Why Photography and Selfies (in moderation) are Good for Pre-teens and Teens

Why Photography and Selfies (in moderation) are Good for Pre-teens and Teens

As a parent and psychotherapist, I am among the many who complain that smart phones are negatively impacting our kids’ relationships, social skills and attention span. But, the good news is they have ignited popularity in photography and revolutionized the ability to take and share high quality images. Whether using a traditional camera or a smart phone, let’s celebrate the many rewards photography offers pre-teens and teens.

Among the benefits they may “develop” (pardon the pun from old school photography):

  1. Appreciation of beauty in nature.

    Using a camera helps view the environment in a new way and increases admiration of the outdoors. When a young photographer sees something that “looks cool”, there is likely an appreciation of its magnificence and the feelings it evokes.

  2. Mindfulness.

    Walking with one’s camera frequently promotes being in the present moment and increases observation skills and cognizance of the color intensity and how the light in a given moment impacts the subject. 

  3. Mastery/Confidence.

    Learning to take artistic photos and/or photos that tell a story are skills that may build a sense of For those who may not see themselves as artists, this is an easy way to participate in art and will likely grow pride.

  4. Creativity.

    Picture-taking encourages creativity such as looking for a fresh angle, interesting lighting or a close up of a small detail. When a photo turns out to be a “mistake” but appears more unique and appealing than originally anticipated, this teaches the creative process and openness to risk-taking. Photo editing programs allow further opportunities to use filters and other effects to make interesting images. (Many apps provide options that simulate darkroom techniques as well.) In addition, macro, telephoto and wide angle lenses are now sold as attachments to smart phones to provide more ways to experiment.

    An example of building an appreciating of nature as well as how the "mistake" of glare, gives this photo an artistic, unique look, encouraging creative risk-taking.

    Building an appreciation of nature – The “mistake” of glare gives this photo an artistic, unique look, encouraging creative risk-taking.

  5. Decision making skills.

    Each photographer chooses the subject matter, what angles to use and how to frame the subject. There also are opportunities for decision making such as “Is it appropriate to take a photo of a stranger without permission?” and “Should I post an embarrassing photo of a friend?” This is a chance to improve impulse control skills and build empathy.

  6. Self-Expression.

    People of all ages take pictures of places, people and events that are important to them, so photography allows teens to communicate what they find interesting, funny, cool or beautiful. If they choose to post these images along with a written statement or descriptive hashtags, they also convey their ideas and feelings about the photos.

  7. Verbal Skills.

    Those who do not have strong social skills may use picture-taking at a party or event as a conversation starter. For the more adventurous street photographer, asking permission to photograph people or their pets or children encourages dialogue. In addition, sharing photos in person is a chance to link generations. When visiting with grandparents, conversation may be scarce but if the grandchildren are willing to show some of their favorite photos on their phone, it will promote discussion. Whether it’s an image of a school art project, a shot of a new skateboarding park or a selfie with a BFF, it takes the viewer into their world.

  8. Reflection.

    Documentation of one’s personal history provides a visual journal and timeline. These images may be used in the future to recall memories and reflect on the past as well as the feelings the images provoke.

  9. Identity.

    Selfies assist in the developmental task of identity formation.   The self-portrait, which has been around for generations, allows individuals to grapple with the age old questions: “How do I see myself?” “How do people see me?” and “How do I want people to see me?” Pre-teen and adolescent girls are known for spending a lot of time in front of the mirror (though boys do it too). The selfie is a tool to further explore her different looks and personality traits. In a world that focuses on how girls and women look as opposed to who they are, the selfie can be used to allow them to take portraits that represents their inner selves and positive aspects of their personalities.

Too much of a good thing?

Photography is a good thing – though, of course, too much of photography or pretty much anything is NOT a good thing. Always seeing the world through the cell phone camera and needing to share every moment could become excessive.   Another consideration of over use is utilizing photos and social media instead of conversations. Finally, if selfie-taking and posting become obsessive, parents may need to set limits.   This provides another benefit — the chance to learn balance, a life skill for all of us!

(Image credits: Copyight CLG Photographics, Inc.)


