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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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Rachel McAdams didn't talk publicly about her pregnancy or her birth story. There are some things this working mama wants to keep to herself, but the fact that she needs to pump at work isn't one of them.

McAdams was recently doing a photo shoot with photographer Claire Rothstein of Girls Girls Girls magazine when she needed to take a pump break. Wearing Versace and a neck full of diamonds McAdmans did what mamas all over the world do every day, and Rothstein snapped a pic that is now going viral.

In an Instagram post, Rothstein explains that she and McAdams had a "mutual appreciation disagreement about who's idea it was to take this picture," but the photographer says she remembers it being McAdams' idea, "which makes me love her even more."

In her caption of the amazing photograph, Rothstein writes: "Breastfeeding is the most normal thing in the world and I can't for the life of me imagine why or how it is ever frowned upon or scared of."

The photographer added that she wanted to put the image out there to change perceptions about breastfeeding, pumping, and working motherhood.

McAdams decision to normalize pumping through this glamorous image is especially cool when you consider that she's not really a social media person, and spends a lot of days in much less glam attire.

She recently arrived for her first interview since welcoming her son in the spring wearing a grey shirt, baggy pants and sneakers, reportedly telling the interviewer (Helena de Bertodano for The Sunday Times U.K.), "I don't even know what I'm wearing today. The shoes are held together with glue. Isn't that sad? I need to get a life."

"I have clothes on and that's a good thing," McAdams told Bertodano during that chat. Her attire for that newspaper interview was a world away from the clothes she wore for the Girls Girls Girls shoot.

During her Sunday Times interview McAdams declined to discuss her son's name or birthdate.

"I want to keep his life private, even if mine isn't," she explained. "But I'm having more fun being a mum than I've ever had. Everything about it is interesting and exciting and inspiring to me. Even the tough days — there's something delightful about them."

Most of us will never look the way McAdams does in this photo while we're pumping, but we can totally understand that sometimes, motherhood means you're wearing sweats and sometimes it means you're pumping in your work clothes (even if for most of us, that doesn't mean Versace).

McAdams may be keeping some parts of her motherhood experience private, but by showing the world this part of her day, she's normalizing something that desperately needs normalizing.

Some mamas pump, and the world needs to know (and accommodate) that.

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To my children,

It's the New Year, and I have been doing a lot of thinking. I want to say, with all of my heart and all of my soul, that I am sorry. I want apologize for anything (and everything) I have said or done that made you feel less-than or sad or small.

I regret, so deeply, the hurt I delivered through harsh words or sideways glances, for steely eyes you didn't deserve and sarcastic replies you didn't understand. I'm sorry for being upset when I should have been more understanding, for resorting to frustration when I should have found more patience, for pulling away when I should have drawn near.

There were the times when you needed more from me, when you asked for more, and I simply couldn't provide. There were the moments when you wanted less of me, needed less from me, and I couldn't—or perhaps I just wouldn't—back away.

I start every day with a hope, a hope that I will be better than the day before.

Sometimes I succeed, but many times, I fail. Every so often, I fail in spectacular fashion. I think about all the times when I wasn't gentle enough or kind enough or attentive enough to you, about all the moments when I was too quick to anger and not quick enough to forgive.

You don't need me to tell you that I'm not perfect. Lord knows, you know far too well.

But I will say it to you, because I think it helps to hear me say it: I am not perfect. I make mistakes. I am human. I have flaws and cracks and blemishes; they are a part of me, just as they are a part of you.

Sometimes, my dear ones, my mistakes are small—like forgetting to pack your lunch or mixing up the dates for Tot Shabbat, or picking you up an hour late from a play date or accidentally switching your piano primer with your brother's, or sending a snack I know you dislike because I didn't have time to go grocery shopping and have no other food in the refrigerator. But sometimes, they aren't so minor.

Sometimes, my mistakes have to do with the way I've behaved, and the words I have said, and the way I have said them. For those times, and for all the times I failed to support you the way I should, or help you in the way you deserve, and love you in the best way I can, I am sorry.

I wish I didn't make so many mistakes. I'm a perfectionist at heart, but when it comes to parenting, there's still so much I haven't mastered. Even after almost a decade of doing this day in and day out, I still feel like a novice in so many regards and as green as I did on day one.

Precious ones, I've come to realize, no matter how hard I try, that I just can't get it right all of the time. I hope you can forgive my failings.

The older I get, the more I realize that life is a jumble of hits and misses. As many times as we try and succeed, we also try and fail. As much as we hope to do right, we often end up doing wrong. It is the story of the human condition—this mix of losses and gains, triumphs and defeats. It's all very messy (think sloppy joes and pancakes dripping with syrup kind of messy), and yet, it's all we know.

My darling ones, I want nothing more than to do right by you and be the best mother I can be for you. I want to love you unconditionally, support you unreservedly, and be present unambiguously.

In the New Year, I resolve to do better for you, to be better with you, and to act as if God is watching. You mean the world to me. You are everything to me. I love you, always and forever.

All my love,

Mommy


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People often say that having a second child doesn't much add to the workload of parenting. There's no steep learning curve: You already know how to make a bottle, install a car seat and when to call the pediatrician. And you're already doing laundry, making lunches and supervising bath time—so throwing a second kid in the tub isn't a big deal.

Except that it is. Having a second child doesn't just mean attaching a second seat to your stroller. Adding a whole new person to your family is more complicated than that, and it's okay to say that it is hard.

