If the word 'selfie' is foreign to you, there's a good chance you don’t have a teenager living in your house.
Because if you do, this is one phenomenon you’ll be all-too familiar with.
For the uninitiated, the selfie is the self-portrait of the digital world… only instead of sketching your likeness in the mirror, you only have to pose and tap the screen on your smartphone.
These photos are easy, instant and can be shared with friends in less time than it takes to say “cheese”, making them the perfect time-killer for the modern, smartphone-wielding teenager. Sometimes they’re silly, other times cute, pensive or even intentionally ugly. But it’s the “sexy selfie” that has people talking right now.
Most recently, blogger Kimberly Hall caused a stir when she wrote a post condemning teenage girls for posting sexy selfies on social media for her young sons to see. "If you want to stay friendly with the Hall men, you’ll have to keep your clothes on, and your posts decent. If you try to post a sexy selfie ... you’ll be booted off our on-line island," she wrote.
In July a Year 11 student, Olympia Nelson, also tackled the topic in an op-ed for Fairfax. Nelson describes the “sexual rat race” flourishing on online social networks in the form of pouting mirror shots and “sexually suggestively posed” photos of teenagers - typically girls.
“Everyone likes receiving compliments and it makes us feel awesome that our own appearance can provide us with an ego boost. But what kind of photos produce an epidemic of “likes”? Nothing with too much creativity but hip, titty and kiss.”
She's talking about the sexy selfie. Characterised by a plumped pout (i.e. "duckface"), smouldering eye contact and sometimes a bare stomach or a hint of cleavage, the purpose of these snaps is clear - to look hot. Rihanna's a fan, Miley Cyrus loves a sexy pose - even Justin Bieber's guilty of the bedroom-eyed shirtless shot. And it's not only the confident, vivacious teens taking sexy selfies - evidently, even the typically "demure" types are getting involved too.
So just how concerned should parents be about this new-age trend?
There's nothing inherently wrong with taking or sharing a selfie. Sure, having to scroll through fifty of them in a row on Facebook is annoying, but image has always been a part of self-exploration and identity - and especially during the teenage years. How many different hair styles and fashions did you experiment with in your youth? And how many times did you examine your face in the mirror? Exactly.
Selfies are self-curated memories - a little narcissistic, maybe, but not much different to other teenage behaviours like diary-writing or blogging. However, the problem with these photos is that, when shared online, they are subject to public scrutiny which can influence a teen's ideas about beauty and their self-worth.