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Whip out your phone, aim, shoot and upload, and there you have it: a selfie!

A selfie is a type of self-portrait photograph. They are widely uploaded onto social media platforms, and they range from normal (outfit-of-the-day shots, or in selfie lingo, ootd) to outrageous (late night party pictures).

Some parents may wonder why their children are so open to sharing their pictures with the world, and why they are so interested in other people’s lives by scrolling through social media platforms filled with selfies.

For many young people, taking selfies is a fun and easy way of capturing life’s moments. For others, it has become a habit – something they do naturally, spontaneously and almost off-handedly every day.

Taking selfies is okay when done in good fun, but ‘trying to take the perfect social media photo can turn into an addiction especially those who may already be suffering from certain psychological disorders (1).

For Danny Bowman, this light-hearted activity took a grave turn when it became an obsession for the 19-year-old who took 200 selfies a day. When he couldn’t take a satisfactory photo, he attempted suicide. Fortunately Danny was found in time and sent to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with Body Dysmorphic Disorder, an excessive anxiety about personal experience. His case is serious but certainly not isolated.

Parents must look out for the telltale signs that selfie-taking has become more than a harmless hobby, which are:

  • Taking too many pictures
  • Getting worked up about his/her appearance in each photo
  • Caring a lot about the comments/number of likes each selfie garners
  • Obsessively checking to see who responded to the photo

Here are some tips on how you can manage your child’s selfie habit:

  1. Sometimes youths upload selfies to earn approval and garner likes from their friends. Such behaviour is commonly motivated by insecurity about their appearance or popularity. It is best if you take time to inculcate a healthy sense of self-worth in your children.
  2. If you suspect that the hobby is turning into an obsession for your child, don’t hesitate to confiscate your child’s phone. You must take time to explain and address the root problem behind their behaviour. Challenge them to learn to go for longer periods of time without satisfying the urge to take a photo.

For example, as part of Danny’s recovery treatment, his parents would confiscate his phone for 10 minutes, then an half an hour, then an hour. He said, “It was excruciating to begin with, but I knew I had to do it if I wanted to go on living. They made me scruff up my hair and walk down the street without my phone and no way to see what I looked like. Gradually, I realised everyone wasn’t looking at me. I didn’t need to check my appearance the whole time.” He has not taken a selfie for 7 months.

Remind your children to always be sensitive when they comment on people’s selfies. If you don’t have something positive to say, don’t say anything at all. Don’t discount the impact that their words can make.