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Tweens, Teens and Screens:
The Hidden Dangers of the “Perfect Picture”

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Teens and Screens June 22 art

We have all done it… used the latest filters to “perfect” or fix our photos.  It seems innocent enough.  A quick swipe and our faces are flawlessly “fixed”, and for many of us, the filters also remove a few years in the process.  The reality is that our young children, and teens, are watching.  Additionally, even at a young age, we “pose” them to achieve the “perfect” angle.  Or the perfect shot.  Sometimes it may take 50 pictures to get “the one”.  I have been guilty of this in the past.  However, it begs the question: What are we TEACHING our children?

Parents are influencers. We are influencers of our children.  What are we teaching them by asking them to pose 25 times for the right shot?  Are we teaching them they cannot be themselves?  That they must always be presented perfectly?  When they get their own social media, this may lead to them feeling they can only share the perfectly angled selfie every time.

The reality is, who doesn’t love a good selfie?  Who doesn’t love a nice picture that we feel proud of. Even so, it feels like the era of selfies and picture sharing has exploded.  In 2019, Android reported that its users take 93 MILLION selfies a DAY.  This does not include iPhone data.  Those numbers combined are staggering. 

About a third of parents with children ages 7-9 reported that their kids use social media apps via phones or tablets, according to the 2021 C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll in Health.  About half the parents with children ages 10-12 reported the same, and the numbers increase as the child’s age increases.  This means our kids, at young ages, have easy access to social media and devices where they can post selfies.

Kids love to imitate what they see.  If they are being taught from a young age to pose for the perfect picture, or if they grow up seeing this exhibited through parent’s behavior, they begin to imitate that behavior.  While we want this to be harmless, it actually can lead to some confusion among our youth.  They can begin to wonder if the “real” version of themselves is good enough.  They wonder if they should only post the “filtered” or “perfectly posed” version of themselves.  We see this among our daughters especially.  Research is constantly pointing us in the direction of increasing body image issues among young girls, and at an alarming rate.  Constant filtered or forced posing creates a situation where girls can no longer see the “real” version of themselves as being enough. 

So what can we do to protect our kids?  One, ask their permission before you ever post a picture of them.  This is so important.  Kids tell me at every conference how much they hate when parents post pictures of them without their permission.  It is one of their number one complaints.  Two, model good behavior.  Chat with your kids about why it is not important to always have the perfect picture.  If they agree, taking a few quick shots without a lot of posing, might be enough.  Also, be careful of your own personal filter use because, again, they are watching.  Three, discuss with them that what they see online are simply quick photos or videos, a few seconds out of someone’s 24-hour day.  What they see online never presents the “real picture” of the rest of that person’s day.  Help them to understand that we are all human, we all have bad days, and that the “real” version is always better than a filtered one.

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Kristi Bush serves as a national education consultant and social media safety advocate. She is a licensed social worker with greater than 15 years of clinical practice and health care experience. She attended Troy and Auburn University where she studied social work and counseling. Kristi travels nationally and has spoken with thousands of children, parents, professionals and organizations about the benefits and threats associated with social media. You may reach Kristi through her website at www.knbcommunications.com.

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