Our Kids Are Selfie Obsessed

I recently met with a group of high school students who are concerned about GPAs and college majors and scholarships. We talked about service projects…because competing for scholarship dollars requires volunteer hours.

Or rather, I talked about service projects. I proposed perhaps eight projects, most of which required approximately one hour of volunteer time–ringing the Salvation Army bell, packing food so low-income children would have meals for the weekend, organizing a shoe drive. I asked students to participate in one service project each quarter…volunteer one hour every eight weeks.

I talked. The kids bargained. Can I do “x” instead? (In other words, can I get out of this?) The kids asked questions. Do I have to do that? What if I don’t do it?

As I looked at the best and the brightest gathered before me, thoughts tumbled through my head and I stumbled over my words. You see, for 13 years I worked with this same population of honor students. I was away for 10 years, and this was my first meeting back in charge. But this meeting was different than I’d expected, different from my experience 23…even 10…years ago.

Kids bargained back then, too, but for different reasons. They proposed projects–big-time volunteer time, long-term commitments, adopt-a-highway kind of projects or projects that required funds we didn’t have. And they asked questions, too. Why not? But what if we…? Can we try? I often felt guilty as I tried to balance their enthusiasm with the limited hours they had to actually volunteer. They had the “eyes-bigger-than-your-plate” syndrome, and their plates were always full. But once we settled on a project they were excited about–and one I was certain they could fulfill–students signed up and committees were formed and filled to overflowing. This year I have two committees, and my sign-up sheets are nearly empty.

Now, let me be fair to the kiddos (by the way, my daughter was one of them). I’m certain some are eager to participate. Even so, their enthusiasm was bridled, silent. It didn’t infect the room. And I’m talking about some really great kids here, every bit as awesome as the students of the past. So why are they different? What’s changed over the last 10 years I’ve been away?

I think I know. It can’t be 100% to blame, but research indicates–and I’m convinced–it plays a big part. 

The Selfie

You know, that harmless picture our kids take of themselves with a smartphone and post to social media? 

That picture may not be so harmless after all. Forget that the selfie killed more people than sharks did in 2015. Life and death isn’t my concern at the moment. What concerns me is our kids’ obsession with themselfies…and how their fixation with their outside is harming them on the inside.

Selfie Comparison

It’s normal for teens to have low self-esteem and to be in a state of constant comparison based on appearance. We may be old(er), but we remember those feelings, don’t we? We compared ourselves to our siblings, our best friends, the popular kids…and often fell short…because someone was always cuter or skinnier or more developed or had better hair, better skin, better clothes. It’s no different for our kids today.

Except…it is different. Today the comparison is 24/7 and limitless. We compared ourselves in the yearbook or with pictures printed on real paper (and unedited) that could be passed to one person at a time. We compared ourselves with another student in the hallway or in a classroom for a limited number of minutes. But our kids compare themselves constantly with pictures of everyone from anywhere, which they can access with a tap of their finger and examine to their heart’s discontent. And never measure up…because there is always someone…lots of someones…who look better.

Selfie Indulgence

And so the quest for the perfect selfie begins. You know, the selfie with the most flattering pose, favorable lighting, and flirty facial expression. Our girls’ hair and make-up are glamorous; our boys’ abs and biceps are bulging. Then click. And click. And click and click and click. And finally. The perfect pic.

Well, not quite perfect…yet. First, the pic has to be enhanced with a photo editing app. Then filters must be applied to distort, highlight, and completely change the selfie to achieve the unrealistic image of beauty that society has convinced our kids is realistic. The pic can change so much that a mom might hardly recognize her own daughter when she sees her selfie (this mom!). Finally, the work of fiction is ready to post.

