Understanding the Selfie Culture

As parents, should we be concerned about this constant photo-taking?

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While it’s debatable when holding out your phone to take a photo of yourself became a ‘thing’, in 2013, ‘selfie’ was named word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries. So what exactly is a selfie? Whether it's spelled with an ‘ie’ or a ‘y’, Oxford defines it as;

“A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website."

With over 200 million users on Snapchat (now rebranded as Snap Inc.), more young people are using selfies to communicate with each other using the app.

If you have spent any time around teenagers in the last while, you will know that the constant selfie taking is incessant! And it’s not just to communicate, but every moment, mundane or not, seems to need to be captured, just in case, or to have an Instagram post for later. My daughters carefully edit and curate their selfies, posting them at a certain time of day – and making sure it is not too frequently or infrequently - in order to get the right reaction, or number of likes. I have also witnessed a ‘photo-fail’, which is when a photo they have posted doesn’t get likes quickly enough and therefore they deem it, no longer ‘cute’ and delete it. Is all of this selfie taking and posting really necessary? Should we be concerned about the long-term effects on our teens?

Branding yourself is not a new concept. However branding yourself with the image that you want the world – or your followers to see - is a new form of personal branding.

And our kids are more aware of it, and creating a new culture around it. Today’s kids are more savvy than ever, and use their selfies to brand themselves, even if they aren’t necessarily aware that they are doing so. A teen might only post bohemian style photos, only photos in a certain color family or perhaps only suggestive photos taken with certain filters.

Selfies often are captioned with poems or song lyrics – sometimes the more elusive the better. Certainly, most teens are very savvy when it comes to creating an image of themselves, but is this exactly what we want our teens doing with their time? Arguably, a lot more of their time is spent capturing moments rather than living life and enjoying moments.

The danger of this selfie culture is the constant comparison game. Even though the majority of teens are doing it, most still fall victim to comparing themselves to the picture-perfect-fantasy-life that others are portraying. Comparing looks, or the number of likes, can be a slippery slope, and when so much interpretation is involved, it can be dangerous. Getting a certain number of likes within a certain time-frame is a measure of success and importance for many teenagers. The power of these social connections, can give you a high when you receive positive reinforcement, and a low when you seemingly don’t. Other photo sharing platforms like VSCO, allow others to save your photos to a private section, which is another way to measure of whether or not your photo was ‘successful’.

According to Dr. Michele Borba, author of Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World, constant selfie-taking is not a concern.

She advises that parents should take note of what their teen is focusing on in their content; if it’s provocative or showing themselves off, perhaps that is something to watch more closely. If it is just capturing a moment, like a dinner with friends, or silly unedited selfies, then it’s probably just a natural extension of growing up in the digital age.

The fact is that teens have always been hyper-focused on how they look, and how they appear to others. Social media has just become another way to show that to the world. And with the popularity of celebrities taking more control over their personal brands, many are becoming known for posting selfies at a rapid rate. The adoration of celebrity-culture in our society naturally affects not only our teens, but their parents as well. The need to be recognized, and praised for our looks is nothing new – so watching your teen smile, make faces and mug for their own cameras is never going to go away.

And if you want to connect with them in a hurry, download Snap, apply a silly filter to your own photo, and join the club.