the danger of #selfies

#SELFIE, by The Chainsmokers. It’s currently #1 on Billboard’s Hot Dance/Electronic Songs.

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Have you heard this song? If you haven’t, we’ll get to it in a minute.

It makes sense that a song with that title would be popular, right? Selfies are all the rage. (They’re also the bane of my existence, but that’s neither here nor there.)

In case you’re already lost, let me define via Wikipedia: “A selfie is a type of self-portrait photograph, typically taken with a hand-held digital camera or camera phone.”

Teens love selfies. A lot.

As in, when I searched Instagram for the hashtag #selfie just now, this is what I saw.

selfie

89,816,587 photos tagged with #selfie…and you see the rest of the hashtags. Selfie on Saturday. Selfie on Sunday. Selfies EVERYDAY! That’s a lot of selfies.

WHY, OH WHY.

Parents ask me sometimes why their kids (daughters, especially) prefer this type of picture. My answer is always…because it’s a trend. Everyone is doing it. Profound observation, I know.

But maybe also because when you take a picture in a car with natural sunlight or at a flattering angle and add an Instagram “filter” to enhance it even more, it makes you feel really good when people like it. It makes you feel even better when they comment things like this:

selfie

Everyone loves affirmation, especially teenagers in the midst of figuring out who they are.

So what?

What’s the big deal?

For one, we’ve talked before about the narcissistic nature of social media. Selfies are the worst about this. “Here’s a picture of me. Look at me. How about…me!”

For two, they solicit very personal, potentially damaging feedback. If all your kids are doing is posting pictures of themselves, imagine what it might do to their self-esteem if they don’t receive the feedback they’re hoping for. It’s a total insecurity trap. It’s…her. Her hair, her clothes, her face. Any and all feedback is inherently personal.

Let’s define for a second. I’m not talking about the occasional “I got my haircut and want to show my friends.” selfie. Or the “We’re on a date!” selfie. Or the “I’m wearing a baby.” selfie (my personal fave).

Or even the ever-popular Oscars selfie that all but broke the internet.

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I’m talking about Instagram accounts of 12, 13, 14, 15 year old kids with NO other type of pictures but self-portraits.

I’m talking about the kind of selfie that is taken from a high angle to get maximum cleavage. I’m talking about the pouty, duck-face selfie our junior high girls love. I’m talking about the full-body, curvacious selfie.

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Selfies, even if posted out of insecurity, have a tendency to aim for sexiness.

This should make us uncomfortable when dealing with anyone under the age of 18.

Think I’m being overly prudish?

Watch this video. (The music video, I remind you, of the #1 dance song right now.)

I regret the f-bomb on the t-shirt but I don’t regret showing this video and here’s why: their words speak truth.

The girl in the video starts out talking about the other girls in the club – what they’re wearing, if they’re pretty. Basically, girl comparison gone mean.

Then she asks for help picking a filter and caption for the selfie she’s about to post, which is somewhat entertaining to anyone who has ever used Instagram.

But what comes next really interests me.

Remember the post about quantifiable popularity? About deleting photos/statuses/tweets that don’t get enough likes or comments?

That idea makes it into the lyrics:

I only got 10 likes in the last 5 minutes.
Do you think I should take it down?

Insecurity.

And, a few lines later, the number of followers a girl has comes up:

She definitely bought all her Instagram followers

Comparison. Quantifiable popularity.

This song is hitting the nail on the head. The lyrics, although probably intended to be somewhat dramatic/satirical, are speaking some serious truth.

Which makes the next part really bother me:

Oh my god, Jason just texted me
Should I go home with him?
I guess I took a good selfie

Huh.

So, just to recap, to the writers and performers of the #1 song in Billboard’s Hot Dance/Electronic category, a selfie is inherently provocative. The girl posting selfies in the bathroom is looking to hook-up and, because it was a “good” picture (good filter, good caption, good lighting), Jason wants to take her home.

Satirical? Probably.

…but also a little bit truthful.

Why do I bring all this up?

Because I think this song hints at another aspect of the selfie epidemic. It’s not just narcissistic or an insecurity nightmare anymore, it can be sexual.

I would bet that, in most cases, your teens aren’t trying to hook up by posting a selfie. And you shouldn’t treat every selfie that way when you see one.

But…what now?

Well, instead of panicking at the selfie state of emergency, let’s turn this into a conversation starter. Remember: at the heart of every social media issue is a great conversation with our teens.

For younger kids:

“Hey, have you seen that song by The Chainsmokers? Did you have any idea that’s how people might use and/or view a selfie? Have you ever wondered if your selfies gave the wrong impression?”

Or for older teens, my recommendation:

“IF YOU TAKE ONE MORE DUCKFACE SELFIE I’M FLUSHING YOUR PHONE DOWN THE TOILET.”

Or something like that. You can tweak the wording to suit your own family.

Selfies are fun and endearing…until they aren’t.

I don’t really know where the line is on that, but I invite you, teens, to think carefully before posting. What does that selfie say about you? Maybe nothing except that you’re a fun human….but maybe it suggests more. Post carefully.

And I invite you, parents, to have conversations with your kids about the heart of the matter. Why are they posting, who are they posting for, and how will they feel if they don’t get the feedback they are looking for?

What do you think about it all? Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Concerns?

 


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2 thoughts on “the danger of #selfies

  1. Becky

    Thank you for this post; you’re so right, technology will change, but human nature won’t…like you, my kids are small and it blows my mind thinking about where ‘normal’ technology might be when they get to be 13. Perhaps in a way, if parents can stay informed on what their kids are up to with the social media (and, maybe this, too, is harder than I think …), this public social life is a good thing, because the secret battles kids fought without their parents knowledge years ago are now out there for their parents to see.

    Also, keep hanging in there with the two littles, it’s hard to live through the sleep haze but He will give you what you need (as you said!) 🙂

     
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  2. Erin Banks

    I am reading your article almost a year later but I have tween and teenage nieces who need education on what you are talking about. I am afraid no one is teaching kids about any of this! . I want to start some sort of instagram educational ad campaign targeted at Tweens to 18 year olds and maybe call it “Take Care of Your Selfies”…. In a way that isn’t bossy but makes you think twice like some of those cool ads about smoking and such …. Any thoughts? Want to help?!?

     
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