Selfie Worthless

It’s been three minutes now. The pic has been posted, and our kid has checked it 37 times, waiting for her value to be calculated, or his worth to be defined, by the number of likes or comments the selfie receives. And now it’s been three minutes and ten seconds…with no comments, not even one like. Could this flawless selfie, edited to perfection, possibly be flawed? Our kid considers deleting it. Instead, she scrolls through others’ selfies and checks their likes, or he closes the app. Anxiety sets in. Our kid can’t resist and checks the post, and checks the post, and checks the post again. It’s been four minutes now. Selfie doubt reigns and our kid decides to delete it. But wait! What’s this? Suddenly a like appears, followed by a comment. Could this be the beginning of the coveted hundred-plus reactions that will assure our kid of her value as an individual, of his worth as a human being? Maybe. Or it could be the beginning of only 29 likes and comments that sends our kid into a spiral of depression for hours, or days, or weeks. Because, obviously, 29 is less than 100, so our kid must be selfie worthless.

Unselfie Our Kids

So what’s the big deal? Our kids take a lot of pictures of themselves. And they post a lot. And sometimes it’s a positive experience. Sometimes they come off feeling like a rock star. It’s not all bad.

Like most things…it doesn’t have to be all bad…if done in in the right spirit, if done in moderation. But many of our kids are not posting in the right spirit or in moderation. In fact (this is going to blow your mind), a recent study reports the average teen girl spends five hours a day posting selfies. Yes, you read that right. FIVE HOURS A DAY. Factor in hair, make-up, the photo shoot for the perfect pose, enhancing, filtering, posting, and finally checking-checking-checking every 18 seconds for likes and comments…maybe five hours is possible. This doesn’t let boys off the hook, by the way. Although males tend to post fewer selfies, psychological research suggests there could be a link between males who post often and…narcissism and psychopathy. (What?!) 

Five hours a day posting selfies. Narcissism. That’s a lot of me, me, me…and we see this attitude coming out in youth in many ways, don’t we? It’s all about them, what they want, what makes them happy. Research says this attitude is, in part, connected to the selfie phenomenon.

Selfies inflate the importance of “self” and limit our kids’ capacity for compassion–for caring about others. They don’t understand empathy–the ability to feel what others feel. So…like the group of students I met with recently, kids don’t understand the importance of volunteering, of serving others, of selfie sacrifice. I am heartsick that a teen can spend five hours a day in the quest for a perfect selfie…but is reluctant to give up one hour every eight weeks to meet a need in the community. I worry what our families, our communities, our nation will look like some day if a generation grows up without compassion, without empathy? (We’re seeing the start of it already, aren’t we?)

But the kids aren’t all to blame. We’re likely the ones who gave them the Smartphones in the first place, and we’re the ones paying the bill. Five years ago only 23% of teens had Smartphones. Today 84% carry the internet in their purse or back pocket. And 50% of teens feel they are addicted to their Smartphone. And if some of our kids truly spend five hours a day posting selfies…we’re the ones who haven’t noticed. 

Since we parents likely contributed to the problem, shouldn’t we try to fix it? Don’t worry. I’m not suggesting we snatch our kids’ Smartphones and ban them from taking selfies (although talking with them about this issue couldn’t hurt). But what if we worked on the compassion part, the empathy?

What if we got our kids to take the camera off themselfies and flip the lens around to focus on someone else? I think of some younger children I know who set up a lemonade stand in the summer to raise money for Christmas presents for underprivileged children. (They don’t have Smartphones yet.) And I think of some little girls I used to know who knitted hats for cancer patients at a children’s hospital (who are now teens taking selfies with their Smartphones). These children know the joy–experience the self value–that comes from sacrificing self, sacrificing time, to meet the needs of others. 

How can we help teens experience that, too? Fall is arriving, leaves will be dropping, and I bet there are elderly people in our neighborhoods who would be blessed to see a teen raking their leaves. Our communities are filled with emergency personnel committed to serving us. Wouldn’t a big ol’ batch of home-made chocolate chip cookies delivered to a firehouse be a nice way to give back?

