What We Teach Our Kids When We Take Selfies

Avara Arden cropJoanna Schroeder explains how the selfies parents take today can affect their child’s future (in a good way). 

I’ve read a lot of articles lately complaining about seflies—you know, the photos we take of ourselves with our cell phones. Some try to claim that selfies are a sign of narcissistic tendencies, and one hoax even claimed that selfies are now listed as a mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association, but we know that’s complete bunk.

Why are we so bothered by selfies? I understand criticism for the most insensitive selfies: Your face in the foreground as someone is threatening to jump off a bridge, or smiling in the middle of Auschwitz. That’s gross, don’t do that. But why do we think it’s our business how often people turn cameras on themselves and wink?

Personally, I’m a huge fan of selfies. I like taking them, and I like seeing others’ selfies. But beyond fun, I think there is something of very deep value in selfies when it comes to parenting.

Stella and Lamont

Stella and Lamont

A few years ago a gorgeous, vulnerable essay called The Mom Stays in the Picture was published by Huffington Post, eliciting tears from many parents and grandparents. The mom, Allison Tate, admitted to feeling like she wasn’t fit enough, or dressed up enough, or was otherwise not good enough to appear in her family photos.

I avoid photographic evidence of my existence these days. To be honest, I avoid even mirrors. When I see myself in pictures, it makes me wince. I know I am far from alone; I know that many of my friends also avoid the camera.

It seems logical. We’re sporting mama bodies and we’re not as young as we used to be. We don’t always have time to blow dry our hair, apply make-up, perhaps even bathe (ducking). The kids are so much cuter than we are; better to just take their pictures, we think.

This essay made me cry. Not just because I will admit to deleting the worst photos of myself, but because I relate to the profound shame I have felt when seeing photos of my post-babies self.

After I read it, I resolved to stay in the picture, too. Especially since I have so few photos of my mom from when we were little (and not a single one of my mom when she was pregnant) and even less of my grandparents. The photos I do have of them, I treasure.

My grandmother, Betty. Not a selfie.

My grandmother, Betty, as a young mom. Not a selfie.

I want my kids to see their lives documented with their dad and me alongside them. I want them to learn that we, as their parents, see ourselves as good enough to star alongside them in the photographic records of their lives.


That’s why selfies are one of the best things to happen to this generation of families.

Selfies help us remember a moment, exactly how it happened. They allow us to document how we felt, right then and there. Once, after a huge storm, my family and I went to a nearby beach to see how the sand had washed away, revealing huge piles of rocks and sea glass. The stones were warm from the sun, so my youngest and I decided to lie across them. It was surprisingly comfortable, and the hot rocks made us feel like we were floating.

I took a selfie of us snuggled up.

Bo and me

It might seem obnoxious to stop the moment to take a selfie, but it was a beautiful, peaceful moment and the photo I got as a result reflected exactly how we felt.

But it’s not just the beautiful moments that deserve documenting, but also the hard ones. The everyday type of hard, like this one of Avara Capen and her baby, Arden, when he was teething.

Avara and Arden... who is teething.

“This is us. Frozen washcloths all daynightday long. Two teeth down how many to go???”

Avara explained, “Nothing moves me more than seeing a photo of someone going through what I’m going through. Or have been through. If someone can take comfort in what I post then perhaps they’ll know they’re not alone, and there’s just nothing better than that. It truly does take a village. And since I don’t have a village, in some ways, Instagram has become just that.”


Selfies also help us document the exceptionally hard types of hard times. Kyrsha Wildasin’s incredible son, Logan, has been battling Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, which causes an overproduction of white blood cells in bone marrow, since 2009. Along the way, in all the happy times, and some of the hard, they’ve documented moments with some amazing mother-son selfies and home-made videos.

Kyrsha and Logan after a color run.

Kyrsha and Logan after a color run.

Kyrsha explains:

Since Logan and I spend so much time together, we are just getting it done, so to speak. We take selfies so we can share our lives, and we are experiencing and documenting our own moment, so it’s more intimate. The only energy is of the people in the photo.

Kyrsha and Logan

Learn more about Logan’s life and battle against cancer at The Young and the Brave. Kyrsha’s tattoo reads: “And she loved a little boy very very much even more than she loved herself.”

