Is your teen addicted to selfies? 

It seems like a weird question, doesn’t it? But it’s a real issue–more and more, teenagers are becoming obsessed with having the perfect online image, and it can seriously impact their quality of life. Before the smartphone age, kids were allowed to grow up with relative privacy. Not so much anymore–kids have every moment captured online. They post their good moments, other people post their bad ones.

So how do you handle a kid with a selfie or social media obsession? Jana Rooheart is here today to share some ideas with you. She gives some great insight as to why kids becoming part of the “selfie trend,” and how you as a parent can help your teen!

Without further ado, here’s Jana! (Plus, there’s a video from my daughter at the end on the same topic!)

I won’t pretend that I am merely an observer of the trend. I was taking selfies long before it became mainstream. No, really. I used to make self-portraits with my dad’s 35 mm film camera and a self-timer.

My father has always been a photo enthusiast (and back in the 70s – 80s, who wasn’t’?), and I believe I got it from him. I’ve always loved photography and, I daresay, been reasonably good at it. Thanks to my skill the entire family had loads of nice shots from holidays, birthdays, and other occasions. Except me. For the most time, I was on the wrong side of the shutter. So I took the matter into my own hands by taking selfies – quite a challenge without a front camera, but I managed.

What is going on with the selfie trend?

Therefore, when selfies boomed some five years ago, I didn’t think it was weird, wrong, or necessarily narcissistic. Although I struggled my way through the pretty much annoying “duck-face” trend (again, who didn’t?).

Taking selfies isn’t inherently bad. I take a snap to refresh my social profile pictures occasionally. The desire to make pictures of oneself is not necessarily a sign of megalomania that the “Me-Me-Me generation” is often accused of. In fact, we didn’t even invent selfies. Albrecht Dürer was a king of selfies five centuries before the arrival of camera phones. In fact, some argue it stems from the deepest need to be seen, a need all human beings share.

What makes me worry, however, is how children may become obsessed with it.

Young people are always more passionate about any fad, but teens are taking things too seriously and can eventually harm themselves. They risk their lives to strike a pose in a dangerous environment like roofs or rails. They neglect decency and make a risqué photo ruining their reputation. They stoop to such obscene things as taking “funeral selfies” with their deceased relatives and “hobo selfies” with homeless people on the street. They skip school and withdraw from their friends only to take more pictures of themselves. Sounds too insane to be true? Unfortunately, this was definitely true for 19-year-old Danny Bowman, who attempted suicide, because he could not make “a perfect selfie”. He devoted an average ten hours a day to make about two hundred (!) selfies, none of which were up to his standard.

If all those children obviously need our guidance and help, why don’t they get any? First and foremost, any obsession starts with small things that are hard to recognize. First signs of trouble might not manifest themselves explicitly.

Second, in a world where Instagram and Snapchat are the most popular means of communication, who would say something is wrong when a teen tries to master an art of a perfect self-portrait? Selfies have their own ramified typology; celebrities publish books composed entirely from their “belfies” and “helfies” (that is from the photos focused on their posteriors or hairdos). We do live in a selfie-culture, where liberty of self-expression is one of the highest values and no one identifies as a member of a group anymore.

Down the rabbit hole

Cameras in our phones are nothing but the tools of creativity. With their help, we communicate with the world. It is our message that is important. It reveals the truth about us and our heart’s desires. A girl taking a selfie with her favorite book seeks to find like-minded people and start a discussion. A boy runs a marathon and snaps his pedometer readings – he is highlighting his achievement encouraging others. We make funny selfies just as we make jokes – so others would laugh with us. We take flattering snaps of our reflection to convince everyone (and too often, to convince ourselves) that we are looking good today. A little self-esteem boost to bring a pep in our step – why not?

Is your teen addicted to selfies and social media? Here's some parenting advice to help you help your teen limit their social media use and take fewer selfies.

However, if we have a problem, a dark camera-lens may become an entrance to a rabbit hole of trouble. This self-centered way of having fun and communicating with others affects two risk groups of young people: those with narcissistic tendencies and those with a low self-esteem.

Recently, I had a chance to explore a photographic app described as “optimized for selfies”. There was a set of “Beauty” filters that included dedicated tools for making your eyes bigger, making your hips fuller, your waist slimmer, and your nose smaller. With a package like this, no wonder young people get an idea that something is wrong with them, that they are “not perfect”. It all ends up in body dysmorphic disorders that are on the rise among youth (especially young girls).

Fighting the obsession

Selfie obsession is but a symptom. When taking pictures becomes compulsive, it points to some underlying problem. Some people will be vain and inventive as to the ways of showing it – with or without smartphones. Some people will be lonely and attention-seeking. Some will be insecure. Some – hyperactive and chatty. Smartphones, however, escalate the problem by indulging our every whim and vice. How will you keep children and young adults from sliding down the slippery slope of this obsession?

  • First, identify the initial problem that you will address and heal. From there you will derive your strategy. If your child thinks, he or she is not popular, look into that: is there bullying involved? Is it some kind of identity crisis? Then a good idea would be to find some new environment where your teen could meet more diverse crowd – summer camps, hobby groups, music lessons. Again, some non-digital entertainment will only work for you.
  • Then, work with the symptoms. Negotiate a reasonable number of photos a day and ask your child to stay within the limit. It will teach her moderation and self-restraint. There are, of course, some extreme cases when you have to wean your child from the smartphone altogether, but I’d say it’s a drastic measure. Aim for the golden medium instead.
  • Taking selfies is half the trouble. Posting them is quite a different issue. Your teen must understand the boundaries you have in your family, and weigh the potential consequences. It won’t hurt if you learn how to monitor a smartphone or an iPad (whatever your child prefers for making and sharing snaps). This way you will be able to keep a track of what she posts online, whereas she will be more careful and responsible, knowing you are watching.
  • Make it your family policy never posting a photo that includes other people without their explicit permission. I mean not only family members and friends. I also mean all those homeless people in the streets, strangers who wear clothes you may find weird, classmates who fall asleep behind you, and others. Your child must understand that taking selfies to make fun of others is self-aggrandizement. Also, it is simply mean.

It is up to you to assess the scope of the problem. After all, maybe selfies are not a problem for your family whatsoever. A couple of months ago my husband and I finally got a selfie-stick. Now we can take snapshots of us together, which will turn our selfies into pairfies – and with our friends, even into groupies. Now, isn’t that wonderful?

Jana Rooheart is an online safety expert and a blogger passionate about technology. She is happily married and living with her husband and their beautiful daughter in Kansas City.

Thanks, Jana! My daughter also made a video on this topic, and if this is a problem for your kids (or if they just want a good laugh), you can share it with them!

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