Growing up on screen
April 6, 2011 3:51 AM   Subscribe

I have a 15 month old daughter. Since she was born we have taken thousands of pictures of her and a great deal of video.

From about three months old she got used to seeing herself on screen. Now she loves it, grabbing the camera out of our hands as soon as the shot is taken. She loves looking at herself in this way and we enjoy the moment. But lately I have begun to wonder. What effect will it have on children if they grow up so used to seeing themselves in this way? We already live in a very narcissistic society and I am sure my partner and I are not alone is showering our child with these images. So, my question is really about her generation. What effect will heavy exposure to their own image have on my daughter's generation? And does any body know if anyone has begun to do some research on the subject?
posted by MrMerlot to Technology (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This is a really interesting question, and I've thought about it, as we have a ton of pics carter jr, many of which we share on flickr. He likes to see the instant playback of the picture when I take it, and also looking at himself on flickr.

I don't have any research pointers yet, as I still have to get to work. But I would be wary of placing any absolute ethical judgment on this (more/less narcissistic, etc.). It's just different. You're right though, it would be very interesting to see how it is different. As a starter, Sherry Turkle has done a lot of work on this in the past, not necessarily in very young children.

These types of technology are also changing the way we as parents relate to children (we take more photos, share them, etc.).
posted by carter at 4:24 AM on April 6, 2011

I think you're overthinking it. I've seen parents doing this without any ill effects...but those are just doting parents...just like you.
posted by hal_c_on at 4:31 AM on April 6, 2011

What effect will heavy exposure to their own image have on my daughter's generation?

Mirrors have been around for a while, so I don't think this is any different than showing your kid their reflection.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 4:32 AM on April 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

Anecdotal point of data that I think is interesting: I read a commentary one time by a Japanese writer who said, you go into American homes and you see tons of pictures of the kids. You go into a Japanese home and you'll see tons of pictures of grandparents and other ancestors. The writer went on to make the point that this is part of why American kids are more narcissistic than Japanese kids, and why Japanese people grow up with an inherent desire to take care of their elderly.

(Not sure at all if I agree with the inference, but it is interesting.)
posted by jbickers at 4:37 AM on April 6, 2011 [11 favorites]

The writer went on to make the point that this is part of why American kids are more narcissistic than Japanese kids, and why Japanese people grow up with an inherent desire to take care of their elderly.

But by that logic, I would have grown up wanting to take care of the Niagara Falls.

I don't think it has anything to do with the actual pictures. Having pics of certain people mean those people are important to you. Having lots of the grandparent photos isn't the cause of caring for grandparents...its the effect of caring for the grandparents.
posted by hal_c_on at 5:14 AM on April 6, 2011 [10 favorites]

As a kid to an older mother (I was the last of 5) and she herself a late in life baby (her mother was in her 40s when she had her - yes, I know everybody does it now, but back then, not so much) my mother detested me looking in a mirror. She was afraid I'd become vain (haha, very funny, buck teeth, crossed eyes, freckles and a cowlick - not one chance in a million), and she took very few photos of us as well, though I grew up through the 70s and 80s.

I remember exploring aspects of my identity with the techology of the time, my friends and I played with tape recorders and would strut our stuff (not singing - just being and exploring being, different characters, difference voices, different personalities).

I was a little perturbed when I noticed my 14-17 year old daughter take literally thousands of photos of herself, first with her mobile phone (a gift from her aunty!) and then with the hand-me-down camera. The photos were nearly always angsty, but she did explore goth and gamer girl identities for a while. Now she is arty chick (she's in her second degree of fine arts majoring in painting) and I don't find her to be narcississtic or vain. She watches her weight (what 19 year old woman doesn't), enjoys clothing, but not to attract attention. It's a form of expression, and art to her, I believe. In some ways she actively avoids attention (because of her Marilyn Monroe figure, and the unwanted male attention that brings).

So anecdata, as a parent I was concerned, but I now believe that if other areas of life are in balance, and a person is shown good behaviour, ethics, compassion, then the issue of image and self because of images in the home, will hopefully not be problematic. I still worry more about heroine-chic and photoshopping everyone in the magazines.
posted by b33j at 5:17 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Fascinating question. I think that videos and pictures are no more likely to cause narcissism than mirrors, personally. Especially growing up in an environment where everyone is carrying around a camera in their pocket and the ability to publish it to the world.
posted by empath at 6:01 AM on April 6, 2011

Many kids love this - here's mine. That was about nine years ago. Since then, she has spent a fair amount of time looking at our photosets online (and like you we have thousands of pics), but these contain the entire family, trips, the dog, etc. - so she's not just looking at pictures of herself. Even this has tapered off the last couple of years.

When we got her a camera, she didn't take a lot of pictures of herself and even though she recently requested a camera upgrade she is not an avid photographer yet. Usually she just doesn't think ahead about bringing her camera someplace so she doesn't have it when she wants to take pictures.

(Some) kids also love looking at themselves in a mirror so in a way I don't think this is an entirely new phenomenon.

I haven't noticed any more narcissism than average, but I'll get back to you with more data when we hit the teen years.
posted by mikepop at 6:11 AM on April 6, 2011

Great question. I could easily argue the opposite, though. That the ubiquity and casual ease of photos and video today might make them have less impact than they did in the past. Seeing a photo or video of yourself in the "film era" was a fairly rare event -- my wife, for example, only knows of three extant photos of her father, who died in 1981. Today, one sees one's own face staring back at one all the time, so it makes it less talismanic, less fraught with meaning.

