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The Dangers of Selfie Culture and How You Can Help Your Kids

“I only got 10 likes in the last 5 minutes. Do you think I should take it down? Let me take another selfie.”

– Lyrics from “Let Me Take a Selfie” by Chainsmokers

Let me take a selfie.

Oxford Dictionaries declared “selfie” the “Word of the Year” in 2013 because the frequency of the word’s use had increased 17,000 percent over the previous 12 months. Now, just three years later, mental health professionals, educators, researchers, and parents share increasing concerns of the impact of the selfie culture on children and teens.

With more than 1.5 billion human beings owning smart phones, almost all of which are equipped with a rear-facing camera, it’s not surprising that the selfie is part of our language and culture. And kids learn from those around them, especially their parents and siblings, according to Rachel Annunziato, PhD, Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology at Fordham University in New York.

“It seems like taking selfies is ubiquitous and therefore kids most certainly are learning that this is what trusted loved ones do,” Annunziato says.

Taking the occasional selfie isn’t necessarily a bad thing and Annunziato suggests that the practice can be just a game young children play. “It’s mainly to have fun taking pictures and making funny faces,” she says.

“But I think the pitfalls occur when kids become unduly focused on how they look and how others perceive them. Then I’d start to be concerned about the threat to self-esteem or body image. And certainly there are additional concerns if they are posting selfies on media where they can be picked apart or bullied.”

Body image issues and eating disorders.

Dr. Allison Chase, executive director of the Eating Recovery Center in Austin, Texas, says that the introduction of the selfie culture has resulted in kids comparing and evaluating themselves against their peers constantly.

“This is particularly challenging for kids and teens as they are trying to figure out who they are and what their identity is,” she says. “Therefore, having to try to stage themselves constantly to look a certain way or keep up with other peers can be challenging.”

The other problem lies in the fact that we live in a society that promotes beauty, the thin ideal, success and popularity according to Chase.

Chase says that while eating disorders are caused by a number of factors – both biological and environment – it does appear that the obsession with social media and the selfie culture is contributing to more focus on appearance, and increased criticism and pressure on kids to appear as they would like to be perceived. She adds that research has shown constant viewing of social media to increase negative feelings about oneself.

“The pressure for an ideal body image can lead to unhealthy eating patterns,” Chase says. “Younger children, not just adolescents, are engaging in eating disordered behaviors.”

Travis Stewart, LPC, MATS, director of regional outreach for Castlewood Treatment Centers, also says that while the selfie culture is not responsible for causing eating disorders, it does create a rather pervasive venue for comparison.

“It used to be that our comparison for body image was the other people around us or the media images,” Stewart  says. “Now, girls will take picture after picture of themselves until they get the perfect selfie, constantly comparing themselves to their best self.”

Self-esteem and bullying.

Damaging blows to self-esteem – whether the hits are direct or indirect – are another pitfall of the selfie culture, according to Katie Schumacher, author/lecturer, former teacher, and mother of three. Schumacher launched the “Don’t Press Send Campaign” and app in response to the bullying she was seeing in the cyber world and she did 40 school presentations last year alone on the topic.

“One of the reasons kids take selfies is to post those pictures online. And the purpose of posting online often is to get ‘likes’,”  she says. “The “like” is similar to Pavlov’s dog. If you post something and get a lot of “likes,” it reinforces the feeling of importance and the sense of approval from others. The “like” is the reward. But if you don’t get enough “likes,” you will keep trying to get a better picture from a different angle or with someone more popular.”

Additionally, Schumacher says kids often take selfies and post them with someone in mind who they want to like their post. “They think, ‘ah, the cool kids like me.’ Popularity has now become an actual number game based on likes. That’s real power.”

Unfortunately, it works the opposite way, as well. When a child or teen posts a picture and doesn’t get likes or worse, gets ridiculed, their sense of self worth declines. 

