It’s the selfie.
It’s a cultural phenomena that’s defining our kids. Even the President takes selfies.
So how are selfies impacting your teens?
On the positive side, they’re a fun diversion that feeds the self-focused, impulsive nature of adolescents. Selfies meet the heightened social needs of kids when used as appropriately. I remember my friends and I taking photos doing fun and crazy things. It’s part of the teen experience.
Another positive aspect is confidence-building. A girl feels good when she looks pretty and gets a snapshot of herself to remind her she’s not the awkward person she feels like. Something in a pretty photo counteract the doubts and negative self-talk that plagues the minds of teens.
But the selfie is unhealthy, too. The greatest danger of teens photographing themselves is taking an inappropriate photo and sending it to someone. Once a photo is sent, it can’t be retrieved. It can ruin a teen’s reputation. Inappropriate sexual photos are also considered child pornography.
Even if a selfie doesn’t have nudity, it temps teens to pose seductively, which gives sexual perceptions about a teen’s intentions. What a boy thinks is seductive can be different from a girl, and a unintentional selfie can give others a wrong perception of a teen’s character.
Lastly, while the selfie promotes confidence, it also promotes self-absorption and narcissism. Kids growing up in the age of selfies with instant feedback are developing a rock star mentality with a public audience. Each student on Instagram has their own set of groupies – what teenager doesn’t want that?
Then there’s the fact that comments about selfies aren’t always positive. Comments on photos can severely damage a tween or teen’s self-esteem during this fragile time of development.
So how do you raise a teen in a selfie generation?
1. Be honest with your girls about a photo’s ability to sexually arouse boys. Girls may think that pouty lip photo with their tongue sticking out is cute, but teen boys see those images differently.
2. Be honest with your teen about perception. Have them ask themselves if what they’re posting gives people a positive perception or a negative one. Remind them that others judge their character based on first-impressions. Is an image something they’d want Grandma to see? If not, then think again before sharing it.
3. Help them to think through comments they might receive from posting a particular selfie. Kids are mean. Encourage your child to avoid setting themselves up for damaging comments.
4. Monitor their accounts, especially Instagram and other photo-driven social media accounts.
5. Reinforce positive character traits that can’t be photographed. Affirm their real-time activities and actions. Help them value their life outside of social media.
6. Make an effort to turn off electronics – yes, even their phone. Not all activities need to be posted to Instagram. Help them to live and enjoy life without a larger, online audience.
7. Teach them tact. Cute photos are fun, but repeated selfies in the bathroom mirror with a toilet in the background are tacky.
Your teen’s culture is quickly changing around them, defining them in ways you can’t get imagine. How can you help your child remain a person of integrity in the age of selfies?
This revised article was first published by Brenda L. Yoder, MA for her column on middle schoolers at Choose Now Ministries.