About the Author: Cathy Lander-Goldberg, MSW, LCSW

Cathy Lander-Goldberg - SelfieCathy Lander-Goldberg, MSW, LCSW, is a photographer, psychotherapist, educator and the author of PHOTO EXPLORATIONS: A Girl’s Guide to Self-Discovery Through Photography, Writing and Drawing. She also is the director of Photo Explorations and the curator/photographer for The Resilient Souls Project, a traveling exhibition, which displays portraits and writing of courageous young women who have overcome a variety of issues early in their lives and follows them two decades later into adulthood. For more information, visit www.clgphoto.com or follow Photo Explorations on FaceBook, LinkedIn and Instagram.

3 Comments

Jacqueline Scolaro

I enjoyed your article and I am a parent, psychotherapist an now a grandparent of teenagers. I have watched the change to a digital community over the past 20 years. Roger Fidler called it mediamorphosis. Whether we like it or not it is the future of communication and community.
This new e-community may be difficult for us as old school to embrace and I appreciate your positive take.

Reply
Sharon H

I have to agree with a lot of what this article is pointing out as being a positive boost for photography, bringing along with this technology a host of other skills needed in life.

However, the evidence that growing up in a world filled with all sorts of devices actually is altering the way neurons are formed and continue to work in the brain. This is especially true in a young and developing brain. And it is scary.

As humans, the social aspects of our lives is dependent on in person, meaningful dialogues and yes, even the touch of another human. This is what we are losing, and I am seeing a frightening loss of empathy, ability to relate to others in the flesh, so to speak, and a total disruption from physical reality. In other words, these children are growing up in a virtual world as opposed to the real one.

I recommend taking a look at “The Impact of Technology on the Developing Child” by Cris Rowan to understand why the negatives far outweigh the benefits. And sadly, these devices are now amounting to an addiction. Take away or threaten to take away a child’s cell phone, computer etc. and watch the reaction. It does not bode well for that young one’s future.

Reply
Cathy Lander-Goldberg

Sharon,
Thanks for your comment and for sharing the reference! As a therapist and parent, I totally understand and agree with your concerns with the negative impacts of technology as well. Hoping we can teach our kids and remind ourselves of the need for balance with technology.

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Anxiety is a sign that the brain has registered threat and is mobilising the body to get to safety. One of the ways it does this is by organising the body for movement - to fight the danger or flee the danger. 

If there is no need or no opportunity for movement, that fight or flight fuel will still be looking for expression. This can come out as wriggly, fidgety, hyperactive behaviour. This is why any of us might pace or struggle to sit still when we’re anxious. 

If kids or teens are bouncing around, wriggling in their chairs, or having trouble sitting still, it could be anxiety. Remember with anxiety, it’s not about what is actually safe but about what the brain perceives. New or challenging work, doing something unfamiliar, too much going on, a tired or hungry body, anything that comes with any chance of judgement, failure, humiliation can all throw the brain into fight or flight.

When this happens, the body might feel busy, activated, restless. This in itself can drive even more anxiety in kids or teens. Any of us can struggle when we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies. 

Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go. To move through anxiety, give the energy somewhere to go - a fast walk, a run, a whole-body shake, hula hooping, kicking a ball - any movement that spends the energy will help bring the brain and body back to calm.♥️
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#parenting #anxietyinkids #childanxiety #parenting #parent
This is not bad behaviour. It’s big behaviour a from a brain that has registered threat and is working hard to feel safe again. 

‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what the brain perceives. The brain can perceive threat when there is any chance missing out on or messing up something important, anything that feels unfamiliar, hard, or challenging, feeling misunderstood, thinking you might be angry or disappointed with them, being separated from you, being hungry or tired, anything that pushes against their sensory needs - so many things. 

During anxiety, the amygdala in the brain is switched to high volume, so other big feelings will be too. This might look like tears, sadness, or anger. 

Big feelings have a good reason for being there. The amygdala has the very important job of keeping us safe, and it does this beautifully, but not always with grace. One of the ways the amygdala keeps us safe is by calling on big feelings to recruit social support. When big feelings happen, people notice. They might not always notice the way we want to be noticed, but we are noticed. This increases our chances of safety. 

Of course, kids and teens still need our guidance and leadership and the conversations that grow them, but not during the emotional storm. They just won’t hear you anyway because their brain is too busy trying to get back to safety. In that moment, they don’t want to be fixed or ‘grown’. They want to feel seen, safe and heard. 