Chase agrees, saying that our cultural norm has resulted in less boundaries for people and others. “All of which are setting up the desire to share more readily and create the illusion of feeling more connected and more “liked,” in a way that is controllable and often times, staged. The end result is a competitive environment with increased self-focus, less true connection and, more often than not, increased self-criticism,” she says.

Schumacher worries that even if kids aren’t critical of themselves, someone else almost certainly is going to be critical for them if we don’t help them navigate the online world more effectively.

“Part of my mission is to teach kids to be kind online and that what they say and write online matters,” Schumacher says. “I’m a grown woman and I couldn’t handle it if someone told me online to drink bleach and die. Young kids psyche’s definitely aren’t strong enough for that.”

Loss of connection.

The world of social media, smart phones, and pictures are contributing to “virtual distance” —  something that Professor Karen Sobel-Lojeski, Ph.D. of Stony Brook University’s Department of Technology and Society discovered in her research.

“Virtual distance is a measure of what is lost when human beings gets translated through the machine,” she says. “My data shows that the more time we spend with mediated technology, the more emotionally disconnected we can get with ourselves and each other.”

Sobel-Lojeski says the biggest downside to kids taking too many pictures of themselves is that they are missing out on so much of their lives.

“Kids need to be having these experiences to draw on later in life, and they are trading off valuable time having direct experiences in exchange for indirect experiences.”

Additionally, the virtual world is designed to be custom made for us, to send us the stuff that we prefer to see. “The web is already a hall of mirrors, showing us the products and advertisements it knows we want to see. So when we are constantly taking pictures of ourselves and reflecting those back to us, our real self gets lost in the translation.”

She actually created a course that she teaches college freshmen called, ironically, “How Technology Saved My Soul.” It’s a one-hour seminar class that helps her students understand themselves in a different relationship to technology, the world, and themselves.

The 11-week class teaches the students about virtual distance through a series of assignments that compare how they feel with, and without, their devices.

“Kids give a presentation at the end and many of them will break down crying. One guy, through tears, told the class how he realized he couldn’t have a conversation with another human being without holding his phone. Many others have said they never realized they could live their lives in a different way because the devices have always been there.”

What can we do?

The good news from Sobel-Lojeski’s research, and the results of her class? Her students experience a significant shift in behavior and perceptions in just 11 weeks.

She is not critical of social media, per se, nor does she think we need to refer to kids as “addicted” to their phones or selfies.

“No one did anything wrong – this is an unintended consequence we never saw coming,” she said of the smart phone/selfie/social media culture.  “It’s not rocket science, it’s just tilting things in another direction.”

How you can help your kids.

1 | Watch impact and frequency.

Annunziato says that just like we correct, but don’t become alarmed by, a child who swears every so often, the same should hold true for selfies.

An occasional selfie isn’t a problem. But if your child is taking lots of selfies and viewing his/her selfies consistently in a negative light, then this may be amplifying or triggering poor self-esteem, she says. In this case, she would recommend intervening.

2 | Start early.

Schumacher says that whenever she gives a presentation to a school district, she encourages school officials to invite parents of kindergartners as well as high schoolers.

“Pick your hard,” I tell parents. “You can have the battles when they are younger or you can have them when they are older. I think it’s easier if you set the hard rules up when they are younger. Once they get to high school, sometimes we’re in damage control mode.”

3 | Be positive and help kids anchor.

Sobel-Lojeski says it does not necessarily help to take away kids phones or to be critical.

“Encourage them to leave the devices at home and go for a walk. Help them anchor to a new set of value systems, anchor to the fact that what is important are those real life experiences,” she says. “But to anchor, they need to know why and how those things are important to you. To do that, we expose them to direct experiences with the world and marry that experience by sharing stories about our own lives. We relate the experience and they will start to see that life lives beyond the screen.”

She adds that, in some ways, we’ve unwittingly deprived our children of what they need – connection to real world experiences and anchors from our own life – and that when we give them those things back, the devices become less powerful and less important.

