I was recently sitting in a Senior homeroom classroom where students were doing study hall. A few seniors had completed their work for the week, so they were doing some craft projects off to the side. Two seniors in particular were working independently on their projects and then all of a sudden, without any communication between them, one took out their phone and they posed for a selfie together.
“Ew, I look so weird!”
“No, you don’t, I look bad.”
They chatted for a few more seconds, giggled, and then went back to doing their project.
Looking back now, I wish I had asked them about why and how this selfie happened. From my point of view, it was like they used telepathy. It was as if their internal clocks told them it was time to take a photo to document their afternoon.
This made me think about how the current generation of teenagers is the most photographed generation. They only know a world with digital cameras and cameras on their phones. They grew up with selfies being the norm and they have thousands of photos in their pockets of themselves, recording everyday of their lives.
I want to pause this thought for a moment, to go back to the dialogue the two students had after taking the photo. In my experience, teen girls criticize themselves in photos after taking a selfie more often than they say “what an awesome photo, I am beautiful.” I am speculating this may be for many reasons. One, girls are socialized to be modest and humble. They don’t want to be seen as cocky or full of themselves if they are pleased with their appearance. Two, it is hard to give yourself a compliment, something we all need to work on. And three, cutting yourself down is a way to seek attention from others. All of these things are incredibly disheartening and detrimental to anyone’s confidence, especially a teenage girl. Self criticism builds up over time because words become beliefs.
At school, I take many photos of students to help document the school year. I am making a conscious effort to say something positive after every photo I snap for yearbook or social media, without mentioning physical appearance. “You look like you are having so much fun” or “Thanks for sharing your friendship with me” are my go to comments, but I am also taking this a step further. Students usually ask me to see the photo themselves and when I say yes, I give the caveat that they can only say positive things about themselves in the photo.
‘Ugh, Coach!” they exclaim with an eye roll.
I smile and laugh, and then hand the group of students my phone, so they look at the photo. They don’t love it when I turn everything into a personal growth and self love moment, but my hope is that someday they will look back and understand that I take building teen girl’s confidence seriously. It is for their benefit.
At first the compliments to themselves come out as questions like “My hair looks nice?” or sometimes they use a sarcastic tone in their voice. I use this as a reminder to be kind and speak about themselves the way they would to their best friend.
Only time will tell what the effects of this generation seeing themselves on screen and in so many photos will be. The habit of self criticism in photos can be detrimental. We have to work together to help build a teenager’s positive self image. I encourage parents and educators to join me in prompting teens to notice and comment on the positive things they see about themselves in photos. My hope is that we can turn all these photos into confidence boosters and self assurance raisers.