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.

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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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When things feel hard or the world feels big, children will be looking to their important adults for signs of safety. They will be asking, ‘Do you think I'm safe?' 'Do you think I can do this?' With everything in us, we have to send the message, ‘Yes! Yes love, this is hard and you are safe. You can do hard things.'

Even if we believe they are up to the challenge, it can be difficult to communicate this with absolute confidence. We love them, and when they're distressed, we're going to feel it. Inadvertently, we can align with their fear and send signals of danger, especially through nonverbals. 

What they need is for us to align with their 'brave' - that part of them that wants to do hard things and has the courage to do them. It might be small but it will be there. Like a muscle, courage strengthens with use - little by little, but the potential is always there.

First, let them feel you inside their world, not outside of it. This lets their anxious brain know that support is here - that you see what they see and you get it. This happens through validation. It doesn't mean you agree. It means that you see what they see, and feel what they feel. Meet the intensity of their emotion, so they can feel you with them. It can come off as insincere if your nonverbals are overly calm in the face of their distress. (Think a zen-like low, monotone voice and neutral face - both can be read as threat by an anxious brain). Try:

'This is big for you isn't it!' 
'It's awful having to do things you haven't done before. What you are feeling makes so much sense. I'd feel the same!

Once they really feel you there with them, then they can trust what comes next, which is your felt belief that they will be safe, and that they can do hard things. 

Even if things don't go to plan, you know they will cope. This can be hard, especially because it is so easy to 'catch' their anxiety. When it feels like anxiety is drawing you both in, take a moment, breathe, and ask, 'Do I believe in them, or their anxiety?' Let your answer guide you, because you know your young one was built for big, beautiful things. It's in them. Anxiety is part of their move towards brave, not the end of it.
Sometimes we all just need space to talk to someone who will listen without giving advice, or problem solving, or lecturing. Someone who will let us talk, and who can handle our experiences and words and feelings without having to smooth out the wrinkles or tidy the frayed edges. 

Our kids need this too, but as their important adults, it can be hard to hush without needing to fix things, or gather up their experience and bundle it into a learning that will grow them. We do this because we love them, but it can also mean that they choose not to let us in for the wrong reasons. 

We can’t help them if we don’t know what’s happening in their world, and entry will be on their terms - even more as they get older. As they grow, they won’t trust us with the big things if we don’t give them the opportunity to learn that we can handle the little things (which might feel seismic to them). They won’t let us in to their world unless we make it safe for them to.

When my own kids were small, we had a rule that when I picked them up from school they could tell me anything, and when we drove into the driveway, the conversation would be finished if they wanted it to be. They only put this rule into play a few times, but it was enough for them to learn that it was safe to talk about anything, and for me to hear what was happening in that part of their world that happened without me. My gosh though, there were times that the end of the conversation would be jarring and breathtaking and so unfinished for me, but every time they would come back when they were ready and we would finish the chat. As it turned out, I had to trust them as much as I wanted them to trust me. But that’s how parenting is really isn’t it.

Of course there will always be lessons in their experiences we will want to hear straight up, but we also need them to learn that we are safe to come to.  We need them to know that there isn’t anything about them or their life we can’t handle, and when the world feels hard or uncertain, it’s safe here. By building safety, we build our connection and influence. It’s just how it seems to work.♥️
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Words can be hard sometimes. The right words can be orbital and unconquerable and hard to grab hold of. Feelings though - they’ll always make themselves known, with or without the ‘why’. 

Kids and teens are no different to the rest of us. Their feelings can feel bigger than words - unfathomable and messy and too much to be lassoed into language. If we tap into our own experience, we can sometimes (not all the time) get an idea of what they might need. 

It’s completely understandable that new things or hard things (such as going back to school) might drive thoughts of falls and fails and missteps. When this happens, it’s not so much the hard thing or the new thing that drives avoidance, but thoughts of failing or not being good enough. The more meaningful the ‘thing’ is, the more this is likely to happen. If you can look behind the words, and through to the intention - to avoid failure more than the new or difficult experience, it can be easier to give them what they need. 

Often, ‘I can’t’ means, ‘What if I can’t?’ or, ‘Do you think I can?’, or, ‘Will you still think I’m brave, strong, and capable of I fail?’ They need to know that the outcome won’t make any difference at all to how much you adore them, and how capable and exceptional you think they are. By focusing on process, (the courage to give it a go), we clear the runway so they can feel safer to crawl, then walk, then run, then fly. 

It takes time to reach full flight in anything, but in the meantime the stumbling can make even the strongest of hearts feel vulnerable. The more we focus on process over outcome (their courage to try over the result), and who they are over what they do (their courage, tenacity, curiosity over the outcome), the safer they will feel to try new things or hard things. We know they can do hard things, and the beauty and expansion comes first in the willingness to try. 
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#parenting #mindfulparenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparent
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