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

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.

Reply
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.

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During adolescence, our teens are more likely to pay attention to the positives of a situation over the negatives. This can be a great thing. The courage that comes from this will help them try new things, explore their independence, and learn the things they need to learn to be happy, healthy adults. But it can also land them in bucketloads of trouble. 

Here’s the thing. Our teens don’t want to do the wrong thing and they don’t want to go behind our backs, but they also don’t want to be controlled by us, or have any sense that we might be stifling their way towards independence. The cold truth of it all is that if they want something badly enough, and if they feel as though we are intruding or that we are making arbitrary decisions just because we can, or that we don’t get how important something is to them, they have the will, the smarts and the means to do it with or without or approval. 

So what do we do? Of course we don’t want to say ‘yes’ to everything, so our job becomes one of influence over control. To keep them as safe as we can, rather than saying ‘no’ (which they might ignore anyway) we want to engage their prefrontal cortex (thinking brain) so they can be more considered in their decision making. 

Our teens are very capable of making good decisions, but because the rational, logical, thinking prefrontal cortex won’t be fully online until their 20s (closer to 30 in boys), we need to wake it up and bring it to the decision party whenever we can. 

Do this by first softening the landing:
‘I can see how important this is for you. You really want to be with your friends. I absolutely get that.’
Then, gently bring that thinking brain to the table:
‘It sounds as though there’s so much to love in this for you. I don’t want to get in your way but I need to know you’ve thought about the risks and planned for them. What are some things that could go wrong?’
Then, we really make the prefrontal cortex kick up a gear by engaging its problem solving capacities:
‘What’s the plan if that happens.’
Remember, during adolescence we switch from managers to consultants. Assume a leadership presence, but in a way that is warm, loving, and collaborative.♥️
Big feelings and big behaviour are a call for us to come closer. They won’t always feel like that, but they are. Not ‘closer’ in an intrusive ‘I need you to stop this’ way, but closer in a ‘I’ve got you, I can handle all of you’ kind of way - no judgement, no need for you to be different - I’m just going to make space for this feeling to find its way through. 

Our kids and teens are no different to us. When we have feelings that fill us to overloaded, the last thing we need is someone telling us that it’s not the way to behave, or to calm down, or that we’re unbearable when we’re like this. Nup. What we need, and what they need, is a safe place to find our out breath, to let the energy connected to that feeling move through us and out of us so we can rest. 
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But how? First, don’t take big feelings personally. They aren’t a reflection on you, your parenting, or your child. Big feelings have wisdom contained in them about what’s needed more, or less, or what feels intolerable right now. Sometimes it might be as basic as a sleep or food. Maybe more power, influence, independence, or connection with you. Maybe there’s too much stress and it’s hitting their ceiling and ricocheting off their edges. Like all wisdom, it doesn’t always find a gentle way through. That’s okay, that will come. Our kids can’t learn to manage big feelings, or respect the wisdom embodied in those big feelings if they don’t have experience with big feelings. 
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We also need to make sure we are responding to them in the moment, not a fear or an inherited ‘should’ of our own. These are the messages we swallowed whole at some point - ‘happy kids should never get sad or angry’, ‘kids should always behave,’ ‘I should be able to protect my kids from feeling bad,’ ‘big feelings are bad feelings’, ‘bad behaviour means bad kids, which means bad parents.’ All these shoulds are feisty show ponies that assume more ‘rightness’ than they deserve. They are usually historic, and when we really examine them, they’re also irrelevant.
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Finally, try not to let the symptoms of big feelings disrupt the connection. Then, when calm comes, we will have the influence we need for the conversations that matter.
"Be patient. We don’t know what we want to do or who we want to be. That feels really bad sometimes. Just keep reminding us that it’s okay that we don’t have it all figured out yet, and maybe remind yourself sometimes too."
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Would you be more likely to take advice from someone who listened to you first, or someone who insisted they knew best and worked hard to convince you? Our teens are just like us. If we want them to consider our advice and be open to our influence, making sure they feel heard is so important. Being right doesn't count for much at all if we aren't being heard.
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Hear what they think, what they want, why they think they're right, and why it’s important to them. Sometimes we'll want to change our mind, and sometimes we'll want to stand firm. When they feel fully heard, it’s more likely that they’ll be able to trust that our decisions or advice are given fully informed and with all of their needs considered. And we all need that.
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 #positiveparenting #parenting #parenthood #neuronurtured #childdevelopment #adolescence 
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"We’re pretty sure that when you say no to something it’s because you don’t understand why it’s so important to us. Of course you’ll need to say 'no' sometimes, and if you do, let us know that you understand the importance of whatever it is we’re asking for. It will make your ‘no’ much easier to accept. We need to know that you get it. Listen to what we have to say and ask questions to understand, not to prove us wrong. We’re not trying to control you or manipulate you. Some things might not seem important to you but if we’re asking, they’re really important to us.❤️" 
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