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How Social Media Influences Youths’ Transition from High School to University


For many young people, the transition from high school to university is an important, and sometimes difficult, life transition characterized by changes in friendship groups, daily routines, living situations, and activities in and outside of the classroom. Transitioning from high school to university can be particularly challenging for youth because it signifies a shift in autonomy and a newfound freedom from parents and childhood, which can be intensified by social media.

During interviews I conducted with 35 young people approaching or transitioning from high school to university, many youths said that they anticipate or experience new freedoms from parental rules associated with social media and view the transition as an opportunity to curate a new, more mature, self on social media.

yan krukov/Pexels

Source: yan krukov/Pexels

A “Fresh Start”

Some youth explained that while in high school, their parents took a precautionary and mistrustful stance toward their social media use, restricting their social media use and/or suggesting other activities. In an interview, a 17-year-old named Jenny said, “for me, social media is social and that’s why I’m doing it.” But Jenny said her parents think otherwise and are suspicious of her social media use. As a result, Jenny expressed excitement at the idea of going away to university and having a “fresh start” to express herself online, or having fewer restrictions placed on her social media use. For some young people, transitioning into university resulted in less governance, less compliance with the parental gaze, and less time worrying about what the parental figures in their life may think or say about their social media presence.

Changing Peer Groups

Like Jenny, other young people expressed a similar sentiment—that social media provide them with a “clean slate” when transitioning from high school to university. A 21-year-old university student named Georgia said that she did an “overhaul” of her friend group from high school to university to better reflect who she was. She said that when she entered university her peer group changed a lot because the transition offered her a “clean slate,” where she didn’t know anyone and could post with fewer worries about what others may think. For Adam, a 19-year-old university student, this friendship overhaul or clean slate on social media allowed him to make sense of who he is now by “pushing away” the past. Nora, a 21-year-old university student, also echoes this sentiment. Nora describes “restarting” her Instagram when starting university, signifying growth into the new self and experiences she imagines having at university.

For many youths, not only is the self now in a constant state of flux where self-identity changes together with larger life transitions—like starting a university degree—but the self is now visible or exposed, allowing and perhaps requiring young people to share their lives with others more than ever before. While some youths are focused on navigating the anticipated judgement of parents, peers, and others by adjusting their behaviour on social media to align with a perceived gaze, others are focused on wiping their social media slate clean to curate a self that reflects this important life transition.



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