4 | Have conversations.

Schumaker says that parents need to acknowledge that the “selfie” practice is normal and something kids do.

“But remind them that your job is to make them feel good about who they are. If they like a picture of themselves and want to post it, that’s good. But if they are posting it for reinforcement and they won’t be okay if they don’t get that reinforcement, then maybe they shouldn’t post it. It might be weakening their self-confidence muscle.”

5 | Help them take the power back, give them permission to step away.

Schumacher says she tells kids that when they like a post or a photo, it’s like they wrote it or posted it. “The same goes for not liking it,” she says. “If you don’t like a mean or critical post, and if you speak out against those types of things, that gives you real power.”

Another empowering behavior is to unplug and step away from the device. “Tell your kids that if they are partaking in social media and it’s not making them feel good, they have an escape hatch. They can unfriend, unplug, or step away. Doing those things doesn’t mean you’re unpopular. It means you’re saying that you matter, and you’re exercising your self-confidence muscle.”

6 | Watch for changes in behaviors related to food, eating, or exercise.

Chase says to pay attention to changes in behavior like limiting certain foods and choosing to not eat any meals with the family “In addition, increased exercise can become unhealthy, especially if there is a reduction in food intake,” she says.

“Be aware if they are increasingly more negative about themselves or their appearance.”  Changes in mood and spending less time doing activities they enjoy can also be indicators of a problem.

Of course, if parents suspect serious threats to the physical and mental health of their children, they should contact a professional.

7 | Set boundaries and limits.

In the end, it’s important for parents to set boundaries for their children. “Parents need to remember that having a phone is a privilege and while it may be important for safety or communication, setting limits around other uses is absolutely acceptable,” Chase says.

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We've seen the tired old trope in articles, commercials and television shows so many times: working moms just have too much to do. They're chauffeuring kids around to evening practices, making lunches after said kids go to bed and staying up till the wee hours of the morning catching up on their relentless and stressful jobs. The message is clear: working moms are tired and burnt out. They don't get enough time for themselves because they're so busy giving it all to their families and their jobs. But does this really line up with the working mothers you know?

Here's a secret many working mothers have figured out: less really is more. The minimalist movement—simplifying your life and stuff to gain more time—has revolutionized life as a working mother. The minimalist mom gets a full night of sleep, has time with her kids and, importantly, has time for herself. Here's how:

1. She says no.

A minimalist mom knows her limits, her interests and what the tipping point is for herself and her family. So, she limits volunteering to what interests her and what she can reasonably fit into her life. She guards her Wednesday nights—the night she always takes off from family duties to hit a yoga class or do something for herself—fiercely. She also says no to her kids: it's one out-of-school activity at a time and Sunday mornings are always for family. She's also mastered saying this at work: No, I can't take your work on. No, I won't be staying late to finish your last-minute request.

2. She knows where to spend her money for increased quality of life.

She would rather hire a bi-weekly cleaner than buy a pair of designer jeans. Weeknight meals are easy and from the slow cooker or just a simple spread of crackers, cheese and fruit. Fast food and takeout is expensive, and she'd rather spend that money on a babysitter and three courses at that new trattoria for date night. She is happy to buy the expensive snow boots for her oldest so they last through all three kids—saving not only money, but also time shopping. The kitchen renovation can wait until the youngest is out of daycare. Until then, she'd rather use fun money to buy an extra week of vacation and road trip as a family. Her spending aligns with one of her biggest values: having time for the things and people she loves.

3. She doesn't care what other people think.

Her workwear is five outfits for each season and no more. It's professional, flattering and easy. No one notices if you've worn the same outfit for seven Tuesdays in a row. She doesn't care what grandiose delicacies are brought for the school bake sale: She brings the same delicious butter cookies (the ones that they can freeze a quadruple batch of dough for) to every event requiring a cookie or baked good. Keeping up with the Joneses—who are stressed out and broke—isn't her thing.

