If someone is constantly taking selfies, some might suspect that person is narcissistic. On the other hand, another opinion might be that the person has low self-esteem. In fact, some argue that posting selfies is a cry for attention.
“It is true that some who post selfies are probably narcissistic; whereas, some likely have low self-esteem,” says Nicholas J. Westers, Psy.D., ABPP, clinical psychologist at Children’s Health℠ and Associate Professor at UT Southwestern. “But taking a more balanced perspective means resisting the temptation to draw sweeping conclusions that anyone who posts a selfie wants a quick stroke to the narcissistic ego or a boost to pre-existing low self-esteem.”
Dr. Westers shares the latest research on selfies and self-esteem, and how you can be a supportive parent in the age of selfies.
Research on “selfie-steem”
A few studies have examined the relationship between self-esteem and posting selfies, sometimes playfully called “selfie-steem.” Overall, results to date have indicated that they are unrelated, meaning that self-esteem is unrelated to taking selfies.
However, one study found a relationship between receiving “likes” on selfies and subsequent increase in self-esteem, but this relationship was moderated by purpose in life. This means that receiving more likes was associated with an increase in self-esteem among those with low levels of purpose in life but had no impact on self-esteem among those with high levels of purpose.
Selfies and their impact on relationships
Many people do complain that selfies are annoying. Some cite an unpublished study stating that selfies harm relationships by causing a decrease in intimacy and support (but an increase among close friendships).
Rather than jumping to this conclusion, a closer look at this study indicates it is just as likely that preexisting poor relationship quality causes people to view selfies of those individuals more negatively (not necessarily the other way around).
Based on the social psychology concept of “in-group bias” (the tendency to perceive one’s own group more favorably) and the study’s results, the latter conclusion is actually more plausible. In other words, people may be more likely to view selfies posted by the “out-group” as annoying and selfies posted by close friends more favorably.
A balanced view on selfies
It seems that taking and posting selfies has become the cultural norm rather than a problem to be solved. In other words, there appears to be nothing wrong with a healthy selfie-steem.
Posting a selfie in order to obtain a quick emotional pick-me-up or boost to self-esteem does have its risks (e.g., if only a few people or no one at all clicks “like,” or worse yet, if someone makes a negative comment). However, it also may have immediate rewards and may be helpful for some teens having a rough day, regardless of their level of self-esteem.
Tips for parents in an age of selfies
- Parents should talk to their teens about these risks and agree upon what is OK to share. For example, is it okay for your son to post selfies shirtless or your daughter to post selfies in her bikini, in the bathroom or in the bedroom?
- Parents should model healthy self-acceptance and social media use, and if it applies, healthy selfie-steem.
- Validate and acknowledge how a good selfie might make them feel good, and reassure them that they are loved regardless of whether it is the world’s best (or worst) selfie. After all, a selfie is just a snapshot, not a depiction of the whole person.
- Let them know that when they need a quick pick-me-up that you are available to talk (be sure to follow through), and encourage them to chat with you before impulsively taking a selfie that could haunt them later.
Stay current on the health insights that make a difference to your children. Sign up for the Children’s Health newsletter and have more tips sent directly to your inbox.