What is a selfie? Why do we take them? Are selfies dangerous? We asked several of the psychologists at Children’s Medical Center to share their expert opinions about selfies to help parents understand more about this recent photo phenomenon.
Our primary reason for writing a blog series on selfies is to open up discussion and communication about social media and what it means for our developing youth. Every day this week, we will provide more information about how selfies may play a role in adolescent identity formation, body image, narcissism and self-esteem.
The Popularity of Selfies
The selfie has increased in popularity and has received amplified attention in pop culture over the past decade. For proof of how pervasive the selfie has become, look no further than the likes of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat.
The Oxford English Dictionary declared the word “selfie” to be the 2013 Word of the Year. Although selfies appear to be especially popular among teenagers, with the PEW Research Center reporting that 91% of teenagers have posted a photo of themselves online, adults also are participating in the trend.
Are Selfies Caused by a Mental Disorder?
A recent and widely believed internet hoax described a fake psychiatric disorder called “Selfitis,” a condition defined by a compulsive desire to take selfies and post them on social media. Although Selfitis is not an actual mental disorder, many people appear to be willing to believe that taking selfies could be a disordered behavior.
Many people wonder what this trend means for the generation of adolescents and young adults for whom taking selfies and posting them on social media sites has become a cultural norm.
Are Selfies Narcissistic?
Writers have expressed differing opinions of the selfie, with some condemning selfies for emphasizing physical attractiveness as an all-important quality, and others describing selfies as an empowering source of self-expression.
Critics of selfies have described them as narcissistic and reflective of self-centered tendencies of the millennial generation. Many people seem to feel that selfies are the embodiment of all the negative aspects of what young people are up to these days. A Google search of the word “Millennials” would reveal countless articles and blog posts describing Millennials as self-absorbed, entitled and, of course, obsessed with technology.
But the phenomenon of more seasoned generations criticizing the behavior of a younger generation is not new – individuals from Generation X were considered unmotivated by many. In fact, the term “slacker” was coined in description of young people during this time.
To Selfie or Not to Selfie, That Is the Question
However, examples of less appropriate uses of selfies by the millennial generation are plentiful. For example, a Tumblr blog entitled “Selfies at Funerals” has received attention from news outlets such as CNN and CNBC and features teens that uploaded a selfie to a social media website during or after a funeral. Additionally, several universities introduced policies banning on-stage selfies during graduation this spring in an effort to reduce disruptions during the ceremony.
Clearly, selfies can be taken and posted online in inappropriate and potentially harmful contexts, but in many cases, selfies may be a developmentally and culturally appropriate form of self-expression.
Twenty years ago, teenagers wrote about their experiences in journals and in notes passed to their friends. Today, social media sites offer a more public forum for similar behaviors, while selfies enable teens to share information with their friends about where they are and what they’re doing almost instantly.
Return to our blog tomorrow to learn about selfies and identity formation.
Do your kids take selfies? Do you take them? Leave us a comment to let us know what you think about the selfie generation.