4. Her kids do some things, not everything.

The family lives by a shared Google calendar and there are set rules around weekend playdates and kids' activities. Their kids have a healthy mix of structured activities and unstructured play time. She is a person first; chauffeur, playdate arranger and sideline soccer mom second.

5. She delegates like the boss that she is.

She hasn't done kid laundry since her oldest could reach the stacked washer dryer on his own. Her husband alternates meal planning and grocery shopping with her every week and makes all the kids' dentist appointments (she does the doctor appointments). She only takes the dog for a walk when she wants to; otherwise the kids do it. When an older kid forgets his or her lunch at home, they know that they have to figure it out for themselves: raiding their stash of granola bars in their locker or borrowing money from a friend for lunch. She understands she can't do it all, but rather, she and her family can do the basics together.

6. She knows what she and her family need (and want).

Her non-negotiables are her running group that has met every Saturday at 7 A.M. for a decade, a long weekend away with her spouse every fall and bedtime stories with the kids at least three nights a week. She knows what people and things fuel her—this makes it easy to say no to things that don't. She has a rule for friends that invite her to those kitchen gadget/jewelry/leggings parties: if she knows the salesperson well, she'll buy one item but won't attend the party. Every other invitation is a no.

7. She has hard and fast rules around taking work home with her.

Her team knows that if they have something urgent after 6 P.M. they better call her. She doesn't check email once she has left the office until 6 A.M. the next morning. When she gets home from a week of work travel, she takes a four-day weekend. Her schedule is blocked out from 4 P.M. onwards. so she isn't scheduled into end-of-day meetings that could run long. She meditates for 10 minutes at the end of her shift so she can leave the work stress at work. She guards her personal time and mental space fiercely.

8. She views work as a break from family time and family time as a break from work.

Being mentally present and engaged at work and at home means no guilt over enjoying her balance of work and family life. She cheerfully enjoys that there's no diapers to change for nine hours a day Monday to Friday, and when she's home she revels in being out of her office and untethered from her phone and laptop. Learning to quickly switch gears from work, family and personal time is a skill she has mastered to simplify her life.

The minimalist working mother doesn't do it all: she does the things that are important to her and to her family. Her list is unique to her and no one else. How she spends her time and her money directly aligns with what she values. This ethos of living her values makes it clear, fast and easy to make decisions. She knows that time is her most valuable resource and she spends it wisely at home and at work.

Originally posted on Working Mother.

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When I was pregnant I worried about what would happen if the baby cried for me while I was in a deep sleep. Like so many pregnancy worries, though, blocking out my baby's cries was something I didn't really need to be concerned about. An alarm clock can go off inches from my head and I'll sleep through it for hours, but if my baby cries at the other end of the house, I'm wide awake.

It turns out, the sound of my baby crying impacts my brain very differently than a beeping alarm.

I'm hardly the first parent to make this observation, and science is on to it, too. There's plenty of research about how a baby's cries impact its mother on a physical level. A study of mother mice published in Nature found that adding oxytocin (a hormone released in strong doses during labor and lactation) to the brains of the mamas changed the way they processed the sound of crying pups—and helped them learn how to recognize and respond to the sounds.

A dose of this “motherhood hormone," it seems, leads to increased sensitivity to the sound of your child in distress.

According to Robert Froemke, that study's senior investigator, this suggests oxytocin amplifies the way the auditory cortex processes incoming cries from our own babies. He says the same seems to be true for female mice as female humans: The sound of a crying baby stirs up a great sense of urgency.

This physiological reaction allow us to develop rapid, reliable behaviors to our babies' cries, says Froemke. In time, it also helps us learn what the cries mean—and how we can respond in a helpful way.

When our babies cry, “[as parents, we] don't know what's really going to work, we just try a bunch of stuff. Let's change a diaper, let's feed the baby, let's do a little dance," he says. “Eventually we learn this repertoire of parenting skills because we're all in, we're all invested and that baby depends on us absolutely to take care of it."

