From Facebook to Snapchat, Instagram to Twitter, there are countless places for your teen to post her image. Some teens post everywhere with little regard for privacy. If you’re concerned your teen is quickly becoming the Internet’s biggest narcissist, it’s time to figure out the meaning behind your teenager’s selfies. Here are four possible reasons for all those carefully posed photos.
Discovering identity. When I was a teen, I tried out new looks in the privacy of my own bedroom with a sister or trusted friend to tell me how I looked. Now, teens post selfies online of what they wear, where they are and who they’re with. Teenagers are forming their individual identities in a digital world. Thus, it seems normal for them to use social media and technology to interact with their world. For some teens, this means pushing limits by posting controversial or suggestive images.
It’s important to discuss appropriateness with your teen with regard to selfies. As with most things involving teenagers, limits and guidelines will help your teen present his best self.
Wanting attention. If your teen is posting selfies multiple times a day, she might be seeking attention. It’s natural for teens to feel unsure of themselves and their social standings. Posting online and asking for comments and feedback is a way to get attention, both positive and negative. Teens may also post photos of their social activities so that others see that they are popular and liked.
Many teens want to interact positively with friends and family but don’t know how to go about it. Following your teen’s social media posts will help you know how she is feeling and will help you identify if she is getting attention from unwanted sources.
Seeking validation. Validation is different from attention. Teens want to feel that their opinions and thoughts matter -- that they have an important place in the world, even if they aren’t sure where that place is. I have one teenage friend who often posts about how tired, depressed or stressed she is, accompanied by sad selfies. She may be seeking attention, but I get the feeling she’s also seeking love. These teenage moods may come and go, but if someone you care about is often expressing lonely or depressed thoughts online, check in with him face-to-face.
Taking risks. A few months ago, taking selfies on top of high buildings was the fad; now, the trend of taking selfies with bears is being discouraged. These crazy trends highlight the thrill-seeking nature of some teens. Teens who take and post unsafe selfies are seeking attention and promoting bad behavior. Teens shouldn’t be taking selfies with wild animals, on roller coasters, near moving trains or at the edges of cliffs. Teens often take risks to feel dangerous, to defy adults, to feel grown up or to feel the rush that risk-taking brings. Peer pressure is often part of these situations, so discuss this with your teens.
The selfie isn’t going away any time soon. Parents might never know exactly why teens are so obsessed with taking photos of themselves, but they can help their teens learn to post selfies to appropriate social media sites in a responsible way.
(Amy M. Peterson, a former high school English teacher, currently lives in Oregon with her husband and four children. She spends her days writing, reading, exercising and trying to get her family to eat more vegetables.)