Today, one would be hard-pressed to find somebody who has not heard of the word ‘selfie’. In 2013, Oxford Dictionaries announced that ‘selfie’ was their word of the year. Just about every world leader, movie star, young adult and adolescent has clicked a selfie at one time or another. Selfies can be a lot of fun but like with all things in life, too much of a good thing can have detrimental effects on people, especially children.
Selfies can lead to safety risks and unhealthy, addictive behavior. Children with intellectual impairments are particularly vulnerable. Multiple studies have found that such addictive behavior negatively impacts development in the insula, which is the part of the brain involved in our capacity to develop empathy and compassion for others and our ability to integrate physical signals with emotion.Children posting an excessive number of selfies online can fall prey to predators and become victims of cyberbullies. Being bullied online can result in children, especially young girls, feeling inadequate and developing eating disorders and other self-destructive behavior.
Along with psychological damage, an addiction to selfies can also lead to physical harm. Russian schools were urged to teach extracurricular lessons on ‘safe selfies’ after the country experienced a spike in selfie-related injuries. Several children and teenagers all over Russia sustained injuries when attempting to shoot a selfie. The injuries included electrocution and falls from high places. One girl accidentally shot herself in the head with a rubber bullet when posing for a selfie with a pistol.
What can parents do to prevent this from happening? Parents should be an involved and consistent presence in their children’s lives. Psychiatrists have indicated that shooting an excessive number of selfies can be a symptom of mental illness caused by a severe lack of attention from parents. Parents must set rules and boundaries regarding their kids’ conduct on the internet. However, it is important to avoid being overly strict because children must be able to approach their parents if they have any questions. Parents should also make sure that their children are occupied, since boredom is also a contributing factor to such behavior.
Photo by Meg Hourihan licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC 2.0)