March 20, 2015

Catholic Education Outreach / Scott Williams

The selfie generation

About four years ago, I was sitting in a youth group meeting giving a presentation when I caught a glimpse of a young high school girl staring at her phone with crossed eyes, head tilted to one side, and her lips pressed together as if she was blowing a kiss. Needless to say, I was speechless.

I approached her after my presentation, and asked her if she was OK. I was concerned. She informed me that she was fine, and she was just taking a selfie (a photograph of herself). That day, I learned more about teenage culture than I had ever thought I needed to know, but that was just the beginning.

Over the past five years, working with young people in the Church, I have had the opportunity to meet some amazing young people who are witnesses to Christ, and journeyed with them in their faith. It has truly been a humbling experience which I cherish and thank God for every day.

When I encounter and talk with these teens, the following recurring issues come up in conversation: struggles with bullying, self-esteem, body image, fitting in, relationships, stress, substance abuse, sex and family.

Many adults tend to deflect the blame of these issues to the current culture. They offer comments such as, “Well, this is just the selfie generation,” alluding to the fact that the teens only care about themselves, and “social media is destroying our kids’ culture.”

While the accessibility of social media can be dangerous at times, we must embrace it as a reality in the youth culture by becoming well versed in the most recent trends to effectively communicate and relate with young people. This is how they communicate, and that isn’t going to change soon. However, that doesn’t mean we can sit back and just hope for the best. Instead, we must educate ourselves in the forms of social media now available.

If you think you are doing a good job monitoring your teen’s screen time by simply being their “friend” on Facebook, you are missing the boat. According to a recent study by, Instagram is the most popular social network for teens in the United States. Seventy-six percent of teens surveyed are active on Instagram, and only 45 percent on Facebook. New apps are created daily, and while some of them have potential to bear good fruit, others can lead teens in a negative way.

What do we do? Separate the goats from the sheep. In order to do so, you must be in the field. Am I suggesting that you go out and sign up for every social networking website and app there is? No.

What I am suggesting is to do your research. A simple Google search of apps and websites for parents to be aware of is a step in the right direction. Dialogue with your teens about the apps they have. Ask them what the apps do. Have them show you the steps of how they make a post. Ask them who can see what they write, or view the photos they post. These are important things to know.

Lastly, don’t forget to tell your kids, face to face, how much you love them. Let them know how precious they are to you and to God. Tell them about how much of a blessing they have been in your life. Tell your daughter how beautiful she is. Tell your son that he looks handsome.

Continue to remind them that they are made in the image and likeness of God, and he made them perfectly the way they are.

(Scott Williams is program coordinator of the archdiocesan Office of Youth Ministry. He can be reached at

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