Over the years, bloggers have been told that posting photos of their kids online would lead to all sort of problems and issues in the future. We were warned (mostly by trolls, sure, but warned nonetheless) that all of these images we’ve plastered on our blogs would come back to haunt us — or, rather, to haunt them, our unsuspecting and blameless kids. We were told that down the line, our children would be tortured by any unflattering representations of them we’d made public, and tormented by teen peers over cutesy photos of their baby and toddler-selves (because babies and toddlers are SO totally not cool, you guys. OMG JEEZ!).
But it seems these were the least of our concerns, if David Zweig of the New York Times‘ Motherlode is to be believed. Because, according to Zweig, the real issue isn’t making images we take public per-se, but rather the frequency of the act of taking the images themselves. As Alain Morin, a psychologist at Mount Royal University in Canada, who studies self-awareness put it: “frequently being photographed and filmed likely induces self-awareness and thus self-evaluation, self-criticism, and may lead to other aversive consequences.”
Translation: bloggers, your kids are totally screwed.
The impulse to perform induced by a camera’s eye is hard to deny. Kids instinctively respond to it, hamming and mugging for the camera whenever it appears. But, as Zweig notes, in responding to it in this way they effectively leave the present and enter a realm of artifice — performing their lives for the camera, rather than living their lives and experiencing moments in real time:
Like adults, kids often act differently when they know the camera is on. There’s a reason posed shots almost always seem so awkward and artificial compared with candid ones. The very act of documentation, ironically, affects the moment it is trying to document.
The more we film — and indisputably, we film a lot today — the more time our kids are, to one degree or another, knowingly acting a scene for the camera rather than just being present. The other day, in a sweet moment, my daughter put her arm around her 1-year-old brother. Before my wife and I could finish our “aww”s, my daughter said, “Take a picture!” A 3-year-old shouldn’t know which of her actions are worthy of being documented; she should simply be in the moment.
My own experience tells me there’s at least some truth to this. As my daughter has gotten older, she’s definitely become more and more aware of the camera, and frankly grown increasingly resistant to being photographed in light of that awareness. Rather than turning self-critical or burdened with crippling self-consciousness, her response has been to enact a kind of photographic guerrilla warfare when cameras emerge, making grotesque faces and refusing to stand still even for a second. In this way, she subverts my impulse to capture the moment, and confounds my attempts to document her. Perhaps what she’s really rejecting is something internal — the feeling of artifice that kicks in the second one becomes aware the one is being photographed. Because, as a ten year old kid, she doesn’t (and shouldn’t) care about preserving diddly-squat for posterity. She, like most kids, just wants to be present and in the now. And rightly so, I suppose.
Have you noticed the kind of self-aware behavior Zweig describes in your own kids? What do you think of his idea that we should take fewer photos of them as a protective measure?
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