There are a million little ways we can help our teens get out of their own heads and let others into their hearts…a million little ways to lead them from a selfie life to a selfless life. And what if we started now?

What if in the month of October we help our teens find one need to meet–just one–but something that requires human interaction, so they can experience someone’s gratitude, so they can calculate their self worth–not by the number of likes or comments on a selfie–but by the number of smiles they receive, by the feeling they will get from seeing their actions making a difference?

What if one act of kindness turned into another and another. What if we changed their selfie addiction to a selfless addiction?

Okay, maybe I’m dreaming. But…

What if we don’t try?


Are you surprised by the numbers? Five hours a day taking selfies? Fifty-percent addicted to Smartphones? Do our kids express compassion and empathy? If your child isn’t old enough to have a Smartphone, what concerns you about getting him/her one some day? What ideas do you have to help your teen meet a need in October? Share your comments!


The MOM Journey News

It is SO good to be back on The MOM Journey! THANK YOU for waiting…and for allowing me time to work through my first two round of edits on WAITING FOR BUTTERFLIES!

Because you waited…and came back!…we don’t just have a give-away for October. We have a COMBO give-away! I know how you love lavender essential oil…and who doesn’t love Hobby Lobby? How about a bottle and a gift card?

If you’re a regular follower of The MOM Journey, you’re already in the drawing! If you’re not, enter your email and sign-up! Earn more entries by posting a comment or sharing this post on social media or via email! The winner will be announced at the end of October!

Aaahhh…it’s so good to be back among friends!





  1. Marjorie huffman says:

    Awesome perspective. Let’s get these kids seeing outside themselves and really looking around at our world and community.

  2. Lois Orr says:

    Wow! Those figures blew my mind! I HATE taking selfies (I never can get my head at the right angle or maybe my arms just aren’t long enough! LOL) but can see how that they effect teens (and younger!!). Like you, I hope that a change in heart happens soon…not only in teens but adults too! Thanks for another awesome post!!

    • Karen says:

      I still can’t get over the 5-hour average! And I’ve tried to take a selfie to send to Kel at college…my nose always looked HUGE! 🙂 It would take me about five hours to get a decent selfie! HA!

  3. Sandy Slusher says:

    Good to have you back 🙂 It lets us know that as parents we have an even harder job to steer our kids in the right direction. We have to work hard to help them see their true value and that they need to value others as well. It is a challenge and we have to rise to it.

  4. Tammy says:

    Very well said I know when our Church did the food pantry one day a week for a month I didn’t ask I just said get up we are helping with the food pantry at first they weren’t so excited I could tell but after the very first day they said mom I really enjoyed that

  5. Tina Sutton says:

    I think if more youth stepped outside their comfort zone and committed to even a small block of time to community service, I truly believe they would feel more self worth over that of how many likes or comments they could receive from a selfie posted on social media.
    Having a son committed to community service through Scouting and school, I know this has helped build his self esteem and confidence.
    Once again you have touched on a very important issue and hopefully it encourages others to commit some time to community service.
    Thanks Karen!

    • Karen says:

      The feeling self-worth they could get from serving would last longer a lot longer than an ego boost from likes on a selfie. 🙂

  6. Glenna says:

    It is sad to see kids today not investing in their communities by volunteering.The blessings you get from volunteering can be so awesome!

  7. Ashley says:

    I have a son who could care a less about posting a selfie! Then, I have an 11 year old daughter who has snapchat on her iPod and musically the app! Her account is set to private, but I’ve had to take the iPod away for selfie obsession back and forth with friends already!😔 The phone will be a few more years away at least!!

  8. Julie Browne says:

    Those numbers are staggering…too much pressure on kids these days to compete. An excellent idea to to get them out serving! Thanks for sharing, Karen….

  9. Thea says:

    Sad to say, for parents to attempt to help their teenagers with this very serious issue, they are going to have to put their cell phones down as well! No doubt, a major challenge for MANY! Thank you for another awesome post.

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