Are Teen Selfies Worse Than Text Messages?

snapchat-porn-spamSelfies, typically self-photos taken with a digital camera or cell phone, are now the preferred form of self-expression for many teens. According to research compiled by Benedict Evans (h/t to Launch) as reported by the companies themselves, here are the latest numbers on daily photos shared:

Facebook and Instagram are true networks – they are set up so that something you share is generally shared with all of your followers/friends (Facebook does have a messaging function, Instagram does not). Snapchat and WhatsApp are not social networks at all, although they do allow group messaging. Because they are not networks, and their primary function is messaging, by sending a picture message on either you are actually doing something that would likely have been done by text message a few years ago.

Sending a picture of you at the mall is not necessarily “worse” than texting a note saying you’re at the mall, but there are three important distinctions, especially from the point of view of a teen, or the parent of a teen that has taken to picture messaging.

First, picture messaging puts a focus on not only what you have to say but also how you look. For the most beautiful among us, this is not a problem. For a teen with low self esteem or less than stellar looks, this can add a social stigma to the simple act of sending a message or participating in a conversation, in an era where teens don’t need to be under extra pressure. If the photos are shared, they also leave the sender open to cyberbullying.

instragram-thirdparentSecond, the risk is elevated if you send something you shouldn’t. Texting “I’m at a party. You should come.” is no big deal for a teen. Sending a picture of yourself at a party that includes pictures of alcohol or drugs could get you into hot water if it is shared or posted to the internet by the recipient. The same goes for sexting.

Third, photos can disclose information about the sender’s location. Depending on the settings of your phone or the messaging app itself, there may be Geolocation data attached to the photos that can reveal the exact location where it was taken. Again, if that photo is shared, you could be disclosing exactly where you live.

You’ve probably heard of Instagram and Snapchat. Never heard of WhatsApp? How about Kik, Line or WeChat? If you haven’t, you’re not alone. New messaging apps pop up all the time, and most are free to download. It’s impossible for parents to keep track of all of them, or know which one your teen will use tomorrow. It is, however, important to keep on top of what how your teens are using messaging apps, and establish some guidelines.

Thinking about forbidding their use? We’re not naïve enough to think that we, or parents, can get teens with smartphones to quit sending selfies altogether. Rather, we encourage parents to review the risks with their teen and have a plan for responsible use.


Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.

Follow us on Twitter or Facebook for more news and information on keeping your teens safe online. You can sign up for our weekly newsletter on the right.

Leave a Reply