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Let's Not Share on College #DecisionDay

It's harmful to teen mental health and inadvertently perpetuates toxic messages.

Key points

  • Sharing #DecisionDay news on social media is common practice for parents and teens, but it can be harmful for teen mental health.
  • The process of watching #DecisionDay videos can be tortuous and induce shame, anxiety, and even depression in teens.
  • The drama and enormity of kids' and parents’ reactions perpetuate a range of misguided cultural messages.

College decision day is approaching on May 1, and many schools have already released their decisions. Around the country, thousands of teens’ dreams (and those of their parents) will be fulfilled or shattered, and they will share the news on social media. TikTok and Instagram feeds will be filled with videos of teens and even their parents gleefully announcing their “admitted” status, clapping, hugging, and squealing with joy. What started as a hashtag-fueled #DecisionDay trend has evolved into common practice across the major social media platforms. Some of these videos have gone viral, garnering national news coverage.

College admissions reaction videos are now firmly part of our culture, but as an adolescent mental health professional, I strongly discourage you from participating in this practice. In my clinical work, research, and experiences as a mom, I witness firsthand how all this #DecisionDay content is harmful to teens and inadvertently perpetuates toxic achievement messages.

An implicit toxic binary

Look. It’s exciting to be admitted to college, for the teen and their parents, especially if the parent was the first to attend college in their family. It’s natural to share and celebrate good news with those we know. And I encourage students to do so. However, #DecisionDay social stories often unintentionally fuel an implicit toxic binary—one that conveys that some of us are “worthy” of acceptance and that others are not.

For teens who aren’t admitted to the same colleges as their peers, or the schools their parents want them to attend, the process of watching video after video can be tortuous and induce (more) shame, anxiety, and even depression. Many parents post their own proud #DecisionDay videos with the news of their kid’s admission, or re-post their teens’ videos to their accounts, expanding the reach of the videos to the adults’ networks and normalizing the practice for younger people.

Misguided cultural messages

The drama and enormity of kids' and parents’ reactions perpetuate a range of misguided cultural messages: the “value” of excessive academic pressure, the promises of admission into a specific school, the inherent tragedy that would ensue from a “rejection,” and the emphasis of the outcome over the process.

In one of the less tearful TikToks, two teens recorded themselves making “rejection cookies,” frosting them with the name of the university that didn’t admit them, then shoving them into the garbage. I even know one teacher who encouraged her students to post “rejection” videos or letters on a classroom bulletin board to display the ubiquity of disappointments.

We all have them and need not be ashamed of them. "Rejection" is not reflective of a teen’s innate worth nor indicative of the prospects of their future success.

The real factors determining future success

While college acceptance and subsequent #DecisionDay social media posts may seem like a wonderful reward for hard work and perseverance, it is not the only one. As we know, there is a confluence of factors that impact a school’s decision, many of which are out of our control and unrelated to a student's actual abilities and effort. We know that the college one attends has less to do with future success than what one does, learns, and experiences at the school. The experiences at age 18 are only a segment of a very long, evolving developmental journey. And for the record, research also indicates that factors such as self-awareness, relationships, and effective communication are greater indicators of future success than the college one attends.

Of course, we all possess the power to choose. We can simply abstain from sharing the #DecisionDay outcome, good or bad. This college admissions season, I encourage parents to abstain from posting about it, and I hope you can explain to your teen why they should too. And if you are inclined to, I’d encourage parents and teens to be selective, sensitive, and thoughtful in the way that they convey these celebrations, tailoring the recipients to an intimate group or simply sharing the news and excitement verbally.

I’m sure that we can all agree that less toxicity on the internet benefits us all.

Note: If you’re going through the college application process, you might want to check out “How to Help Your Teen Through the Stress of College Admissions.”

More from Dana Dorfman MSW, Ph.D.
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