The selfie, for those of you living under a rock, is a photo of yourself, taken by yourself, by holding your phone out in your outstretched arm, pointing it at your own face, and snapping away. You then post it on your Facebook or on your Twitter for all the world to see and admire.
Let me pick out the key words of that, creating both a brief summary and a surprisingly illustrative poem:
Your, your, your.
It’s fun to shoot and post selfies. I’ve been known to do it myself.
The message here is “look at me, and look at this cool thing I’m doing”. And, of course, the selfie spawns competition. Now it’s your turn to do something cool. Not only to do something cool, but take a picture of yourself doing it to show me, so I know you’ve done something cool. Maybe even something cooler than what I did. It’s not the doing of the cool that’s the point of a selfie. It’s the proving and the showing and the winning.
I did this, look at me. I win.
What’s a selfie parent? A parent whose main goal is to demonstrate how good they are. Now, pride in what your kids do has always been a side benefit of being a parent. They grow and they learn and they do great things, and there’s a glowing feeling you’ll get inside as a parent when your kids do something that makes you proud. No one can, or should, take that away. Being a parent is a lot of work, and we deserve some perks.
But the line is crossed when the goal of parenting becomes the parenting rather than the child — especially parenting that gets competitive and driven by one-upmanship. Examples:
Competitive food preparation. Yes, I get it, your child only eats organic gluten free spelt and raw vegan monk-raised acai via BPA-free pouches. That’s fine, but really what your child eats or doesn’t eat isn’t something to brag about.
Putting your vaccine fears ahead of the health of your child. I know, Facebook and LyingDoctorScumbags.com have you worried — after all, everything you read online is true, we all know that. So random unverifiable claims on the internet that vaccines will maim your child have snuck into that primitive, subconscious part of your brain. The same part that made you afraid of the boogeyman and afraid of the shadows under your bed. The fear you feel is real (though, sadly, completely unnecessary — but tell that to the boogeyman.) Still, it’s time to put your child’s health and needs first. Your fear will not protect your child from pertussis, measles, or throat cancer. Vaccines will.
Mom shaming. Natural childbirth is great, if that’s what you want; but it’s not a competition to see who can go the longest without medications. Whether you have your child at home in a fur lined tub of Evian or in a hospital or even by (gasp!) C-section, in the long run it will make little difference to your child. Likewise, breastfeeding isn’t something to do or not do because your Facebook friends expect it. Parenting is really, really hard. It’s cruel to add the stress of missing expectations and society’s shame for not meeting some kind of magical ideal.
Relentless overscheduling. Yes, kids have fun with karate and ballet lessons and football and violin and robotics club and swim team. But how much of that is being driven by parents? Do kids really need to “do something” every day, something competitive, something they can win, something parents can brag about?
Raising children isn’t about you. It’s about them, and providing what they need as individuals to grow and blossom. There will be times to brag, and times to post what they’ve been up to on Facebook. But think about what your children are doing, and why they’re doing it. Is it what they need, or what you need? Take selfies of yourself, if you want—but don’t turn your children into your own selfies. It’s not all about you.
Roy Benaroch is a pediatrician who blogs at the Pediatric Insider. He is also the author of A Guide to Getting the Best Health Care for Your Child and the creator of The Great Courses’ Medical School for Everyone: Grand Rounds Cases.
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