Selfies can affect a teenager’s self-esteem and mental health, and cause a preoccupation with “likes.” Healthy habits, including limiting screen time and promoting authenticity, may help to reduce the risk of negative health consequences.

Teenagers may take selfies as a form of entertainment, to document events in their lives, or to put on social media.

Parents and caregivers should be aware of the potential negative influences teens may face exposure to and help guide them on safely using selfies and social media for positive outcomes.

This article explores how taking selfies may affect teenager’s overall health and mental health. It also discusses healthy habits teens can form on social media with selfies and tips for talking about selfies with teens.

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Social media has transformed how today’s teens interact with each other and the world. According to the U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory, 95% of teens ages 13–17 use social media and 1 in 3 teens say they use social media “almost constantly.”

While there is still much to learn, it is clear that many young people are using selfies to post on social media.

Filters and altering appearances

One potentially concerning aspect of selfies is filters that can dramatically change a person’s appearance. While some filters are entertaining and creative, others can distort reality and contribute to unrealistic beauty standards.

Viewing edited photos while scrolling on social media can cause teens to have negative feelings and insecurities about their own appearance.

According to a 2022 review, 28% of girls ages 8–18 admit to enhancing their photos to appear more attractive before posting them online.

Preoccupation with “likes” and validation

Research in a 2019 narrative review indicates that when teens post selfies and get “likes,” they feel social acceptance and higher levels of confidence. A lack of “likes” can lead to feelings of unacceptance.

However, according to the same review, many teens are critical of people who post selfies solely to seek praise or validation from others.

This puts many adolescents in a tough spot, as they seek acceptance by their peers through “likes” but do not want to appear overly desperate for validation.

Dangerous trends and potentially harmful content

Adolescents ages 10–19 are in a critical stage of life when identities and self-worth are forming. During this time, a teen is more susceptible to peer pressure and opinions, which may push them into harmful situations they would otherwise avoid.

Trends and challenges on social media often revolve around taking selfies, some of which encourage dangerous behaviors.

“Picture me drinking” is one such trend that encourages posts incorporating alcohol. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also warns of challenges that misuse medications.

Cyberbullying is another concern on social media. This type of bullying can happen at any time or location and may increase someone’s risk of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation.

Suicide prevention

If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:

  • Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
  • Listen to the person without judgment.
  • Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
  • Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
  • Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects if it’s safe to do so.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 988. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can use their preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988.

Find more links and local resources.

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Irreversible online content

Some teens may not realize the permanence of selfies and other content they post online. Even on social media, where images “disappear.”

Once an image is online, it is challenging to control who sees it, copies it, or shares it. This may expose teens to potential risks, such as cyberbullying or unwanted attention from strangers.

A 2022 scoping review examined 68 studies investigating the effect of social media on adolescents. The most frequent mental health issues they identified included depression, anxiety, and addiction.

This comprehensive analysis also determined a range of other concerns, including:

  • sleep disturbances
  • dietary and nutritional issues
  • behavioral challenges
  • sexual content exposure
  • distorted body image perceptions
  • instances of cyberbullying
  • decreased physical activity
  • vision issues
  • headaches
  • dental cavities

Here are several ways teens can develop healthier habits around social media when taking and posting selfies:

  • Limit screen time: Reducing time on social media — for instance, to 30 minutes per day — may help teens establish a healthy online and offline balance.
  • Develop protective strategies: Learn how to block unwanted contact and keep personal information safe online.
  • Share information cautiously: Be mindful about sharing personal information and appropriate images online.
  • Promote authenticity: Teens can be themselves online and embrace their imperfections.
  • Seek help: If social media is negatively affecting a teen, contacting a trusted adult is critical. People can also call 988 for immediate help from the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.
  • Protect from cyberbullying: Teens must not keep online harassment or bullying a secret but should contact a trusted adult for help.

Parents and caregivers play an important role in helping teens stay safe while using social media and posting selfies. Here are some tips on how to talk with teens on this topic.

  • Listen actively: Let teens express their thoughts and feelings about selfies and social media. Listen without judgment and validate their feelings.
  • Discuss the dangers of social media: Talk with teens about the potential risks around selfies and social media. Give them information on how to stay safe while online.
  • Set online boundaries together: Discuss boundaries regarding screen time, privacy settings, and posting frequency.
  • Lead by example: Demonstrate healthy social media and selfie behavior by modeling appropriate behaviors with social media, such as posting positive selfies and having a healthy online-offline balance.

While selfies may seem harmless enough, and many times they are, they can have negative consequences for teens in combination with social media. These can include diminished self-esteem, distorted body image, and behavior that may have harmful effects.

Parents and caregivers should understand these possible influences and guide teens toward using selfies and social media safely.

Reducing time on social media, promoting authenticity, and learning how to stay safe online can help reduce the risk of mental health consequences.