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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Sometimes needs will come into being like falling stars - gently fading in and fading out. Sometimes they will happen like meteors - crashing through the air with force and fury. But they won’t always look like needs. Often they will look like big, unreachable, unfathomable behaviour. 

If needs and feelings are too big for words, they will speak through behaviour. Behaviour is the language of needs and feelings, and it is always a call for us to come closer. Big feelings happen as a way to recruit support to help carry an emotional load that feels too big for our kids and teens. We can help with this load by being a strong, calm, loving presence, and making space for that feeling or need to be ‘heard’. 

When big behaviour or big feelings are happening, whenever you can be curious about the need behind it. There will always be a valid one. Meet them where they without needing them to be different. Breathe, validate, and be with, and you don’t need to do more than that. 

Part of building resilience is recognising that some days and some things are rubbish, and that sometimes those days and things last for longer than they should, but we get through. First we feel floored, then we feel stuck, then we shift because the only choices we have we have are to stay down or move, even when moving hurts. Then, eventually we adjust - either ourselves, the problem, or to a new ‘is’. 

But the learning comes from experience. They can’t learn to manage big feelings unless they have big feelings. They can’t learn to read the needs behind their feelings if they don’t have the space to let those big feelings come back to small enough so the needs behind them can step forward. 

When their world has spikes, and when we give them a soft space to ‘be’, we ventilate their world. We help them find room for their out breath, and for influence, and for their wisdom to grow from their experiences and ours. In the end we have no choice. They will always be stronger and bigger and wiser and braver when they are with you, than when they are without. It’s just how it is.♥️
When kids or teens have big feelings, what they need more than anything is our strong, safe, loving presence. In those moments, it’s less about what we do in response to those big feelings, and more about who we are. Think of this like providing a shelter and gentle guidance for their distressed nervous system to help it find its way home, back to calm. 

Big feelings are the way the brain calls for support. It’s as though it’s saying, ‘This emotional load is too big for me to carry on my own. Can you help me carry it?’ 

Every time we meet them where they are, with a calm loving presence, we help those big feelings back to small enough. We help them carry the emotional load and build the emotional (neural) muscle for them to eventually be able to do it on their own. We strengthen the neural pathways between big feelings and calm, over and over, until that pathway is so clear and so strong, they can walk it on their own. 

Big beautiful neural pathways will let them do big, beautiful things - courage, resilience, independence, self regulation. Those pathways are only built through experience, so before children and teens can do any of this on their own, they’ll have to walk the pathway plenty of times with a strong, calm loving adult. Self-regulation only comes from many experiences of co-regulation. 

When they are calm and connected to us, then we can have the conversations that are growthful for them - ‘Can you help me understand what happened?’ ‘What can help you so this differently next time?’ ‘How can you put things right? Do you need my help to do that?’ We grow them by ‘doing with’ them♥️
Big feelings, and the big behaviour that comes from big feelings, are a sign of a distressed nervous system. Think of this like a burning building. The behaviour is the smoke. The fire is a distressed nervous system. It’s so tempting to respond directly to the behaviour (the smoke), but by doing this, we ignore the fire. Their behaviour and feelings in that moment are a call for support - for us to help that distressed brain and body find the way home. 

The most powerful language for any nervous system is another nervous system. They will catch our distress (as we will catch theirs) but they will also catch our calm. It can be tempting to move them to independence on this too quickly, but it just doesn’t work this way. Children can only learn to self-regulate with lots (and lots and lots) of experience co-regulating. 

This isn’t something that can be taught. It’s something that has to be experienced over and over. It’s like so many things - driving a car, playing the piano - we can talk all we want about ‘how’ but it’s not until we ‘do’ over and over that we get better at it. 

Self-regulation works the same way. It’s not until children have repeated experiences with an adult bringing them back to calm, that they develop the neural pathways to come back to calm on their own. 

An important part of this is making sure we are guiding that nervous system with tender, gentle hands and a steady heart. This is where our own self-regulation becomes important. Our nervous systems speak to each other every moment of every day. When our children or teens are distressed, we will start to feel that distress. It becomes a loop. We feel what they feel, they feel what we feel. Our own capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

This can be so tough, but it can happen in microbreaks. A few strong steady breaths can calm our own nervous system, which we can then use to calm theirs. Breathe, and be with. It’s that simple, but so tough to do some days. When they come back to calm, then have those transformational chats - What happened? What can make it easier next time?

Who you are in the moment will always be more important than what you do.
How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting
Anxiety and courage always exist together. It can be no other way. Anxiety is a call to courage. It means you're about to do something brave, so when there is one the other will be there too. Their courage might feel so small and be whisper quiet, but it will always be there and always ready to show up when they need it to.
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But courage doesn’t always feel like courage, and it won't always show itself as a readiness. Instead, it might show as a rising - from fear, from uncertainty, from anger. None of these mean an absence of courage. They are the making of space, and the opportunity for courage to rise.
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When the noise from anxiety is loud and obtuse, we’ll have to gently add our voices to usher their courage into the light. We can do this speaking of it and to it, and by shifting the focus from their anxiety to their brave. The one we focus on is ultimately what will become powerful. It will be the one we energise. Anxiety will already have their focus, so we’ll need to make sure their courage has ours.
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But we have to speak to their fear as well, in a way that makes space for it to be held and soothed, with strength. Their fear has an important job to do - to recruit the support of someone who can help them feel safe. Only when their fear has been heard will it rest and make way for their brave.
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What does this look like? Tell them their stories of brave, but acknowledge the fear that made it tough. Stories help them process their emotional experiences in a safe way. It brings word to the feelings and helps those big feelings make sense and find containment. ‘You were really worried about that exam weren’t you. You couldn’t get to sleep the night before. It was tough going to school but you got up, you got dressed, you ... and you did it. Then you ...’
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In the moment, speak to their brave by first acknowledging their need to flee (or fight), then tell them what you know to be true - ‘This feels scary for you doesn’t it. I know you want to run. It makes so much sense that you would want to do that. I also know you can do hard things. My darling, I know it with everything in me.’
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#positiveparenting #parenting #childanxiety #anxietyinchildren #mindfulpare

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