Common Sense about Selfies
Kids have lots of different reasons for posting "selfies."
photograph © Wavebreakmedia Ltd | Dreamstime.com
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When the Oxford Dictionary pronounced “selfie” the Word of the Year for 2013, they simply confirmed what parents already knew. Thanks to cellphones equipped with cameras, people, especially kids, are taking lots of pictures of themselves and posting them on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and other social media sites.
The urge to capture an image of one’s self has been controversial ever since Narcissus starved to death because he couldn’t look away from his own reflection. Today parents are asking whether a selfie is an unhealthy form of self-absorption or a creative form of self-expression.
The answer, of course, is “It depends.”
For better or worse, taking selfies and getting reactions from others has become one way teens answer the age-old questions: Who am I? And how do I fit into the world? Since there’s no way to put this genie back into the bottle, parents need to help teens think about the role selfies should play in their lives.
Instead of making hard and fast rules that will inevitably get broken, parents can use the selfie explosion as a teachable moment that will help children think about who they want to be and how they present themselves.
What’s the motive?
People have lots of different reasons for taking selfies. Teens, in particular, may want to try out different looks, experiment with creative effects, record experiences, or share experiences with friends. In general, parents can encourage selfies that get a young person to reflect on his own experiences. Unfortunately, because selfies are posted in social media, many teens become hyper-aware of the effect they are having on others. In pursuit of “likes”, teens may post photos that reveal too much or are intended to provoke envy in others. Help your child understand that although everyone enjoys approval from others, self-esteem has to be based on something more solid. Is your child living up to his or her own ideals? Do they have the respect of people they trust? If so, likes and, for that matter, dislikes will matter much less to them.
What’s the platform?
Parents can learn a lot by knowing where a teen prefers posting selfies. Facebook has earned the derogatory name of Fakebook because so much of what shows up there is carefully curated to make the person look happy, normal, and successful. At the other extreme, Snapchat tends to be used for photos that are funny, outrageous, or provocative. Because the selfie is supposed to disappear in a few seconds, there’s more of a sense that anything goes. On Instagram, selfies tend to be more carefully composed, and users are often aware that they are playing a part for the camera. Talk to your child about where he or she posts, and why that’s their preferred platform.