Forget the measles and chikungunya. If you've perused the Children's Medical Center website in the last few weeks, you know that there's another, more troubling outbreak threatening to undo us all: selfies.
The hospital has devoted itself of late to the psychology of selfies. Doctors there are worried about their effect on narcissism, social relationships, and poor body image that can be related to kids taking selfies.
"It's definitely something that is very widespread among the adolescents we see," says Dr. Celia Heppner, a psychologist in the craniofacial plastic surgery division at the Children's Medical Center. "In terms of my patients, there are specific concerns of body image, things like that."
Dr. Alexis Clyde, a psychologist at Children's who also worked on the series, says selfies can be a healthy form of communication. "The other day when I was on the news I definitely took a selfie," she says. "And when I'm on vacation with my husband I take selfies. Selfies can be fun."
Dr. Nicholar Wester offered some particularly wise parental advice in his selfie-steem article:
Parents should talk to their teens about these risks and agree upon what is OK to share. For example, is it OK for your son to post selfies shirtless or your daughter to post selfies in her bikini, in the bathroom or in the bedroom?
Validate and acknowledge how a good selfie might make them feel good, and reassure them that they are loved regardless of whether it is the world's best (or worst) selfie. After all, a selfie is just a snapshot, not a depiction of the whole person.
Let them know that when they need a quick pick-me-up that you are available to talk (be sure to follow through), and encourage them to chat with you before impulsively taking a selfie that could haunt them later.
If some parents wouldn't love their kid after they post the world's worst selfie, Dr. Celia Heppner says most parents just don't understand their kids desire for selfie-spression. "I think a lot times for parents it's something that's new to them or foreign. It's the first time that self expression is available through this medium, and so that's the thing that often throws parents for a loop."
Heppner helped author the series of selfie posts, but she admits the selfie series was also a PR move based on the popularity of the subject. (Sort of a selfie in blog form, if you will.) Despite this, Heppner says it's an important, under-researched issue to address.
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"Based on what we know about adolescent development, taking selfies is an understandable behavior in terms of what's available in instant self promotion. Do I think this is something that's normal? Absolutely," says Heppner. "On the other hand even if developmentally it's normal, for parents it's scary to see kids posting pictures of themselves and not having a whole lot of control over that."