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 or the requisite fish face. I was born many, many years before the rise of the internet. Before the age of social media and narcissism.
Welcome to the selfie era.
Selfies are the currency of our digital natives. With millions of teens sending out Snapchat stories and posting everything they do on YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook, the potential repercussions are often concerning.
But should 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?
Social Media and Narcissism: Too Many Selfies
Pop-culture provides cues and insights. We have the Kardashians’ relentless self-promotion on social media of their airbrushed, sexualized selves. And, Justin Bieber’s hit, Love Yourself? 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 then again, isn’t it a good thing to love yourself?
What is the difference between narcissism and self-confidence? Is there a link between social media and narcissism?
“Narcissists believe they are better than others, lack emotionally warm and caring relationships, constantly seek attention, and treasure material wealth and physical appearance,” according to Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D. and W. Keith Campbell, Ph.D, authors of The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement.
Does this sound like your teen?
“Endlessly taking selfies is not a worry,” says Dr. Michele Borba, author of Unselfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World. “After all, everyone 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?”
Selfie Problems Or Selfie Fun
If a teen is taking selfies with a group of friends or working at a food bank, those selfies are less worrisome — they focus on the we, not the me.
Lauren Galley, teen mentor and president of the empowerment group Girls Above Society, does not believe that her generation is more narcissistic than past generations.
“To stereotype an entire generation as being narcissistic seems unfair to me,” Galley says. “My generation just has social media at our fingertips, so we now have a way to display everything we do on a worldwide scale. This international reach is something that has never existed 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 who 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 by and concerned about her daughter. She spends hours on end in her room posing in front of an expensive camera and tripod. This can’t be healthy behavior.
What is a parent to do? Talk to your teens. Keep those channels of communication open. Let them know you are concerned about the potential link between social media and narcissism.
“Tune in closer to the context,” says Dr. Borba.”What is the child focusing on? 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 that will tell you whether you should worry or smile.”