Selfies, Students & Mental Health

Danny Bowman attempted to kill himself

…because he couldn’t capture the perfect selfie. But his case is extreme, right? What about the average student who posts a new selfie a few times a week? How harmful can that be? More than you think. Here is what some recent research is saying and what you can do about it.

How Selfies Can Harm Students

According to psychiatrist Dr. David Veal, seflies are more dangerous than you think …He says, “Two out of three of all the patients who come to see me with Body Dysmorphic Disorder since the rise of camera phones have a compulsion to repeatedly take selfies.”

“Compulsive behavior in teens can be very serious. When the compulsion is likes it can have even more serious consequences.  Psychology Today says, “A study appearing in Personality and Individual Differences examined the relationship between selfie-posting, photo-editing and personality. Are people who post selfies on social media sites narcissistic and psychopathic, or self-objectifying, or both?”

The results showed that both narcissism (unhealthy obsession with self) and self-objectification (seeing yourself as an object) were associated with spending more time on social networking sites, and with more photo-editing. Posting numerous selfies was related to both higher narcissism and psychopathy, controlling for the overall number of other types of photos posted.

The conclusion? “Increased frequency of sharing photographs of the self, regardless of the type of target sharing the photographs, is related to a decrease in intimacy” in personal relationships, wrote the authors.

Why is this a Problem ?

Students are already self-conscious. They are looking for affirmation wherever they can get it. Looking for it on social networking sites can be disappointing and unhealthy. This is because they assume personal value can be measured in ‘likes.’ So what happens when there aren’t enough likes? What happens when students receive insulting comments?

Their developing self concept can suffer greatly. From another point of view, what if they receive lots of ‘likes.’ Is this a healthy source of affirmation? (please see what I wrote about what likes mean to teens.) Also, how many likes will be enough? What if the likes and positive comments die off? What lengths will they go to get them back?

“They’re Only Looking for Attention”

This is what some youth workers or parents have said to me. My instead reaction is, why are we making them beg? Can we find ways to provide students with affirmation love and attention with waiting for them to post a picture or worse before they act out in risky behavior?

What do we say?

If a student is posting way too many selfies it is awkward to bring up the subject. The last thing we want to do is make a student feel judged. This will not be helpful. Opening up a discussion about how they feel about themselves may be more beneficial.

We need to communicate concern and try to redirect behavior in a healthier direction. If the student is obsessing over this with multiple posts to Instagram or Face Book everyday it may be necessary to speak with the parents and possibly refer the student to a trusted counselor.

Share this:

Ron Powell


Ron Powell is the Adviser to the Director of the Youth Ministry Institute at Vanguard College. He has been involved in youth ministry for over 30 years. He continues to volunteer, write, teach, and speak to parents, leaders and teens. If you would like to contact him you can email