Selfies and mental health

Debbi Carberry Social Media, Teens

70 % of Adolescent Girls Don’t like the Way They Look

The word selfie has only been round for a short time but has become such a popular concept that the Oxford Dictionary named it word of the year in 2013!!!

The time of teenage girls sitting at home on the landline chatting with friends for hours is gone – now communication comes with online chat, text and attaching selfies as a way of expressing themselves.

More than 31 million Instagram photos have been hash tagged #selfie, and according to a recent study from the Pew Research Center, 91 percent of teens have posted a photo of themselves online.

So the question is what are the links between selfies and mental health and how do they impact a teen’s self-esteem – or more importantly their self-acceptance.

For many teens participation in social media is seen as a way of bonding with friends and strangers alike, they feel like they have a community to go to, where they can share life’s highs and lows and where they can be understood if they are feeling alone or isolated.

In this mediated space teens have control over what they post, what others see and what they share.

I see young girls in my clinic who are very distressed when it comes to how many ‘friends’ they have online and their perception of what is a reasonable amount.  They also worry about how often and how important it is to post ‘selfies’ and have their ‘friends’ ‘like’ it.

Many young girls draw comparisons with selfies to their classmates, peers and friends and these photographs can place too much emphasis on the physical appearance of teenagers, rather than their personalities, their talents and strengths.

As quickly as a ‘like’ can improve self-confidence or self-esteem it can crush it when there is limited or no response to it and feelings can quickly move to self-loathing.

There are a number of negatives to posting selfies online and an obvious one is that of cyberbullying which is rife in social media.  Negative comments can be hurtful and embarrassing.

What can you do?

  • Provide guidance around what’s appropriate and what isn’t. Help your teen understand how selfies can become problematic.
  • Educate your teen about how selfies could be viewed by future partners and employers.
  • Talk about different people you find beautiful who have various body types, ethnicities, and ages, and explain why.
  • Pay attention to how you talk about your own body.
  • Focus on your teen’s qualities rather than her body/appearance so she can find strength in her actions and abilities.
  • Pay attention to ads and magazine covers. Talk about how these messages make you feel and ask about your teens reactions.
  • Point out that pictures in magazines have been altered to make models look flawless.
  • Show them how much work goes into a cover shoot (watch  “Evolution” film produced by the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty.

I would love to hear your comment, questions or suggestions in relation to this blog or future posts.

Until next time ..