By: Carol Maxym, Ph.D.
Selfies are becoming an international epidemic. At the beginning of the year, I saw that the word ‘selfie’ had been added to the dictionary and was considered to be one of the important new words of 2013…
You may be thinking: What’s the point of a selfie? Is it to make us feel better about ourselves? Show off? Incite jealousy? Promote a false image of happiness? Share a positive or unique moment with friends and family… the rest of the virtual world? Are we (and our kids/teens) becoming too concerned with this increasingly popular trend? Is it healthy?
The sad thing is that many kids and teens (even adults) are suffering from low self-esteem as a result of the selfie epidemic. Thanks to advanced filters and PhotoShop many people tweak their images before posting them to popular photo sharing sites like Instagram and Twitter. What’s more disturbing is the effect that a lack or abundance of ‘Likes’ has on young girls and boys. Perhaps, your daughter or son is suffering from body image issues and posts a photo of themselves in a revealing or tight outfit that’s liked by their followers. Maybe they see something like, “OMG you’re so skinny! I’m jealous.” This type of comment might encourage some teens to take their eating disorders to an even more extreme and unhealthy level.
Or, maybe your teen decides to snap a selfie of him or herself smoking a joint or blunt, chugging a beer, or engaging in some other illegal behavior. These types of photos and the reactions they inspire may encourage worse behaviors such as graduating to harder drugs, drinking hard liquor, excessively dieting or exercising, anorexia, or engaging in street vandalism for the ‘Likes’ and virtual admirers.
Attracts Online Predators
Often, kids and teens don’t think about the repercussions of posting selfies of themselves scantily clad or engaging in dangerous behaviors. The online world is no stranger to child predators. So your son or daughter posting a photo of themselves in a bikini or shirtless may garner the wrong type of attention from people who prey on children. It’s also becoming much harder to monitor teens’ use of social media as many teens and kids learn how to circumvent parental controls or have parents who aren’t too technically saavy or aware of how their kids or teens are using social media.
Missing Out on Life
Perhaps, I’m old fashioned, but yesterday I saw a young woman taking a selfie of herself pouting seductively. I wondered… was she going to send the selfie to someone? I have no idea. Was she going to post it on Instagram? Somehow I found it so sad to see her being self-absorbed enough to pout and pose for apparently no one, but herself.
Then this morning I was looking out at the ocean. A good day for whales. I saw at least three, possibly four. And standing next to me was a young woman with a selfie-maker plus. It was a hot pink mini camera with a matching hot pink stick attached to the camera for… you guessed it: taking better selfies, taking selfies from more angles, having a bit more distance, taking selfies looking down on herself.
Here is the really unfortunate thing: While she was so busy taking photos of herself, she didn’t see the ocean, the sky, or the whales. I mean, really, she could have been anywhere and taken selfies of herself, but she missed the moment, she missed being present to her surroundings. She missed seeing the whales. There isn’t too much that is really more exciting that seeing whales blowing and breaching right in front of your eyes. Yet because she was so focused on taking a flattering selfie, she missed it.
I’m watching a young woman and her mother sitting silently together on a couch. Apparently they have nothing to say to each other. They became animated when the daughter took out her phone for a duo-selfie. She put their heads together and smiled. Silence again. The young woman is busy on her phone, the mother staring ahead.
Are selfies real?
What are your kids missing while they concern themselves with taking “the best” selfies? What in the big, wide, exciting, wonderful world are your kids, kids in general missing while they concern themselves with themselves. How few memories will they have because they forgot to look, to listen, to be in the moment? Why are they taking photos of themselves? I remember one mother saying to me she couldn’t understand why her son took so many selfies when he so clearly hated himself. A poignant question.
Then I thought of the kind of selfie that makes sense to me. Self reflection. Taking the time and the concentration to consider oneself in the world, reflecting on how one effects others, and how one can effect others. Taking the time to notice being alive, to consider love and connection.
The selfie— the change from self reflection to self absorption—or perhaps more accurately, the expression of a bored and overly self-consumed generation.