Researchers believe that it may be this hormonal shift in the brain that alerts a mother to the sound of her child's cry.

Mothers' brains have a different level of sensitivity to crying babies

In humans and in mice, dads often respond to a baby's cries, but the brain chemistry is a little different: According to Froemke, extra oxytocin doesn't speed up the reaction to crying pups in male mice the way it does for females.

"There is a difference in terms of [ a father's] sensitivity to oxytocin. We think that may be because the male oxytocin system is already maxed out," he explains, adding there is something about living with a female and child that contributes to a natural oxytocin increase in mouse dads. (Further proof moms aren't the only ones to deal with big hormone changes.)

But when it comes to the brains of human parents, there is more evidence that the brains of men and women respond to crying babies differently. A study published in NeuroReport looked at the brains of 18 men and women who heard a baby crying while inside a brain scanner. The women's brain activity suggested an immediate alertness, while the men's brain activity didn't change.

That study suggests there are gender differences in the way we process baby sounds, but a lot of dads will tell you they can't and don't sleep through a baby cries. And that's for good reason: According to Froemke, it's no biological accident that babies signal distress in a way that can pierce parents brains even when our eyes are closed.

"Parents have to sleep, too," he says, but, "Sounds penetrate our brains, they tap into something deep and we can quickly rouse from a deep slumber, jump out of bed and tend to infant needs."

Just as my son is biologically wired to be my personal alarm clock, I am biologically wired to hear him—even if I can still sleep through everything else.

[Originally published October 18. 2017]

[Editor's note: This story is a letter from a woman to her husband. While this is one example of one type of relationship, we understand, appreciate and celebrate that relationships come in all forms and configurations.]

To my husband,

We met when I was 22. We started building a life together. We became each other's best friend, cheerleader, guidance counselor, and shelter from the storm. We laughed together, cried together, and stood up in front of all the people who matter to us and vowed to stay together until one of us dies.

We said the words without irony or hesitation, knowing that while we weren't perfect, the problems we could face in life would never be enough to break us.

And babe, I had no clue what our future held. But I knew I wanted to experience it only with you.

Then we got pregnant! And when our son was born, I marveled at the fact that we made a person. You and me. It honestly still blows my mind even five years later.

I'd heard women say things like, I fell in love with my husband all over again once I saw him as a daddy. I love watching you be a daddy, too—but just like becoming a mother has been transformative for me, becoming a father has been transformative for you, too. And it has taken us some time to get to know the new versions of ourselves.

We worked together—mostly on the same team—and have shared so many beautiful lessons and experiences together. Everything is new when you're a first-time parent! And this new dynamic of three definitely threw us for a loop—I wasn't used to sharing your attention with someone else, and I wasn't used to sharing my attention with someone other than you.

It took a few years to hit our stride. I think maybe we never had big things to disagree on before we became parents. It threw me off to be anything but harmonious with you. But just like we said we would on that gorgeous September wedding day, we found our way back. We stayed on each other's team.

And then I got pregnant again.

We were planning a huge life change already— moving across the country to start anew, restart your business and make a new future. I didn't have an easy pregnancy this time. And generally, for many reasons, life seemed harder than ever.

Our daughter was born and it didn't take long for postpartum depression to steal me away, for far longer than I should have allowed it to. I was scared to get the help I needed and I let it get the best of me. I'm truly sorry for that. I'm mostly sorry that I sometimes let it get the best of us.

It's easy to love a partner when it's just the two of you. Our priorities were never tested then—you were at the top of my to-do list, and I was at the top of yours. But—funny thing—this whole parenting thing seemed to make life a little more complex. And when your kids are little, and completely dependent upon you, there are many days when there just isn't much left over for anything or anyone else.

Babe, we're in it right now. Really in it. These are the parenting trenches. The baby years. These years can make or break us. And can I be so bold as to say: I think they're making us.

