You’ve seen the duck-faced selfies and the pictures of young men posing in a thug-like manner in an effort to make themselves look as attractive as possible. Today’s tweens and teens belong to the selfie generation. They have smart phones, and they know how to use them. Selfies, however, may be linked to narcissistic behavior in teens.
Selfies Cause Focus on Appearance
Teens and tweens are already very focused on their appearance. These are the same kids who spend hours standing in front of their closets, trying to figure out what they’re going to wear to school. When they take a selfie, that picture goes to their social media accounts, where it could potentially be picked over by everyone on their friends’ lists. What might make a minor impact on a typical day at school takes on a much greater importance when it’s out there on social media for the world to see and discuss again and again. This is particularly dangerous for children who are at risk for bullying. Unfortunately, most kids won’t take down a picture just because there are inappropriate comments on it. Instead, they’ll take those comments into themselves and focus on them, believing everything that those bullies say.
Many tweens and teens also fail to understand that a picture is a brief snapshot, a single instant in time. A shirt that flows beautifully and looks wonderful, for example, might not photograph well in a single still shot taken from a foot or so away. A makeup job that looks amazing as your daughter is going about her daily business will show its flaws much more clearly in a close-up picture that her friends can study in detail at their leisure. Selfies don’t just increase focus on appearance; they increase negative views of appearance. This is particularly dangerous for young people in their formative years, who can develop a negative self-image that will last a lifetime. As a result, it also increases their desire to improve their appearance, making it difficult to see outside those stringent demands.
Selfies Intensify Focus on the Self
It seems obvious, doesn’t it? When you take a selfie, you’re completely focused on what you’re doing and what you look like at that moment. Selfies started as a perfectly natural desire to place oneself in the moment, especially when surrounded by friends or family members. Over time, however, selfies can increase focus on the self to the point of extremity. Complaints about over-posting on social media are already rampant. The selfie generation often finds it necessary to show themselves everywhere. A selfie is no longer just about showing off a great new haircut or a perfect makeup job, nor is it simply a display of all the wonderful places an individual has been able to go. Instead, teens and tweens spend hours in front of their phones, trying to capture that perfect shot. It exponentially increases their focus on themselves and removes them from the world around them, especially since they have the power to see the image immediately and correct it until it’s their view of perfect.
What’s a Parent to Do?
As a parent, you want your child focused on more than just themselves and their appearance. It’s not always easy, however, to fight the power of the selfie. Try encouraging your child to post more than just selfies to social media. Is he interested in photography? Encourage posting pictures of the things around him, not just of his face. Does she love looking up inspirational quotes? These might be more relevant to her followers and friends. Discuss other pictures that can be posted with your teen or tween: food pictures, pet pictures, or even personal art.
Often many tweens and teens need help to balance their time when using mobile devices. I always recommend using a trustworthy parental control like Netsanity. Their Timeblocker scheduler, used on a regular basis can give your tweens and teens regular breaks to develop other activities or interests. Sometimes you may need to resort to blocking some social apps, even if only on a temporary basis if you are finding that they are using them too often or they are effecting their mood or self-esteem. For Android and Apple mobile devices, Netsanity’s Appblocker can be used to block and restrict apps such as Instagram, SnapChat, and many others. They have a free trial so it’s worth checking out for your family.
I encourage parents to follow Netsanity on Facebook as they keep their followers updated on recent trends in social media. Finally, the team at [Rawhide Boys Ranch] have put together a fabulous infographic exploring the connection between selfies and narcissistic behaviors on social media. Stay informed and remember communication is the key to safety and balance in today’s social media driven world!
When comedian Nicole Arbour posted a YouTube video containing a long rant against fat people, adults around the world took to social media to express their outrage. Whitney Way Thore even responded with her own video, explaining that fat shaming is real and has a negative impact on women around the world.
