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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Today was an ending and a beginning. My darling girl finished year 12. The final year at school is tough enough, but this year was seismic. Our teens have moved through this year with the most outstanding courage and grace and strength, and now it is time for them to rest and play. My gosh they deserve it. 

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There is a beautifully fertile void that is waiting for whatever comes next for each of them, but that void is still a void. At different times it might feel exciting, overwhelming, or brutal in its emptiness.

We also have to remember that this is a time of letting go, and there might be grief that comes with that. Before they can grab on to their next big adventure, they have to let go of the guard rails. This means gently adjusting their hold on the world they have known for the last 12+ years, with its places and routines and people that have felt like home on so many days. There will be redirects and shiftings, and through it all the things that need to stay will stay, and the things that need to adjust will adjust. 

To my darling girl, your loved incredible friends, and the teens who make our world what it is - you are the beautiful  thinkers, the big feelers, the creators, the change makers, and the ones who will craft and grow a better world. However you might feel now, the lights are waiting to shine for you and because of you. The world beyond school is opening its arms to you. That opening might happen quickly, or gently, or smoothly or chaotically, but it will happen. This world needs every one of you - your voices, your spirits, your fire, your softness, your strength and your power. You are world-ready, and we are so glad you are here xxx
When our kids or teens are in high emotion, their words might sound anxious, angry, inconsolable, jealous, defiant. As messy as the words might be, they have a good reason for being there. Big feelings surge as a way to influence the environment to meet a need. Of course, sometimes the fallout from this can be nuclear.
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Wherever there is a big emotion, there will always be an important need behind it - safety, comfort, attention, food, rest, connection. The need will always be valid, even if the way they’re going about meeting it is a little rough. As with so many difficult parenting moments, there will be gold in the middle of the mess if we know where to look. 
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There will be times for shaping the behaviour into a healthier response, but in the middle of a big feeling is not one of those times. Big feelings are NOT a sign of dysfunction, bad kids or bad parenting. They are a part of being human, and they bring rich opportunities for wisdom, learning and growth. .
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Parenting isn’t about stopping the emotional storms, but about moving through the storm and reaching the other side in a way that preserves the opportunity for our kids and teens to learn and grow from the experience - and they will always learn best from experience. 
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To calm a big feeling, name what you see, ‘I can see you’re disappointed. I know how much you wanted that’, or, ‘I can see this feels big for you,’ or, ‘You’re angry at me about .. aren’t you. I understand that. I would be mad too if I had to […],’ or ‘It sounds like today has been a really hard day.’ 
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When we connect with the emotion, we help soothe the nervous system. The emotion has done its job, found support, and can start to ease. 
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When they ‘let go’ they’re letting us in on their deepest and most honest emotional selves. We don’t need to change that. What we need to do is meet them where they and gently guide them from there. When they feel seen and understood, their trust in us and their connection to us will deepen, opening the way for our influence.
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When they are at that line, deciding whether to retreat to safety or move forward into brave, there will be a part of them that will know they have what it takes to be brave. It might be pale, or quiet, or a little tumbled by the noise from anxiety, but it will be there. And it will be magical. Our job as their flight crew is to clear the way for this magical part of them to rise. ‘I can see this feels scary for you - and I know you can do this.’ 
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When our kids or teens are struggling, it can be hard to know what they need. It can also be hard for them to say. It can be this way for all of us - we don't always know what we need from the people around us. It might be space, or distraction, or silence, or maybe acknowledging and being there is enough. Sometimes we might need to know that the people we love aren't taking our need for space, or our confusion or anger or sadness personally, and that they are still there within reach.
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What can be easier is thinking about what other people might need. Asking this when they are calm can invite a different perspective and can give you some insight into what they need to hear when they are going through similar. Don't worry if you just get a shrug, or a disheartened, 'I don't know'. They don't need to know, and neither do we. The question in itself might be enough to open a new way through any sense of 'stuckness' or helplessness they might be feeling.
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Give them space to talk but you don’t need to fix anything. You’ll want to, but the answers are in them, not us. Sometimes the answer will be to feel it out, or push for change, or feel the futility of it all so the feeling can let go, knowing it’s done it’s job - it’s recruited support, or raised awareness that something isn’t right.

Sometimes the feelings might be seismic but the words might be gone for a while. That’s okay too. Do they want to start with whatever words are there? Or talk about something else? Or go for a walk with you? Watch a movie with you? Or do a spontaneous, unnecessary drive thru with you just because you can - no words, no need to explain - just you and them and car music for the next 20 minutes. 

The more you can validate what they’re feeling (maybe, ‘Today was big for you wasn’t it’) and give them space to feel, the more they can feel the feeling, understand the need that’s fuelling it, and experiment with ways to deal with it. Sometimes, ‘dealing with it’ might mean acknowledging that there is something that feels big or important and a little out of reach right now, and feeling the fullness and futility of that. 

Part of building resilience is recognising that some days are rubbish, and that sometimes those days 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.

I wish our kids never felt pain, but we don’t get to decide that. We don’t get to decide how our children grow, but we do get to decide how much space and support we give them for this growth. We can love them through it but we can’t love them out of it. I wish we could but we can’t.

So instead of feeling the need to silence their pain, make space for it. In the end we have no choice. Sometimes all the love in the world won’t be enough to put the wrong things right, but it can help them feel held while they move through the pain enough to find their out breath, and the strength that comes with that.♥️

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