If you search the terms “social media” & “narcissism”, you’ll get page after page of content reflecting studies on how the Internet is increasing our need for self-promotion. The rise of narcissism among millennials, dubbed “Generation Me” by Professor Jean M. Twenge in 2007, includes humans born from the 1980s-90s. Twenge explains in her most recent work, The Narcissistic Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement: “In data from 37,000 college students, narcissistic personality traits rose just as fast as obesity from the 1980s to the present.”
Now, whether this epidemic is as dangerous for our long-term health as obesity may be hard to nail down, the behavioral traits which form around our everyday interactions with social media are surely being modeled for our youth. I’ve discussed negative effects of social media before, how it creates unhealthy competition and allows us to value our self-worth by how many “likes” we get. So you looking at that photo after you snap it is probably to make sure you look (tan, thin, wide-eyed, happy) enough before you post it for the world to see. But Internet savvy “Generation Me” is now at the age where their children are not only watching everything they do, but also getting caught up in the mix. Did you grow up asking to look at the picture on your smart phone after you take it? No, because it wasn’t an option. But I see little ones everyday who take a picture and ask, “can I see!?” And It’s usually not to check that their eyes are open, or their love handles aren’t showing, it’s just what they’ve seen everyone else do.
Scroll through your Facebook feed, and if you’re in your 20s-30s, guaranteed you’ll see photo after photo of a “friends” kiddo. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love seeing all my friends kids, but the pictures aren’t the real problem here (although, I’d prefer not to see your child on the toilet, or in the bathtub…I mean some things should just be private, right?!?). The captions and what we’re attributing various behaviors, choices, and/or tantrums to may be where we should stop and think.
Is your 2 month old really “sassy” or does she just have gas? Is your 3 month old holding a stuffed football going to be the next Peyton Manning, or is that the only toy you gave him to take that picture? The reality is, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter haven’t been around long enough to determine what long-term effects these forums may have on these children once they reach adulthood. Would you take Hillary Clinton seriously if you could pull up a picture of her first poo-poo in the toilet from Facebook come Election Day?
Children do start to form their identities early, and yes, maybe your 2 month old is a bit sassy, but the question still comes to mind: are we nurturing what’s there or crafting it ourselves? Do our kids decided they want to continue dance class because that picture of them in their tutu that their mom posted got over 200 likes, or because she really likes it? Of course parents’ choices, or the things they expose them to influence children’s preferences. But is the collective opinion of the Internet shaping the adult identity of your child? Think before you post! (But keep the cute pictures coming!)