Interesting anecdote: When my daughter (born in 2001) was 2 or 3, my mother was taking pictures of her with a film SLR camera, and at one point my daughter demanded to see the camera. My mother was hesitant, but when she eventually handed it over, my daughter turned it around and looked at the back of the camera to see what the pictures looked like. She could not understand that the images were not ready for immediate consumption, like in all the other cameras she had ever seen.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:36 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

"She loves looking at herself in this way and we enjoy the moment. But lately I have begun to wonder. What effect will it have on children if they grow up so used to seeing themselves in this way?"

My husband has a big fancy DSLR camera and an artistic background, so our baby got very used to getting lots of positive attention from daddy when daddy disappeared behind the camera, and from very early would squeal and smile and "pose" when it happened because of all the positive attention he got. To the point that, when the baby and I were at a press conference when the baby was six months old, he saw the news photographer disappear behind his camera, and my baby started noisily hamming it up because he thought it was all for him. and, indeed, he ended up on the front page because he was overwhelming the room with his cuteness even though he had nothing whatsoever to do with the story.

Anyway, now he's 22 months old and all he wants to do when we get cameras out is come over and push all the buttons. We can hardly get a picture of him because he makes a beeline for the technology and all its pretty, pretty buttons.

Which is to say, she's probably reacting more to the positive attention and the habit you've established, and her interest will probably wax and wane.

We put together a couple of cheap photobooks for ours, pictures of him and his family and his cats and things, and these just make him light up. He LOVES seeing pictures of things and people he knows. Yours might like that too, since she likes looking at her pictures.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:43 AM on April 6, 2011

Taking photographs seems no longer primarily an act of memory intended
to safeguard a family’s pictorial heritage, but is increasingly becoming a
tool for an individual’s identity formation and communication.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 6:47 AM on April 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

From about three months old she got used to seeing herself on screen. Now she loves it, grabbing the camera out of our hands as soon as the shot is taken. She loves looking at herself in this way and we enjoy the moment.

Does she grab the camera only when the shots/video are of her, or does she do this every time you use the camera? My son was like that (he's now 9) and my daughter (2.5) is like that now. They did/do that no matter what was being filmed, but more so when the images were/are of themselves.

I attribute it to 1) a child's curiosity about how things work, and 2) a child learning to self-recognise. My daughter, for example, is pretty sneaky about grabbing my camera and taking random photos. My son has a Flip camera which he uses to take fun videos. Hard to say for the little one, but my son is pretty well-adjusted. They both like to look at the videos and point out the people in them.

If you have concerns that your baby sees too many images of herself and not of others, perhaps you can try baby photo albums (they're soft and have inserts for photos). Both our kids had them. We put pics inside, usually group pics of family and friends, and used them to help with identifying, recognising, and naming their loved ones.
posted by methroach at 6:50 AM on April 6, 2011

When I was in Egypt and Jordan, children ran up to me and asked me to take their pictures. They then demanded to see the pictures so I would show them, they would giggle, and then run back so I could take more pictures of them. They rarely had mirrors but they loved seeing what they looked like. I don't think it was narcissism, more like, this is so cool, I can't believe that's what I look like. They wouldn't pose or even smile all the time but I think it's part of putting together one's identity to know what one looks like.
posted by kat518 at 7:33 AM on April 6, 2011

I have wondered the same thing, and additionally, how is this affecting their memories? Will reviewing these insignificant life events make them more permanent memories? Or does it externalize them, so the child remembers the picture but has no emotional memory of the event? I suppose it makes me want to augment our memorabilia stores with notes, stories and sound recordings. That way, if later in life my child wants to trigger emotional memories in order to reconnect with his sense of self, he has a few other sensory avenues.
posted by xo at 9:35 AM on April 6, 2011

Here's a recent study about girls who post a large number of photos on Facebook.
posted by CathyG at 10:31 AM on April 6, 2011

CathyG, the article you linked to says the following:
"Participants whose self worth is based on private-based contingencies (defined in this study as academic competence, family love and support, and being a virtuous or moral person)," says Stefanone, "spend less time online." For these people, social media are less about attention seeking behavior.
I get the impression that Stefanone is assuming a value judgement, but can't really tell from the article. I would love to read the actual study, if you have a link handy.
posted by aniola at 12:14 PM on April 6, 2011

This is also a major concern for me about my daughters. Part of it is the way parents prod their kids into performing for the camera and then fawning over the results. It seems to send the message that the child earns love and attention by doing those cute things, so that means the parents' love is conditional. They become objects of entertainment for their parents and their parents' friends. The parents take these photos because they themselves are trying to win affection and attention from others, causing their kids to "inherit" their emotional disorder.

As a father myself of two small girls, I also think about the way women are bombarded with images of beauty that they feel forced to live up to for others, another variation on performance. I don't believe that I can fully protect them from that. My hope is that at home with us, they can have a respite from those pressures and knowing that it doesn't have to be that way, they're better able to resist.

But definitely the narcissism is another major concern, although the word has so many contradictory meanings, I want to be precise about what that means. When Narcissus fell in love with his reflection, people usually emphasize the love part - he loves himself too much, and ignores others. For me, the problem is the exact opposite: Narcissus loves his reflection, not himself. That is, he loves how he appears to others, he is very concerned with how he is perceived. The key to narcissism is not feeling self-love - it could just as easily be self-hate - it's believing that you have no identity outside of what others think of you.

Mirror neurons - the part of the brain that allows you to think about how others see the world (and how they see you) - only gets fully developed at around age 6, so I think you are some ways off from this really becoming a problem. But you already have a large number of photos - I would lock most of those away somewhere. Keep them as memories, don't bombard your kids with them.

Also related: Lacan's Mirror Stage.
posted by AlsoMike at 4:14 PM on April 6, 2011

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