Social Media and Narcissism: Is Selfie Addiction a Problem?

teen-selfie-social-media(This post was first featured in Your Teen Magazine)

OMG You’re Gorgeous! Soooo prettyyyy!

Hey, NOT YOU…me!

It’s a rare day that I look in the mirror – or take the odd selfie – and think, wow, this girl is hot! But, then again, I don’t know the right poses, the requisite fish face – and I was born many, many years before the rise of the Internet. This is the selfie life and it is the domain and the ecosystem of our digital natives – our beautiful tweens and teens.

With millions of teens constantly taking selfies, sending out Snapchat stories and posting everything they do on YouTube, Instagram and Facebook, the potential repercussion are no doubt curious and often times concerning. But should we as parents worry? Is there evidence that technology is producing a generation of narcissistic individuals? Or is this obsession just a harmless part of growing up digital and social?

Pop-culture provides cues and insights. We have the Kardashian sisters’ relentless self-promotion on social media of their airbrushed, sexualized selves.   And, how about this summer’s earworm, Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself” (831,743,560-plus Youtube views)? Bieber sings, “’Cause if you like the way you look that much, oh baby, you should go and love yourself,” a kiss-off to a narcissistic girlfriend. It sounds like something you’d say about someone who incessantly takes selfies and posts them to the Internet, right? But isn’t it a good thing to love yourself?

What is the difference between narcissism and being more self-aware?

Let’s first define narcissism. According to Dictionary.com, it is “excessive self-love.” If you did deeper, you find that there are many levels, and that the extreme is diagnosed as a personality disorder, known as NPD, narcissistic personality disorder.

Authors of “The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement,” Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D. and W. Keith Campbell, Ph.D., say, “Narcissists believe they are better than others, lack emotionally warm and caring relationships, constantly seek attention, and treasure material wealth and physical appearance.”

Does this sound like your teen? Our youth?

According to Dr. Michele Borba, educator, speaker and author of Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World, “Endlessly taking selfies is not a worry. After all, everyone (including us) wants to preserve memories. The concern is the actual image – what is the teen focusing on? Is the shot trying to impress others, display themselves in a certain dress size, show-off a new brand-name pair of shoes? If so, it’s a worry because the focus is on a constant ME, not WE. I’ve seen selfies that are WE – kids snapping images of themselves working at a food bank, celebrating a friend’s success.”

Teen Mentor and President of Girls Above Society Lauren Galley does not believe that her generation is more narcissistic than past generations. Galley said, “To stereotype an entire generation as being narcissistic seems unfair to me. Ours just has social media at our fingertips, so the members of my generation who are narcissistic now have a way to display this on a world-wide scale, which is something that has never been done before.”

Elias Aboujaoude, a professor of psychiatry at Stanford, notes that our ability to tailor the Internet experience to our every need is making us all more narcissistic. He observes, “As we get accustomed to having even our most minor needs accommodated to this degree, we are growing more needy and more entitled. In other words, more narcissistic.”

Yes, with the Internet, we all have the potential to be more narcissistic. But it is our teens that are spending hours in front of their iphone cameras just to get the right post-able pose. In the documentary Screenagers: Growing Up in the Digital Age, we meet a mother who is both fascinated and concerned about her daughter who spends hours on end in her room posing in front of the expensive camera and tripod. This can’t be healthy behavior.

So, what can we all do? Depending on the level of narcissism, Dr. Campbell says, “Practice caring and compassion; do what you are passionate about rather than what gets you attention; and take responsibility for your mistakes as well as successes.”

What is a parent to do? Talk to your teen. Keep those channels of communication open and let them know you are concerned. Believe it or not, they do value our opinion and care about what we think (too)!

According to Dr. Borba, “Tune in closer to the context – what is the child focusing on? How is she portraying herself? Is he always looking at a screen so he’s missing out on the opportunity to practice face to face conversations or identify emotions in voice tone, body posture, or facial expressions? Those are the answers will tell you whether you should worry or smile.”

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