they saw on their roommate’s social feeds.

Related: 10 Smart Social Media Tips for Students

After a gap year, my son is heading off to college next month, and the university has a policy not to reveal roommate assignments before everyone gets to campus. The policy is written as such: “We have found that roommate relationships are more positive and successful when they start out with face-to-face interaction, rather than on preconceived notions based on fragments of information or online communications.”

Another issue college freshmen face is the constant contact they often maintain with their high school friends. This social tether is comforting but at times can engender FOMO (fear of missing out). We all know that most people often present their best experiences on social media. My coproducer’s son started college last year, and during his first semester, he told her that from looking at his high school friends’ social feeds, he believed that they were having more fun at their respective colleges than he was. This made him question his college choice.

Related: Is Social Media Holding You Back?

A young man who is about to enter his sophomore year of college told me how unexpectedly lonely he was for the first half of his freshman year. It was challenging to meet people he related to. Before entering college, he only heard how college was “so great” and “so fun,” but no one ever mentioned how lonely it might be. For human connection, he frequently retreated to his phone to text his long-distance girlfriend. He realized that the crutch of ongoing communication with his girlfriend kept him from putting himself out there to meet people. Fortunately, during the second semester, he met a couple of people he bonded with and now is looking forward to returning to college.

Related: Advice for Soon-to-Be College Freshmen (From a Soon-to-Be College Sophomore)

How our teens decide to present themselves online as they enter new social worlds—and how often they take risks to meet potential friends—is a topic definitely worth discussing with our student, even if they’re only seven years old. 

Read the full article here on the Tech Talk Tuesdays blog, and find more tips to help your child with the high school­–to–college transition in our Parents section.

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About Delaney Ruston, MD

Dr. Delaney Ruston is a documentary filmmaker and primary care physician. She is the coproducer of the documentary Screenagers: Growing Up in the Digital Age.


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