During the storm, preserve your connection with them as much as you can. You might not always be able to do this, and that’s okay. None of this is about perfection. If you have a rupture, repair it as soon as you can. Then, when their brains and bodies come back to calm, this is the time for the conversations that will grow them. 

Rather than, ‘What consequences do they need to do better?’, shift to, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ The greatest support will come from you in a way they can receive: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re the most wonderful kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen. How can you put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
Big behaviour is a sign of a nervous system in distress. Before anything, that vulnerable nervous system needs to be brought back home to felt safety. 

This will happen most powerfully with relationship and connection. Breathe and be with. Let them know you get it. This can happen with words or nonverbals. It’s about feeling what they feel, but staying regulated.

If they want space, give them space but stay in emotional proximity, ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here. I’m right here if you need.’

If they’re using spicy words to make sure there is no confusion about how they feel about you right now, flag the behaviour, then make your intent clear, ‘I know how upset you are and I want to understand more about what’s happening for you. I’m not going to do this while you’re speaking to me like this. You can still be mad, but you need to be respectful. I’m here for you.’

Think of how you would respond if a friend was telling you about something that upset her. You wouldn’t tell her to calm down, or try to fix her (she’s not broken), or talk to her about her behaviour. You would just be there. You would ‘drop an anchor’ and steady those rough seas around her until she feels okay enough again. Along the way you would be doing things that let her know your intent to support her. You’d do this with you facial expressions, your voice, your body, your posture. You’d feel her feels, and she’d feel you ‘getting her’. It’s about letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t understand why (or agree with why). 

It’s the same for our children. As their important big people, they also need leadership. The time for this is after the storm has passed, when their brains and bodies feel safe and calm. Because of your relationship, connection and their felt sense of safety, you will have access to their ‘thinking brain’. This is the time for those meaningful conversations: 
- ‘What happened?’
- ‘What did I do that helped/ didn’t help?’
- ‘What can you do differently next time?’
- ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. What can you do to put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
As children grow, and especially by adolescence, we have the illusion of control but whether or not we have any real influence will be up to them. The temptation to control our children will always come from a place of love. Fear will likely have a heavy hand in there too. When they fall, we’ll feel it. Sometimes it will feel like an ache in our core. Sometimes it will feel like failure or guilt, or anger. We might wish we could have stopped them, pushed a little harder, warned a little bigger, stood a little closer. We’re parents and we’re human and it’s what this parenting thing does. It makes fear and anxiety billow around us like lost smoke, too easily.

Remember, they want you to be proud of them, and they want to do the right thing. When they feel your curiosity over judgement, and the safety of you over shame, it will be easier for them to open up to you. Nobody will guide them better than you because nobody will care more about where they land. They know this, but the magic happens when they also know that you are safe and that you will hold them, their needs, their opinions and feelings with strong, gentle, loving hands, no matter what.♥️
Anger is the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. It has important work to do. Anger never exists on its own. It exists to hold other more vulnerable emotions in a way that feels safer. It’s sometimes feels easier, safer, more acceptable, stronger to feel the ‘big’ that comes with anger, than the vulnerability that comes with anxiety, sadness, loneliness. This isn’t deliberate. It’s just another way our bodies and brains try to keep us safe. 

The problem isn’t the anger. The problem is the behaviour that can come with the anger. Let there be no limits on thoughts and feelings, only behaviour. When children are angry, as long as they are safe and others are safe, we don’t need to fix their anger. They aren’t broken. Instead, drop the anchor: as much as you can - and this won’t always be easy - be a calm, steadying, loving presence to help bring their nervous systems back home to calm. 

Then, when they are truly calm, and with love and leadership, have the conversations that will grow them - 
- What happened? 
- What can you do differently next time?
- You’re a really great kid. I know you didn’t want this to happen but here we are. How can you make things right. Would you like some ideas? Do you need some help with that?
- What did I do that helped? What did I do that didn’t help? Is there something that might feel more helpful next time?

When their behaviour falls short of ‘adorable’, rather than asking ‘What consequences they need to do better?’ let the question be, ‘What support do they need to do better.’ Often, the biggest support will be a conversation with you, and that will be enough.♥️
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#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

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