Is selfie culture making our kids selfish?

The influence of the selfie - is it good or bad?
The influence of the selfie - is it good or bad? Photo: Getty Images

"Selfie!" My six-year-old throws her arm round her bestie and they both smile at the toy phone. "Click!" She shoves the phone back in her pocket and then they're off again, racing across the park and up a tree to their den.

My kids used to talk on their toy phones, now they take selfies with them. It's a sign of the times.

But is it anything to worry about? Well, according to psychologist and parenting expert Dr Michele Borba, selfie culture could be making our kids selfish.

In her new book UnSelfie: Why Empathetic Kids Succeed in Our All-About-Me World, Dr. Borba combines scientific research with case studies to highlight the dangers of 'selfie syndrome'.

"Self-absorption kills empathy. Narcissism is 'it's all me.' Empathy is feeling with someone. Empathy is always 'we, it's not me.' The problem is kids are tuning into themselves, and what we need to do is flip the lens and start looking at others," she tells the New York Times.

Dr Borba thinks that technology is disrupting kids lives, particularly when it comes to emotional wellbeing. She argues that kids need more face-to-face interaction and less screen time.

"If the average kid is plugged in – let's just say what Common Sense Media says is 7.5 hours a day – you're not having the opportunities to look face-to-face. You can do that in FaceTime. You can do that in Skype. It's not like you're throwing the entire thing out.

"It's finding ways to make sure there are opportunities where your child won't lose the critical core skills of not only empathy but connection and social skills. We've failed to realise that all of those social skills are learned and they need practice. What we're not doing is helping our kids practice," she says.

Of course, my six-year-old is just mimicking what she has seen adults and older kids do with their phones. She isn't posting pictures to social media or obsessing over the number of likes she gets – yet. But perhaps it's only a matter of time.

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I asked family therapist Martine Oglethorpe whether she thinks that selfie culture is inherently selfish. She notes that relying on selfies and social media for self-esteem is more of a concern than selfishness or narcissm.

"Adolescents is a challenging time for self esteem and for finding your place in the world, particularly amongst your friends and peers. So it's no wonder that they use these apps and social networking sites to help achieve that social standing," she tells me.

According to Oglethorpe, selfie culture is just another way kids are experimenting with who they are.

"The selfie can be seen as another way kids are experimenting with who they are, where they fit in and how they are to be viewed by the rest of their peers and now, the rest of the online world," she says.

Oglethorpe notes that rather than trying to change a selfie culture that is already flourishing we should concentrate on the positive aspects.

"We need to focus on the way the technology can promote positive outcomes for young people and how we can safely incorporate that into their lives," she says.

There are lots of very unselfish reasons why adults, teenagers and six-year-olds (with plastic phones) take selfies;  to mark a moment in time, to celebrate a friendship, to hashtag awareness for a charity or political movement. It's not always about the 'likes'.

Oglethorpe agrees. "Whilst there may well be an egocentricity connected to the 'selfie' maybe that is just part of human nature."

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