THE BLOG

Note to Self(ie): Help Our Kids Avoid the Snares of Social Media

04/04/2016 03:23pm ET | Updated April 3, 2017
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The average 16 to 25 year old woman spends about five hours a week taking selfies and has an average of 150 selfies on her phone, according to a study conducted by beauty website FeelUnique.com.

This is 1 hour more than the average American child and teen spends on homework per week, according to a study out of the University of Michigan.

Selfies don't make our kids selfish. Or us, for that matter. In moderation and with good judgment, they are harmless and may even offer a slight self-esteem boost. Who wouldn't feel a teensy bit better when others like a photo of you or share in your joy? Come on. Most of us would!

But these alarming statistics present a potential problem we, parents, must address. What are our kids' selfie-taking habits? Just how often are they taking selfies? And how is it affecting them?

Studies focus heavily on the selfie-taking trends of girls and young women because of frequency. On average, girls snap more selfies than boys. But guys aren't off the hook; they're in on this trend too.

Unlike the media's fascination with the troubling trend of deadly selfies, the average tween or teen is far less interested in this type of risky venture. Instead, many kids take selfies in an effort to control their image, share their experiences, and socialize. Some of it may be attention seeking behavior as well. It depends on the kid and the situation.

Most of us take selfies for the same reasons our kids do. It's natural to want to express yourself, share a snippet of who you are, and connect with others. Technology simply gives us more ways to do so. Even the shyest of us can unleash their inner-extrovert with the help of a camera phone.

And somehow the world doesn't seem so big and scary. Likes, comments, shares, retweets- these cyber hugs have a way of bringing us together to celebrate good times.

For our kids, it's part of growing up. Part of that all-too-daunting-process of figuring out who they are. In all its messy splendor. Self-realization and technology go hand-in-hand. Their online identities often help to shape their identities. For them, it's a way of life; for us, old fogies who grew up in tech deserts, it's a mystical experience, an enigma.

Our rituals of choosing outfits (however horrid they were at the time) and even taking the occasional picture are about as close as we can get. But, while we may have spent too much time prepping in front of the mirror, we didn't feel the colossal pressure our kids feel because our images weren't shared with the world. I don't know about you, but I'm thankful mine wasn't. We should all be thankful mine wasn't. That 90's hair, alone, can be pretty unforgiving.

Our kids are growing up with pressures that were non-existent in our adolescence and worrying about things we simply didn't have to. We didn't have to worry about someone snatching an unsolicited picture of us and posting it online. Maybe even using it to bully us. Or the types of responses our selfies received from others.

We didn't have to add into the already-tricky-equation of adolescence the possibility that: x (selfies) + y (likes and comments) = z (peer approval) . Which might somehow be linked to popularity. Which can seem like everything at that age.

These modern pressures open our kids up to a whole other level of judgment. While technology is a staple of many of our children's lives and can reap some rewards, it has a dark side. And our children have likely experienced it.

Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook- all of these social media milieus, some cooler than others I'm told, serve as popular platforms for selfies. Posting them there allows our kids to connect with one another and may even offer a temporary boost in self-confidence; however it can also do just the opposite and with disastrous outcomes. It has the potential to create a relentless vacuum with the power to not just suck up our kids' time but their confidence as well. One participant in CNN's groundbreaking study Being#13: Inside the Secret World of Teens, which chronicled the social media lives of 200 eighth graders, admitted:

I made this google document on all my rules and requirements to take a selfie. I take a lot of pictures, but don't judge, I take like 100 usually, or like 150, maybe 200 sometimes if I really can't get a right one.

This degree of fascination with selfies is not all that uncommon on these social media sites.

It's in these very places that unrealistic expectations abound and are more powerful than ever. Whether it's a favorite celeb, the Kim K's of the world, or a friend who seem to always snag unbelievable selfies, it all becomes a lot to live up to.

An innovative study out of the University of Strathclyde, Ohio University, and University of Iowa found that social media and selfies negatively affect body image and self-esteem. As mentioned by writer Helen Briggs, a spokesperson for the Beat eating disorders Charity said:

The fascination with celebrities, their bodies, clothes, and appearance has all increased the pressure that people typically feel at a time when they seek to establish their own identities and when their bodies are growing and changing. Young people compare themselves to the images that bombard them and feel it is their fault that their bodies compare so unfavorably.

But it's not celebrities' selfies that pack the knockout punch. In fact, in comparison, our child's friends and acquaintances may hold the heavyweight title because our kids know them. The more time spent on social media sites, like Facebook, the more girls and young women compared their bodies to their friends and, in turn, felt worse about their own physical appearance.

Let's face it. Selfies aren't going anywhere. Nor are they the root of all evil. However, when our kids are excessively taking and sharing selfies, it robs them of precious time which could be invested in cultivating their true selves. It diminishes their opportunities to look outside of themselves in an effort to look within. When they are spending a hefty amount of time on social media and comparing themselves to others, they are undermining their worth. And, no matter what the media portrays, their worth can't be captured by a selfie.

Our kids don't need more selfies; they need a better sense of self.

According to David Proost, a Dallas based child and adolescent psychologist,

You put [a selfie] out there because you're looking for that form of validation. That's the danger with teenagers overly looking for that external form of validation rather than trying to foster internal validation.

To help our kids escape the temptations of external validation, we support them as they navigate through life and shape their character. It's a tall task in today's media driven world, but it couldn't be more worth it. These character-shapers may come through faith, family, service, academics, athletics, the arts, and all those little (but so very big) moments that require us to dig our feet in and dig down deep. And that level of determination is exactly what is needed for us to help our kids avoid the snares of social media. To teach them to resist the temptation to compare or to merely look skin deep.

Our kids need to know that they are better than their best selfie.

Stay connected for my next article on discovering ways to guide your children to embrace their true selves.