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Are Selfies Making Our Kids Narcissistic?

Photograph by Getty Images/Cultura RF

I wouldn't say I have T-Rex arms, but my limited arm-span isn't ideal for taking selfies. Not only that, but my little thumb can't seem to push that button while its other four friends are desperately grasping the phone (proof of this deficiency can be found on my Instagram account where I only have a handful of selfies).

I particularly struggled with this skill a month or so ago when I ate up a good half hour trying to take a flipping picture with a company's product that I was wearing. Between my grunts and deletes, I noticed my children watching me. During this moment of embarrassment and shame, I wondered if this self-involved activity is creating narcissism in my children.

Let me explain ...

Shortly after I received a workout garment, I decided to take a picture and promote it on social media as a thank-you. I started this process outside, but after looking cockeyed in my hilly yard, I took it inside. As I stood in front of my large, bedroom mirror, all that could be heard were the echoes of the "clicks" and my sighs of frustration. "Ugh! Let's try this again," I would say over and over.

I'd change my hair, re-position my face, twist my body, and then turn red. After a while I noticed my reflection wasn't the only thing looking back at me. Four big, brown eyes gazed at me with a mixture of amazement and confusion. Their affect was flat, but their eyes said it all. "Oh, crap," I thought, "What message am I sending my kids?"

I will one day explain to them that image isn't everything despite what the world says. BUT is that chat going to be between a number of selfies? "It's what's on the inside that matters, honey." Click.Click.

Will an affinity for selfies create an obsession with vanity and self-absorption in my children?

After reading and hearing so much about kids' egocentricity and obsession with superficial things, I wanted to make sure that this selfie craze isn't another contributing factor. The last thing I want is to create two little Narcissuses!

For this reason, I asked licensed psychologist, Dr. Samantha Sweeney of Family Psychological Services of Capitol Hill: Are our selfies creating narcissistic traits in our children? Her response was balanced and helpful. She informed that, "this is a surprisingly complicated question and not an easy one to answer" due to the lack of studies and research on selfies. So with the research we do have on human behavior, she provided her educated opinion. She argues that selfies are a form of art that can help us learn about ourselves:

Some argue that selfies are actually a new art form. As silly as this may sound to some, I think that this may, in fact, be accurate. Kim Kardashian was able to write (or snap) an entire book's worth of selfies. She also gives tips about how to take a good one. And guess what? She's right! Taking a good selfie can be learned -- just like any other type of art form ...

Instead of exploring landscapes like Monet, the selfie allows a person to explore oneself. In some ways, I think that this is a positive thing! Some people use their selfies as a type of visual diary of sorts; a documentation of their lives. In some ways, it can help people to understand who they are, who they were, and where they are going. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words and a selfie can do more to communicate one's inner self than a whole book of poetry can.

Hmm ... I guess I never thought of it this way. This not only made me feel better (because as a parent, who doesn't want to feel like they aren't "doing it wrong"?). But, like everything, selfies can get out of hand.

It's a problem when, for example ...

"You are at dinner with friends and you are taking so many pictures that you're not enjoying the conversation. Or if you are at a concert and you are so focused on getting the right lighting that you miss half of it. So, how do parents of young kids work to temper this behavior? It is really just like anything else that you are teaching your children-moderation is key. You want your child to run and play, but not run so much that they get dehydrated ... It's the same with selfie-taking. You want your child to express him or herself, just not to the point where they miss out on what's really important. So be sure to model that for them."

How do you model for them?

"Tell them what you are doing and then show them that selfies can also be used for fun -- and take a silly one with all of you. Then ditch the electronics and go outside and play."And"do it in front of the kids and then show them that you do not always have to look perfect when you are taking one. They might as well learn this from you because when they are older and they and their friends have their own cell phones, they will learn it from someone else."

Despite receiving this professional advice from Dr. Sweeney, a part of me still feels like I'm sending the wrong message. Not when we are taking playful pictures, but when they see me spending so much time, energy, and angst to take a "good" picture. The only solace I have is knowing that through moderation and explanation I can prevent (or at least minimize) these undesirable traits.

I may just take Dr. Sweeney's advice and when the kids are older: "Encourage alternate forms of self-expression such as writing, spoken word, dance as well. Teach them that self-expression is varied and through several different mediums they can show others-and themselves-who they really are."

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