Tags: Featured Story, Health, Parenting, Party and Entertainment, Safety, Tweens & Teens
Parenting in a pandemic is largely unprecedented. Between generational differences and different views of technology, the selfie stands out as a symbol for Gen Z. Our collective reliance on technology during this period of social distancing underscores the ways we connect across the distance, including through images.
Although all generations arguably take self portraits, the way they’re used and their role in how we think about ourselves differs. Love them or hate them, selfies are here to stay.
With more technology available than ever, selfies can seem like child’s play. Previous limitations like having to buy and develop film or use a parent’s digital camera no longer stand in the way of the selfie. Devices readily accessible to children, including household tablets, personal phones and webcams intended for virtual school meetings, all serve a common purpose in the hands of children looking for entertainment, approval, and maybe even themselves.
The quest for identity may be behind the images children capture, but their photography often reveals a kind of collage that says a lot about what they’re living through. Backgrounds, random photos of objects or landscapes, furtive shots of family members and pets: kids capture it all.
If you’ve recently stumbled upon the camera roll on your child’s device, you may notice some common themes: selfies of just mouths, odd shots of only feet, silly faces, strange effects, and filters. No matter what you find, there is a certain insight to be noticed through the lens of their perspective. Whether it’s the wonder of the world, even in your own home, that viewpoint is captured and it matters.
Selfies definitely have fans and detractors. Experts are still trying to deconstruct what their impact will be, but pros and cons are already evident. Unlike the singular focus of past concerns related to vanity and undue pressure for perfection, a more nuanced approach may be emerging for younger children. Mixed opinion exists among psychologists, but every parent is currently tasked with making decisions for their household that are positive when it comes to devices in the home.
Here are three possible pros and cons of the selfie movement (and yes, self esteem makes both lists):
Creativity: Every child should have a chance to express themselves. Photography as an art form or even just a way to capture settings, remember circumstances, or mark significant life events can be valuable. When it comes to selfies, there may also be some creative benefits to exploring effects, personal attributes, and how small details change the outcome of a photo. Photography basics like lighting and shadow are also more accessible than ever.
Perseverance: Making small modifications to improve an outcome and trying again to get what you want are processes we are sometimes hard pressed to teach as parents. Children of all ages may find selfies a less frustrating method of “try, try again.” Being in control of what to do and how to do it can also give children an outlet for decision making that they may be lacking during pandemic life.
Self esteem based on talent and individualism: The issue of self esteem when it comes to selfies is on both the pro and con list. If children recognize their own skill when it comes to using a camera or feel validated by positive feedback about their appearance, there can be some positive effects on self esteem, according to the Child Mind Institute. Focusing on traits
that make each person unique can be a positive that shines through, with less emphasis on grownup worries like vanity or narcissism.
Safety: Where selfies end up and what they reveal about your family, including where you live and the presence of younger children in the home, may be concerning. Photos may be posted on social media or remain in a device accessed by school administrators. Even innocent photos that involve nudity and taken by the child can be considered manufacturing child pornography, an offense that can carry lifelong consequences including registration as a sex offender and court proceedings. Child services may get involved if images turned back into school contain illegal or illicit images on the device’s camera roll, as school authorities are mandatory reporters.
Self esteem and effects on mental health: Unnecessary emphasis on perfection can contribute to mental health issues. Anxiety and depression are already major issues for teens, especially during the pandemic. Adding comparison with others or opening oneself up to online bullying are risks that come with posting selfies to social media, especially when filters make others seem impossibly perfect. Selfie dysmorphia is a new phenomenon that concerned psychologists recognize as another way teens may erroneously believe their appearance to be fundamentally flawed. According to the Child Mind Institute, “People with body dysmorphic disorder are obsessed with what they perceive to be a disfiguring flaw, like a large nose or ears, a blemish on the skin, or underdeveloped muscles. These flaws might be imagined or very minor and blown out of proportion.” Social media responses can amplify the echo chamber by focusing on those characteristics.
Time spent on limited skills during critical phases of development: Technology is always changing. How much time to invest in abilities that will quickly be outmoded is a concern when the window to master fundamental concepts like literacy, math, gross and fine motor skills, and others that will last a lifetime underscores the need for balance.
Positive uses: Three ways to encourage learning through a device’s camera feature
Besides the intended purpose of connecting with teachers and classmates, the camera feature on school-issued devices or personal ones can be used in ways that promote learning. Here are three ideas to put that camera to good use:
Go beyond the selfie: Encourage children to focus on photographing other things and enhance photography skills. Name a theme like a color or finding shapes in nature and challenge your child to get outdoors then show you what they find.
Pair photo ops with school skills: Tie photo challenges in with current lessons, like taking a photo of objects around the house that match the letter of the week.
#DITL and reflection: Creating a Day in the Life series could be a fun family project. Older children can document pandemic life and pair captions with images in a diary-style chronicle. Younger children could share an image of something positive, negative, and interesting in their day. Review photos on family members’ devices together by sharing the old fashioned way: in person, around the table, and take the opportunity to reflect on how things are going.
See the wonder and share your photos
What children choose to photograph can be telling. Their images just surprise you. Their own sense of wonder just might be revealed in what’s captured.
Showcasing what they value may make for some common themes: toys, books, or daily objects that matter. Even selfies have their place in their portrait of a life and a family. Watching skills and interests develop along with children themselves is possible when you give them a camera. Teaching them how to use it can be a life skill to impart, too, before this time has passed.
If your child has taken an interesting photo you would like us to consider sharing with our readers, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. With your permission, we’ll share it on social media.
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