Studies show that eighty-one percent (81%) of the world’s kids have an online presence before the age of two. That means that today four out of five children have a projected “image” before they have personally shaped an “identity.”  We’ve lost the days where a few Kodak moments are intended for close family and friends. Today’s parents are marketing an image of their child that is fit for the masses – less intimate, more deliberate.

Parents have always lived vicariously through their kids, often yelling from the sidelines or cajoling coaches and teachers to give their progeny center stage in the hope that others will think well of us, the proud parents. This is our self-image, that glossy portrait of self, which relates so strongly to our self-esteem. From our earliest years we become obsessed with our superficial preening among our peers and contemporaries – our image! “Mirror, mirror on the wall: who’s the fairest parent of them all?” I am, of course.

For many parents, this obsessive concern over image remains an inherent part of their daily quest until they’re dead – or at least until they find validation in the soothing reflection of their own web page, or on Facebook, where surely one of six billion people will fawn over them or their children. Sadly, instead of more natural imperfect moments captured by Kodak, we now have perfect moments designed with us in mind. When was the last time you saw a parent blog, tweet or post that their child didn’t make varsity soccer, failed a chemistry exam, or got shot down on a date the night before? Where do we learn to embrace imperfection in all of this? Instead we surgically suture together a perfect family image within which we narcissistically attempt to prove our worth through our kid’s lives.

Children today are being harmed by internet notoriety which then morphs into internet addiction – first begun by “innocent” parents who only wanted to share the special attributes and accomplishments of their children. Once children become accustomed to being “featured” within a cyberspace universe, a hunger for more notoriety and more stimulation become the norm. Children then spend more and more time using electronic media. The endless novelty and stimulation currently available on the web literally hooks older children, releasing “feel good” brain chemicals such as Dopamine. Before we know it our children are getting high on themselves – on the very images that were originally shaped by their parents many years before.

As a psychologist my concern is: when does a healthy interest in yourself start morphing into self-absorption and eventually into full-blown narcissism? Furthermore, how does internet addiction affect our relationships, and ultimately, marriage? First, let’s look at some data: (1) Today’s youth spend 53 hours a week using electronic media, (2) Many youth today send over 100 texts per day, (3) 25 percent of youth today believe it is appropriate to break up with someone by texting, (4) Today’s young married couples spend less than 11 minutes a week making eye contact, (5) 45 percent of today’s youth either have no friends or only one confidant, and most shockingly, 6) twenty percent of the teens who hypertext 100 or more times per day are more likely to binge drink, smoke cigarettes, use other illicit drugs, get into more physical fights, and are 90 percent more likely to have four or more sexual partners according to a 2010 Case Western Reserve study.

I believe there are “Six Gifts” we can offer our children to help offset this viral epidemic. Teaching our children to be 1) Humble, 2) Forgiving, 3) Accepting, 4) Compassionate, 5) Sacrificing and 6) Envisioning are helpful approaches to use in our schools, not to mention our homes and programs emphasizing compassion and empathy are occurring in many locations throughout the U.S. and Canada.

My hope as a parent is that we may teach our children, the next generation, how the power of love transforms pride into humility, resentment into forgiveness, blind ambition into acceptance, indifference into compassion, self-indulgence into sacrifice, and self-defeating habits into vision – the glory of ego gratification with the glory of loving connectedness with others.

Dr. Larry Bugen is the author of Stuck on Me…Missing You: Getting Past Self-Absorption to Find Love (ACFEI Media, Feb. 2011);