Go Badgers! Go Bears! Go Boilermakers!
Congratulations on sending your child off to college! It is time for you to join the Facebook <insert college name here> parent group. Don’t use Facebook anymore? Time to suck it up and start again!
Parents, your teens are watching, be cool
Parent groups are a great way for you to stay engaged with your child’s college community before and during their time on campus. It’s a surprisingly responsive place to ask questions that aren’t proactively answered on various official university sites and pick up hot tips on the perfect dorm sheets and local restaurants close to campus.
There is also no better way to get to know the thousands of total strangers with whom you have nothing in common beyond sending your child to the same institution of higher learning.
It’s exciting to mingle with people whose offspring are likely to become lifelong friends and potential spouses to your emerging adult. So exciting that a great many of us forget entirely that we, unlike our aging teens, have fully developed frontal lobes. At a time when we’re separating from our children so they can learn to thrive beyond our influence, parent groups seem like fun, but they are highly risky opportunities to carelessly embarrass our kids with our gross violations of online social contracts.
Eight essential guardrails for college parent Facebook groups
1. Not Your Job:
This is your child’s journey now. Not yours. The first rule of FB group engagement is that most of your questions are not yours to ask or answer. You do not need to engage with questions that are things your student needs to know or will learn almost immediately upon arrival. Questions about dorm configuration and class registration are not your problem.
While it’s reasonable for you to have these questions, direct them first to your student and make it clear you expect them to report back. You should be able to hear them perfectly well as you power down that helicopter and let them do their job.
2. Privacy: It’s a thing!
Everyone on this page has a child who goes to school with your child. Maybe keep a lid on the exchange of deeply personal information. Avoid oversharing information with your 3000 new besties about your kid’s dietary concerns or a need for a local medical specialist. Honestly, your kid would be mortified.
It doesn’t take much to figure out that someone who requests a recommendation for a good gastroenterologist close to campus is also the parent of your child’s lab partner. HIPAA, people! HIPAA!!! There are plenty of residential life resources available online for this sort of thing. Do your deeply personal research elsewhere and use Yelp reviews like every other half-informed person on the planet.
3. Whom, exactly, are you yelling at??
Institutions of higher learning have a decade of active social media experience under their belts at this point and they absolutely know this is a tinderbox situation. There may be an official person who sneaks on from time to time to gauge the crazy, but mostly it is exclusively schmucky parents like any of us desperately trying to manage our kids’ lives. So, if you think you have an audience with anyone important, you probably don’t.
Ranting and venting (again — to your 3,000+ new best friends who think you sound ridiculous) is useless and makes you seem like an ungrateful, entitled lunatic.
4. Admins. Are. Heroes.
The <insert college name here> parent group is usually administered by older, class parents who are doing it out of a love for the school, their children, and deep empathy for your experience as a newbie. They are probably the same mothers (who are we kidding-definitely almost always mothers) who volunteered for years at their child’s school when you were too much of a deadbeat to pull your weight.
Being a FB Group Admin is a thankless job 100% of the time. These people deserve hazard pay and a medal. If they walked around wearing noise-canceling headphones and body armor I would totally understand. Be kind to them. There are all kinds of things they would love to say to you, irrational ranting parent, but they don’t. Be self-aware and respect whatever rules they put in place with which you almost certainly disagree.
5. Check Your Sources:
This one is just Social Media 101. Why? Because. Parents. Know. Nothing. None of us do. Some are trying to parent their nearly adult child, sometimes from thousands of miles away, as though they still need to be walked to the bus.
Information posted on this page can be drenched in emotions of actual grown adults who have never dealt with their own mental trash heap, much less their child’s. Sometimes, it is a game of telephone played by hysterical crazy people — a swirling vortex that eats rational thought right out of the brains of previously unperturbed bystanders. It seems like every day someone posts a troubling rumor floating around campus or posts something their highly unreliable witness of a child said like it is a fact.
Before you post, comment, or react, consider the source. Be skeptical, even if you birthed the one from whence it came. Give everything you read a few deep cleansing breaths before calling the Provost or Chancellor in the middle of their dinner. It is, frequently, untrue.
6. Nobody Cares for your Judgements:
Criticizing the school that everyone on the page is heavily invested in is just poor form. And picking on the other parents and students who go there, for whatever reason, is just distasteful. Nobody wants that negativity. We’re all too much in love with our child’s school that’s costing us zillions to join you on that bandwagon, and you’ll just look like a ridiculous buffoon if you keep this up. It’s perfectly ok to have concerns and to want them to be addressed but channel them appropriately to the huge number of administrators and residential life professionals who have made themselves available for this purpose.
In addition to this, avoid topics related to politics and religion, and spare yourself a hell-scape of headaches by not commenting on someone else’s inability to do so. This is still the internet and you aren’t going to change anyone’s mind about anything.
7. Free Speech-It’s not a thing here:
When engaging with your parent group it is best to behave as you might at work or at a sunrise breakfast meeting with your child’s kindergarten PTO. Think how your statements and behavior might sound coming out of your mouth in person and temper your approach. If you come in sounding like a lunatic who doesn’t believe in the existence of others, your comments will be deleted. And rightly so.
You are not entitled to pee in the pool that others are using to enjoy themselves. A FB group is not a democracy, and your free speech rights do not apply there.
8. But Seriously, Connect:
If you’ve made it this far down the list and found yourself thinking “jeez I didn’t need to be told any of this,” Congratulations! You are a reasonable person who plays well in the sandbox with others! Your child will be proud of you, and you are officially allowed to make friends with other like-minded parents on the parent page. As a bonus, if you’re kind and likable in this space, you’ll get very helpful answers to the questions that most of the group will silently judge you for asking. But at least they’ll be nice about it.
Despite these rules, drama will occur. With any luck, your child will be blissfully unaware of it. Since Facebook is a place where old people go to exchange information that is obvious and unimportant to young people, it is possible to keep it that way. Be a good actor, even if you are, in fact, acting.
Think of your kid and be cool. If you can do this, they will be nothing but happy to see you when they eventually make it home for Thanksgiving.