Some of my favorite selfies to appear in my timeline are of families jammed into the car on road trips. Where are they going? Why? Sometimes the occasions are happy, sometimes they’re solemn. But seeing a family in those moments brings me incredible joy.


Qasim Rashid and his two sons.

Qasim notes on the photo: “The Rashid boys trio are almost at Jalsa Salana USA 2014 in Harrisburg Pennsylvania!  Started in 1948, the Jalsa is the nations oldest Muslim-American peace conference!”

Another parent, Charlie Capen (yeah, he’s the husband of the beautiful mama with the teething baby up above), is doing a whole series of photos on Instagram as a way to keep a dynamic, living history for his sons. Charlie combines family photos and videos with selfies to illustrate the stories he tells the boys—about his hopes and dreams for them, about his own father, and even about the time he met and fell in love with Avara.

And some silly stuff, too. Like this:

To my sons, Parenting: it's basically this. Every day.

“To my sons, Parenting: it’s basically this. Every day.”

Of course, there’s also value to parents in taking selfies without our kids. As parents, we often fall into the background of life. We shuttle the kids back and forth from school and games, we rush home from work to do homework with them or tuck them in, sometimes we forget to eat because we’re trying to get all their needs met.

Marta, GG and Mimi

Marta, Greta and Miranda

We need to document who we are in these years, too. Sometimes I document how tired I am, or maybe how many freckles I got at the beach, or a day when I might look especially cute. Yes, I’m a married mom and I sometimes feel cute enough to take a photo. I hope when my kids grow up, they can look at that photo and say, “Yeah, that’s my mom. That’s how I remember her.”

It’s also a way for parents to document their own relationship—the everyday moments and the exceptional ones.

My husband photobombing my selfie.

My husband photobombing my selfie.

Yes, parents, you deserve to have your photo taken. As Allison Tate taught us in her HuffPost piece, we are the most important people to your kids, and they deserve to see us in a lot of photos for years to come.

We get to write your own family’s history, and illustrate it with photos.


More selfies of my friends that I treasure, and the moments they capture:

 The day everyone grew a mustache… even the baby:

Amanda, Ian and Mason's family selfie. They always look like that, I swear.

Amanda, Ian and Mason’s family selfie.


A mommy-daughter moment:

Hope and

Hope and Christina

A family day out with daddy and papa:

Brent, Nicholas and JJ

Brent, Nicholas and JJ

Teaching your daughter about her civic duties: 

D and Roux selfie

Dominique and Roux voted!   –  Check out Dominique’s amazing Instagram feed, too.

Remembering a day of fun in the middle of a busy life:

Kate, Adam and Chloe

Kate, Adam and Chloe

Father-son moment before the 5th grade dance:

Whit Honea and his son Atticus. Check out Whit's book!

Whit Honea and his son Atticus. Check out Whit’s book!

Showing that Daddy loves you so much he’ll even sacrifice sleep:

David and Zoe: "Like Father, like Daughter; We're both too tired to crack a smile."

David and Zoe: “Like Father, like Daughter; We’re both too tired to crack a smile.”

About Joanna Schroeder

Joanna Schroeder is a feminist writer and editor with a special focus in issues facing raising boys and gender in the media. Her work has appeared on Redbook, Yahoo!, xoJane, MariaShriver.com, TIME.com, and more. She and her husband are outdoor sports enthusiasts raising very active sons. She is currently co-editing a book of essays for boys and young men with author and advocate Jeff Perera. Follow her shenanigans on Twitter.


  1. wellokaythen says:

    As a middle child, I also have to point out that the whole “I need a lots of pictures of me and the baby” is way more common with the first kid. Every kid after that usually gets fewer and fewer photos. I can practically guarantee you that, if the Facebook account has a kid in every picture, that kid is an only child. It’s the “little emperor syndrome” like we see in China today with the one-child policy.

  2. wellokaythen says:

    I’m not a parent, which means I’m an outsider to this subject, so you can think of my concern more as a curiosity. Like one of those “I can’t help but notice that….”

    What disconcerts me and worries me is how many parents, especially mothers, use photos of their children as their own thumbnail portraits. Or feel compelled to have a “family shot” stand in for one’s own “individual shot.” If Jane Smith has a kid, then Jane Smith’s Facebook photo goes from being a photo of just her to being a photo of her and her kid. Or maybe even just a photo of the kid and not her at all. It’s like she now fails to exist as an individual anymore and has no more individual identity. Scary stuff from where I’m sitting, and this has got to be a subject for feminist critique.