They're making us learn how to communicate better. How to find common ground when we disagree about real stuff, like the ways we want to raise our children. We're invested in not only the outcome but the short term effect. We're a team.

They're making us think about the future. Not just the fun stuff, but the difficult stuff like estate planning, life insurance, and college funds for the kids. They're making us challenge ourselves to provide our children with comfort and opportunities. We've always worked hard but the stakes have never been this high.

You know I'm the optimist, the dreamer, while you consider yourself the realist—but I think we can agree on this: going through some of the tough stuff with you by my side has shown me that we are stronger than the tough stuff. We can get through it. We can get through anything. As long as we hold on to each other.

Motherhood transformed me. Fatherhood transformed you. And having kids completely transformed our marriage. We'll never be who we were on our wedding day again.

Time marches forward—only forward. I miss the carefree version of "us", but I love this version even more. Because we know what we're made of now, and in so many ways we didn't before.

I'm sure that in our lifetime, many more obstacles will arise that will transform our marriage. But I've never been more confident that whatever may be, we'll find a way through it—together.

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Baking Christmas cookies together is a family tradition for many, but the Centers for Disease Control is warning parents that if your recipe contains raw flour or raw eggs, you really shouldn't sneak a bite before it is cooked, and neither should your kids.

The CDC is warning people not to eat raw cookie dough, cake mix or bread as we head into prime baking season.

The agency acknowledges the appeal of a spoonful of chocolate chip goodness but asks that we "steer clear of this temptation—eating or tasting unbaked products that are intended to be cooked, such as dough or batter, can make you sick."

Salmonella from raw eggs is, of course, a concern, and so is the raw flour. According to the CDC, flour needs to be cooked in order to kill germs like E.Coli. That's why the CDC is asking parents to "say no to raw dough," not just for eating but even for playing with.

"Children can get sick from handling or eating raw dough used for crafts or play clay, too," the CDC posted on its website.

On the Food and Drug Administration's website, that agency advises that "even though there are websites devoted to 'flour crafts,' don't give your kids raw dough or baking mixes that contain flour to play with." Health Canada also states that raw flour should not be used in children's play-dough.

The warnings follow a 2016 E.coli outbreak linked to contaminated raw flour. Dozens of people got sick that year, and a post-outbreak report notes that "state investigators identified three ill children who had been exposed to raw flour at restaurants in Maryland, Virginia, and Texas. Restaurant staff had given them raw dough to play with while they waited for their food to be served."

The CDC worries that with flour's long shelf life, products recalled during the 2016 outbreak may still be in people's pantries (although the CDC notes that any raw flour—recalled or otherwise—should not be consumed).

If your kids do have flour-based play dough, don't worry.

Some parents are still choosing to use flour-based craft dough to make Christmas ornaments or other crafts this holiday season and are reducing the risks by A) making sure the kids aren't eating their art, and B) thoroughly washing little hands, work surfaces, and utensils when the dough play is over.

Other parents are choosing other types of craft clay over flour-based dough.


During the 2016 outbreak, the FDA called for Americans to abstain from raw cookie dough, an approach Slate called "unrealistic and alarmist," noting that "the vast, vast majority of people who consume or touch uncooked flour do not contract E. coli or any other infection."

Two years ago, 63 Americans were made sick by E. coli infections linked to raw flour, according to the CDC. We don't know exactly how many Americans ate a spoonful of cookie dough or played with homemade play dough that year, but we do know that more than 319 million Americans did not get sick because of raw flour.

Are there risks associated with handling and consuming raw flour? Yes, absolutely, but it's not something to panic over.

Bottom line: Don't let your kids eat raw dough when they're helping you bake cookies for Santa, and be mindful of raw flour when choosing crafts for kids.

(And if you have just got to get your raw cookie dough fix, the CDC notes that cookie dough flavored ice cream is totally safe as it "contains dough that has been treated to kill harmful bacteria." Sounds like mama's getting Ben & Jerry's tonight.)

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