While this places a spotlight on a phenomenon that many adults have paid no attention to in the past, it isn’t big news for most teenagers and young adults. Negative comments regarding weight and other aspects of appearance are common experiences in the modern teenage world. Many teens now spend more time preparing to take a selfie than they spend preparing to go to school because they fear their images will be fat shamed or other aspects of their appearance will be criticized.
Negative comments of this nature are devastating for teens, and social media ensures that the humiliation plays out in front of their entire social network. One negative comment on Instagram or Facebook has the potential to change a teenager’s reputation because what happens in social media doesn’t stay in social media.
Social Media & Social Anxiety – The Selfie Wars
One of the biggest concerns for parents and professionals is the potential for selfies to cause anxiety in teens. Teenagers are already susceptible to low self esteem, and it’s well known that they tend to compare themselves to their peers. Selfies take this to destructive extremes because they force teenagers to compete with one another based on appearances alone, and this plays out day after day whether they’re at school or at home.
Every selfie taken is an opportunity for a teenager to express their emotions and personality. Unfortunately, every selfie posted is also an opportunity for criticism from peers, and teenagers understand this because they’ve seen so many others experience negative attention through social media selfie posts.
This is why teenagers spend so much time selecting clothing, styling their hair, and applying makeup before taking selfies. They also use filters and apps to touch up their photos, and many teenagers look significantly different in their selfies than they do in everyday life. It seems like who you are on social media is more important than who you are in real life for many of our tweens and teens.
When a selfie goes live, teenagers experience intense anxiety waiting for comments and likes. If a picture doesn’t receive much attention or negative comments are left, many teens assume that it means they’re ugly or not liked. This leads to negative self talk that puts teens at heightened risk of depression. The response to a single selfie can determine how a teenager feels for days or weeks to come.
Not only is the anxiety to get a positive response overwhelming, but teens are at risk of depression and eating disorders when the likes don’t fall in their favor.
The New Popularity Contest
While the pressure to look perfect on social media at all times is definitely anxiety-inducing for millions of teens around the world, there’s something even bigger happening on social media. Rather than waiting anxiously for the prom king and queen to be crowned or the “most likely to” section of the yearbook to be finalized, teens are now judging their place in the social scene through social media interactions.
Those unable to get 100 or more likes on their Instagram think that they’re further down the social ladder than many of their peers. Some even go as far as “friending” people they don’t know, including grown men, just to receive more positive comments and likes on their selfies.
When someone is left out of a party or group event, they know all about it due to social media posts. This increases the chances of teens feeling left out and isolated even when others involved meant no harm. Teenagers already concerned that they’re missing out or aren’t liked suddenly have to watch their peers enjoy parties and other events to which they weren’t invited. This increases anxiety and leaves many teens at even greater risk of depression.
The popularity game has always been stressful for teenagers, but social media takes that stress to a heightened level. Teens aren’t even safe from the stigma of being unpopular when they are in the safety of their own homes because social media goes with them. Suddenly, it doesn’t matter who gets the most pictures in the year book because pictures are defining the social landscape 365 days a year.
Signs of Social Media Anxiety
How do you know if a teenager you care about is negatively impacted by their social media activity? A January 2015 Huffington Post article discussed the habits of teenagers when posting selfies on Instagram. Some of the signs of anxiety picked up in their honest encounters included the following:
- Sending pictures to friends for approval before posting
- Constantly checking social media for likes and comments on pictures
- Self judgment based on response to pictures
- Using filters and apps to change their appearance in selfies
- Refusing to post pictures that may hurt another person’s feelings or make someone feel left out
- Emotional responses to negative comments left on pictures
- Basing self worth on selfie comments or number of likes
- Extreme anxiety when they don’t have their phone or another mobile device on hand
Have you noticed any of these signs in a teenager you care about? Can you add other signs that parents and loved ones may detect? The more adults know about social media anxiety, the more we can help the next generation accept and love themselves for who they are rather than for the responses they receive online. Some mobile parental control companies even allow you to disable the camera if you deem it to be a major issue. Knowledge is power so be aware and stay involved.
Also published on Medium.