What impact can selfies have on my child’s self-esteem and mental health?

We asked our experts to give advice on issues that children may face when posting images online and how parents can support them.

Dr. Linda Papadopoulos

Psychologist, Author, Broadcaster and Internet Matters Ambassador
Expert Website

Selfies and mental health

How can parents make sure that the cult of the ‘perfect selfie’ doesn’t have a negative effect on their child’s body image / mental health?

The selfie phenomenon is like having a mirror following you around 24 hours a day. And not just following you, but giving you a minute-by-minute account of friends, peers and celebrities.

My advice is simple; talk to your children. As adults we understand that the world of social media, just like any other form of media, is stage-managed, but often we forget to reinforce that message to our own children. Explain that people aren’t perfect and talk to them about girls who are posting – who’s taking all of these perfect pictures? How many shots do you think they took to get that perfect angle?

Likewise, it’s just as important to talk to them about what they’re posting so they don’t get sucked into the cult of perfection. Real life is what you see all around you, not just what you see through the filtered lens of an iPhone. Discuss why it’s important to disconnect from the ‘constructed’ identities we all feel we need to develop online and underscore the notion of being free to be who you really are.

Keep an eye on who they’re following on sites like Instagram and what they’re posting and talk to them about the effect their images could have on other people.

Katie Collett

Senior Anti-Bullying Project Manager, The Diana Award
Expert Website

Impact of social media on self-esteem

What advice would you give to parents who may have noticed that their child’s self-esteem is being negatively affected by what they see on social media?

Having access to social media platforms offers young people a valuable opportunity to explore different sides of their identity. But it’s worth discussing with your child about whether what they come across on social media might be having an adverse effect on their self-esteem.

Discussions I’ve had with young people in schools across the country have focused on the particular impact on self-esteem of posting selfies. Many young people revealed that they would delete a selfie they’ve posted if it didn’t get enough ‘likes’ and some told me that getting fewer than even 50 ‘likes’ would make them feel upset and even ‘ashamed of myself’.

It’s worth talking to your child about how social media makes them feel:

Encourage them to celebrate what makes them unique, rather than comparing themselves to others online

Talk to them about how everyone edits what they post online so that they only show the best bits, so what you see on social media isn’t always entirely realistic

Encourage them to take part in activities they enjoy outside of social media and meet up with friends offline

If you’d like your child’s school to run some activities exploring this issue, check out our resources here: www.antibullyingpro.com/selfies-selfesteem-resource

Will Gardner

Director, UK Safer Internet Centre, coordinators of Safer Internet Day and CEO, Childnet
Expert Website

Encouraging images to be used for good

How are young people using the power of image to make a positive difference? Can images and videos be a force for good?

We know from research that young people are using the power of images and videos to make a positive difference in a number of ways.

Whether that’s to support their friends, as one young person told us: “I shared videos and images of me with my friend to show her how much I care about her and how much her friendship means to me when she was going through a rough time”.

Or to empower and inspire others by standing up for things they believe in and raising awareness, whether that’s by sharing a no make-up selfie, creating informative videos or changing their profile picture.

We need to support this and look to empower young people to harness the positive power of selfies and other images and videos, to be engaged digital citizens and to promote self-esteem and confidence, keeping themselves safe and looking after their friends too.

Liam Hackett

CEO, Ditch the Label
Expert Website

How can selfies be used for good online?

Selfies – and the people that take them – are often labelled ‘narcissistic’, ‘vain’ and ‘self-obsessed’ but research proves that the simple act of taking a photograph of yourself can increase levels of self-esteem and boost confidence.

In this day and age, to love oneself despite the unrealistic beauty standards that we are exposed to via mainstream media, is a revolutionary act. Ditch the Label research revealed that 1 in 2 of us want to change how we look, with people as young as 13 now considering things like plastic surgery, botox and liposuction in order to feel good about themselves.

The important thing to remember about selfies, is that we are 100% in control of the content; we are the photographer, subject and distributor all at once. It is our way of visually communicating with other people and how we present ourselves is entirely up to us – the narrative is solely in our hands. This can be incredibly empowering, especially to a young person who might be exploring their identity or who is looking to embrace their appearance in a world where beauty and fashion industries constantly imply they need ‘improvement’.

Dealing with peer pressure to post 

If a child is experiencing FOMO (fear of missing out) and peer pressure to post images they would otherwise not, how can parents be a voice of support for them?

‘Fear of missing out’ or FOMO is such a strong driver –, particularly in the teenage years. Many of us remember the anticipation/ anxiety of school party invites. These feelings are significantly amplified now with images of said party being shared on social networks showing who was included – or excluded.

The pull to be part of the ‘in’ crowd is strong and as a parent, it can be easy to forget how that felt at 13 or 14 and some of the associated risks. In the online world that can include pressures to share personal images that a child might think will improve their social status.

As a parent, you won’t be able to take the pressure away, but what you can do is constantly remind your child that they are valued, they are loved and that everything about them is precious. This includes their unique identity and their privacy. Help them to question what they see, why people share so much of themselves and what the consequences of that might be. You won’t be able to stop them from falling every time but you can cushion their landing.

Building critical thinking on images shared

How can parents advise kids on threading the line between sharing images that are innocent and those that could be deemed suggestive?

It is important for parents to encourage their children to think carefully about social media and images and about the idea of audience i.e. who can see those images. What parents may view as suggestive, young people may not immediately think about the image in those terms. Talking to children and young people about how images may be viewed by other people is important.

The posting and sharing of suggestive images can leave young people vulnerable to bullying, humiliation and embarrassment but they may not think about that at the time. It is vitally important that we explain to our children about their online reputation and talk to them about what makes an image suggestive.

We need to encourage young people to think about how their images are viewed by others and that any images posted online is open to interpretation, copying and saving elsewhere and being viewed by people that they don’t know.

Parents are often worried about having these conversations with their children yet research consistently shows that children and young people actually welcome advice on sex and relationships and think it is important to understand how to keep themselves safe online.

Internet Matters and Childnet have some wonderful ideas about starting these conversations – so let’s talk about it!!