    To those of us without kids, this is a very disturbing phenomenon when we see our friends turn into something completely subsumed by having children.

    It’s ridiculously easy to start a new Facebook account. Why not keep your individual account and make a new one for the family? Or, why not keep your individual portrait and then just add photos of your family underneath? Would that make you look like a bad parent if you didn’t change your thumbnail?

  3. There is a difference between wishing you had more photos of your parents from a time when not that many photos were taken, to the onslaught of never ceasing pictures people take of themselves defined as “selfies”. “Selfies” are actually not anything new. But it’s the term itself that grates on me. Everything is “Iphone”, “imattress”…”i-this” and “i-that”..now we have “selfies”. It’s Me, me, me.

    There has to be a balance in the middle. Pictures are great. But how many pictures of yourself do you really need? And why must we give it such a shamelessly self-plugging, self-absorbed name. How much of your life really needs to be documented? How many pictures do you really need? Pictures of you with the people you care about together are great. How much people are doing it is out of control. Especially when people are falling off buildings, getting attacked by zoo animals and making Tour De France bike riders fall off their bike just so they can get “their” “selfie”.

    • wellokaythen says:

      I agree. It’s out of control. Eventually, if this hasn’t happened already, a driver taking a selfie will run over a pedestrian taking a selfie, witnessed by a third party taking a selfie, and we can reconstruct the scene using only selfies. No one will watch where they’re going, but everything will be accidentally documented.

    • Back in the day, it was called a “self-portrait.” It was not possible to take “selfies” until iPhones, (the trailblazers of the medium) were invented. Cameras never had the short focal rage that modern phones do. So it’s not they your parents were lazy or dumb, they simply did not have the tools. The medium is the message.

  4. I really wish that my mother had taken more photos of her with me, and my siblings. There are some, but not many, especially when we were little.

    I love taking selfies with my kids, in fact, they are so used to it, they start hamming it up as soon as they see themselves on the phone camera 🙂

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      Me too, Alison. I’d love to have seen my mom when she was pregnant, in particular. She says she was giant, I sort of don’t believe her 😉

      I’m glad you’re taking lots of photos!

  5. #l_love_my_selfie is a hash tag I started posting to in response to these types of negative statements towards selfies Tell me, who do you love? To avoid sounding selfish (such bad thing, eh?), we say mom, dad, our spouse, God. Why can’t we say “me”? Why not?

    Believe it or not, you are the most is interesting person on the planet. You are also the most important. And you should be, and I don’t mean in a bad way. You should study and know yourself. Show the world your self. This is healthy. What is sick is the self shamed that is metted out all day, every day, about how we cannot be in love with who we are. Self-love is good. Narcism is not about loving yourself, its about getting your own way. If you were the center of the universe, there would be no need to push and shove. If you knew that were so, and it is anyway, would you not be more mindful in what you say, do and think?

    I love myself and it was a long journey. To truly love yourself, you have to discover who you are. Take a few selfies just to start

    Just my two cents.

  6. Thank you for the shout out to my essay. I will admit that I am ambivalent about selfies, but you make a good case — and I do take way more of them now (though I rarely post them)!

    Allison (“The Mom Stays in the Picture”)

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      Allison, I’m so excited and grateful you came over to read this and share your thoughts!!

      Your essay literally changed women’s lives and perspectives – that must be an amazing feeling. I’m glad you’re taking some selfies!!

  7. Thanks for writing this Joanna. There’a lot of great insight into familial communication styles embedded right onto people’s selfless — you have helped me like them more!

  8. Hi Joanna,

    I am hoping to set up a phone interview with you for tomorrow (Tuesday, August 19) on the “Tencer & Grose Show,” airing on 630 CHED in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. We’re a current affairs, talk radio program and would love to hear more about your theory on selfies.

    If possible, I would like to book this for 8:35 a.m. PDT, 9:35 a.m. PDT or 10:35 a.m. PDT.

    You can reach me at kelsey.wingerak@corusent.com.

    Thanks Joanna,


  9. Joanna Schroeder says:

    Every time I look at this I love the lead photo more and more – baby Arden gives some seriously powerful side-eye!!

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