A new study out of Australia disputes the popular idea that after making the transition from people to parents, making the jump from one child to two is easy. The researchers found that having a second child puts a lot of pressure on parents' time and their mental health, and mothers bear the brunt of the burden.

When looking at heterosexual couples, the researchers found that before a first child is born both partners feel equal amounts of "time pressure," but once the child is born, that pressure grows, more so for mothers than fathers.

Basically, parents feel psychological stress when they feel they don't have enough time to do all they need to. One baby makes both parents feel more stress, but mom's increase is more than dad's. When a second baby comes, that time pressure doubles for both parents, and since mom already had more than dad, there's now a gulf between them.

The researchers behind this study—Leah Ruppanner, Francisco Perales and Janeen Baxter—say that after a first child is born, a mother's mental health improves, but after a second child, it declines.

Writing for The Conversation, the trio explains:

"Second children intensify mothers' feelings of time pressure. We showed that if mothers did not have such intense time pressures following second children, their mental health would actually improve with motherhood. Fathers get a mental health boost with their first child, but also see their mental health decline with the second child. But, unlike mothers, fathers' mental health plateaus over time. Clearly, fathers aren't facing the same chronic time pressure as mothers over the long-term."

The researchers say that even when mothers reduce their work time, the time pressure is still there and that "mothers cannot shoulder the time demands of children alone."

Adding a second child to the family isn't just a matter of throwing a few more socks in the laundry: It means a schedule that is already stretched is now filling up with twice as many appointments, twice as many school functions. Mothers only have 24 hours in the day, and as much as we wish we could add a couple extra hours per child, we can't.

Time simply can't change to help us, but society can. As the researchers noted, when time pressure is removed, motherhood actually improves mental health.

We love our lives, we love our kids, we love parenting, but there is only so much of our day to go around.

Ruppanner, Perales and Baxter suggest that if society were to help mothers out more, our mental health (and therefore our children's wellbeing as well) would improve even after two or three kids. "Collectivising childcare – for example, through school buses, lunch programs and flexible work policies that allow fathers' involvement – may help improve maternal mental health," the researchers explain, adding that "it is in the national interest to reduce stressors so that mothers, children and families can thrive."

Whether you're talking about Australia or America, that last bit is so true, but this research proves that the myth about second-time parenthood isn't. Even if you already have the skills and the hand-me-downs, having a second child isn't as easy as it is sometimes made out to be.

We can love our children and our lives and still admit when things aren't easy.

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We know life gets a little (okay, a lot) busy around this time of year so if you haven't crossed off everyone on your Christmas list just yet, here's your reminder that you've still got time. Fortunately, that Amazon Prime membership of yours comes in handy... especially for the holidays.

Here are some of the best last-minute gifts to get on Amazon. Also, that extra couple of dollars for gift wrapping is *so* worth it if it's available. 😉

1. Tape Activity Book

So your little can create just about anywhere—on the go, in the car or hanging out at home.

Melissa & Doug Tape Activity Book, $6.47

BUY

2. Instant Pot

Mama, meet your new best friend. 4.5 stars with nearly 30K reviews.

Instant Pot 8-qt, $89.95

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3. Silicone Teething Mitt

Offer relief to your teething one with a mitt that stays in place.

Itzy Ritzy Silicone Teething Mitt, $8.99

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4. Roomba

Give the gift of never having to manually vacuum again.

iRobot Roomba 690, $279.00

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5. Magnetic Tiles

These are always a favorite for kids of all ages. Build endless possibilities and work on fine motor skills—win-win!

Magnetic Tiles Building Blocks Set, $31.99

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6. DryBar Triple Sec

Perfect addition to mama's stocking, or paired with a salon or blowout gift card. Adds *so* much texture and volume.

DryBar Triple Sec 3-in-1, $35.99

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7. Plush Animated Bunny

Plays peek-a-boo and sings for baby.

Animated Plush Stuffed Animal, $32.97

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8. 23andMe

Learn everything you want to know about your family history, where you came from, and even information about your genetics.

23andMe DNA Test, $67.99

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9. Boon Bath Pipes

Make bath time more fun. They suction to the wall and can be played with individually or altogether in a chain.

Boon Building Bath Pipes, $14.99

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10. HP Sprocket Portable Photo Printer

For printing all of those adorable Instagram moments—and for getting *all* of the photos off your phone.

HP Sprocket Portable Photo Printer, $99.95

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11. Board Blocks

Kids can sort, learn colors and shapes, and work on their hand-eye coordination.

Wooden Educational Geometric Board Block, $6.39

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12. Ring Doorbell + Echo Dot

A great bundle for the techie in your life.

Ring Doorbell 2 and Echo Dot, $169.00

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13. Pai Technology Circuit Conductor

For the little who wants to learn to code, this offers endless learning fun.

Pai Technology Circuit Conductor Learning Kit, $69.99

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14. Kindle Paperwhite, Audible + Headphones Bundle

Bookworms will love this bundle. Enjoy a new Kindle Paperwhite, wireless bluetooth stereo headphones, and 3 month free trial for Audible for new users.

Kindle Paperwhite Bundle, $139.00

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15. Wooden Grocery Store

We love this imaginative play grocery store, complete with a beeping scanner and hand-cranked conveyor belt.

Melissa & Doug Freestanding Wooden Fresh Mart Grocery Store, $179.99

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Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work.We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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