While I was working on the high school brain post, a lot of information surfaced on the topic of digital self image and led to a second post…
The internet is a strange, strange place. Toddlers and cats can become celebrities. Google, Amazon, and Netflix have made instant gratification a click away. Worth is assessed by friends and followers. And then there are selfies. The word selfie now appears in Merriam-Webster defined as “an image of oneself taken by oneself using a digital camera especially for posting on social networks,” and they are all over the place. Go onto most Facebook or Instagram profiles, and you will almost surely be bombarded with these pictures. Now, selfies seem like relatively harmless fun– to the point that many ministers and politicians will work taking a selfie into a public address (and if you don’t believe me, google “graduation selfie”). But there is a dark side to this phenomenon, and that’s what I hope to address in this post.
Self-promotion is nothing new in our society, but the selfie introduces an element of competition: a way to measure the success of your self-promotion instantly and effortlessly through likes, favorites, and follows (and, by proxy, a way to measure yourself). I will never forget a conversation with one of our youth who was disheartened because his photos on Instagram were getting fewer favorites than a middle school girl’s constant selfies. It might sound petty at first hearing, but this problem in the digital world was eroding this youth’s self-esteem in the physical world. The selfies our youth post online are a sort of idealized self, and how that self-image is received can be every bit as hurtful as an in-person rejection.
So here’s a thought: encourage your kids to put the camera down and pursue social interactions that aren’t so easily quantifiable. Encourage them not to focus so much on promoting the digital self and to work instead on bettering the more tangible self. Instead of building up hundreds of followers, have them work on cultivating a few close friendships. And especially, remind them that real value is found in Christ. It may be tougher to measure that sort of development, but in the long run, it will produce far more fruit. I know it’s tempting to indulge the digital insecurity that’s eating at them and just go with the flow, but Colossians sheds a little light on this sort of behavior:
So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. (Colossians 2:6-8)
And that same passage puts it simply in v.17: reality is found in Christ. Let’s never forget that simple truth… especially when our youth start reaching for their cameras.
Grace and Peace,