The “selfie.” I have to admit how I’ve grown in disdain for the word. How many duck faces and fish lips can a person endure in one sitting? In many ways, I feel it’s a plague on social media I could certainly do without. Maybe it’s a generational thing and I’m out of touch? Maybe I’m a Debbie Downer that just needs to move along with the times? The discussion of selfies have invaded numerous conversations with me and my wife and the question it always leads to is what are we going to do when our kids are old enough to have a phone and be on social media? What will we teach them about etiquette and the dreaded selfie? My personal conviction is that selfies are okay, when used sparingly and with great moderation, e.g. in 1 out of every 500 posts you are allowed to publish a selfie.
In a general sense, I would concede that we ALL seek approval. We are social beings made in God’s image and made for relationships with others. God has wired us in a way that we need connection. We need other people. We want to be valued, appreciated, and included with the people that matter to us. In this sense, selfies are not ALL about seeking external validation.
And yet, I believe selfies are an accurate picture of our culture’s obsession with looks and narcissistic embrace. What’s more troubling is how the church is just as obsessed with this manifestation as the rest of the world. In a sense, a selfie is like staring into a mirror all day long and letting others see you do it.
At its core, an abundance of selfies is a search for the wrong kind of validation. It’s a validation that is reduced to a “like” through the platform, rather than a reminder of identify in the gospel. The opinion of others has been a part of identity progression for more than a century. In psychology, it’s identified as the “looking-glass self.” It suggests we develop our sense of self-worth on the perceptions of those we interact with. If people are pleasant and positive towards us, then we generally come out thinking likewise about ourselves. In the year 2014, we have the opportunity to interact with hundreds and thousands of people all at once through social media and have strengthened the impact that others have on our self-value. Before the days of social media, validation came in the form of a note you would write in junior high asking someone of the opposite sex to check yes or no a piece of paper as to whether or not they liked you. Times have certainly changed!
While I agree we develop our sense of self-worth on the perceptions of others, what psychologist and many believers fail to understand is that our self worth should be defined entirely on who the Scriptures say I am in Christ, rather than what others through Instagram say I am. In the end, believers who regularly post selfies, reveal a lack of understanding of their place in the union of Christ and rather demonstrate their pursuit of self-worth in the opinions of others. Being secure in Christ means I don’t have to seek out value from what other people think, but rather from what Christ has already accomplished in my place.
All this brings me back to my original question: what will I teach my kids about selfies, when they are of age? Who knows? By then social media will have changed and we will have moved on to the next greatest thing. However, in the mean time, no matter how the winds of social media evolve, Hailey and I will focus on teaching our kids about their identity in Christ and who He thinks they are and how much He values them. My prayer, is that I never have to have a conversation with my kids about selfies. My hope is that when they reach that age, they are secure with their position in Christ, to not need validation through a selfie on social media and have been affirmed regularly by their mom and dad to not seek out the affirmation of others in a way that maximizes themselves and minimizes the gospel. Here’s to a hope, prayer and commitment to that end.
***Overall, I’m not against social media. In fact, I embrace it. Sharing photos with close friends and family are one of the primary reasons I’m on Instagram, Twitter, and FB. It’s a great tool to stay connected with people you wouldn’t otherwise. To this end, social media has great value, but let’s guard against the over self indulgent.***