In the Ninth Edition of my “Week of Lists” I tackle the high level topic: Offline versus Online Parenting, exploring the collision of ideas parents face when seeking to participate and bridge gaps between themselves and other parents… while avoiding ruining their kids lives by oversharing or mild exploitation. I’ve been dad-blogging for ten years in various forms, so I’ve thought about many of the pros and cons, like…
3 vs 3 Kinds of Photos that Might Be Ruining (or Elevating) Your Kid’s Future
I have taken a lot of photos and videos.
I mean, my photo count is easily in the six digits and possibly approaching seven. Good, bad, ugly, and beyond. I don’t claim to ponder the implications of every piece of media that I capture, but there have been times, shortly after posting an image, that I’ll reconsider and quickly purge it from the net. There have been other times when I’ve taken a great photo, posted it, then months later realized that while it might be an objectively great photo, and while it might not be immediately thought of as harmful or negative, just that fact that I’ve drawn attention to that moment in time has implications for how The Girl perceives herself and her actions.
It’s a subtle consideration.
When I wrote more about parenting on this blog (and others) I had something of a mandate. I called it the three “I”s of parenting: raising kids to inspire Intelligence, Integrity and Imagination.
I suppose the opposite of that would be evoking Emotion, Ego and Envy. Not that these are terrible, awful things, but the latter three tend to come much easier, and nurturing any of them in a vacuum without the counterbalance of the three “I”s, the three “E”s are not what I would consider a desirable endgame. Or vice versa. One might even say that aiming for a kid who has a personality rich with all six, but (my personal bias) richer with the intelligence, integrity and imagination is probably going to have an elevated kind of life. On the other hand, a kid who has all six traits, but who is burdened with an abundance of emotion, ego and envy might eventually blame her parents for ruining her ability to interact with the world in a way that improves her life in the long run.
So, let’s think about what taking (and sharing, perhaps) certain kinds of photos might illustrate to the young impressionable minds of the subjects of those pictures, and how (if only in small, incremental bits) might contribute to building one of those six traits.
Ruining #1: The Breakdowns… From Tears and Beyond
Actually, there is one video that comes to mind as I write this. (Are videos worse than photos? They have a concise way of capturing emotions can bring back the sights and sounds of something the subject of the five second documentary might sooner forget.) The video that comes to mind is one I took during a dinner at home about three years ago. It involved a tired kid, a new recipe, a few more beans than The Girl wanted in her food, and some stubborn parents.
Even years later The Girl forbids me to play the clip at home… let alone show it to anyone else. She hates it. She loathes it. As soon as she figures out how to hack the password to my media archive I’m sure it will quietly disappear never to be viewed again.
And I can’t say I’d blame her. It’s not something that I’d ever share on social media (writing about it probably bad enough) but just that it exists probably implies to her that a short emotional burst when she was young is some kind of performance art for our entertainment. And maybe it is. Was. But then what part of her mind am I nurturing in that equation? I’m not going speculate on some worst-case scenario for ruining her future by having captured her emotional breakdown in video form, but it’s not hard to imagine that it the kind of thing that picks away are the firmament around her mental self.
Elevating #1: The Breakouts… Abroad and Back Again
On the other hand we travel… a lot. Along with that travel comes many, many photos. As such, photos often turn up on social media of The Girl exploring the world, posed in front of oceans and architecture, or grinning as she embraces the beauty and curiosities of other cultures and (even reluctantly) tastes interesting foods from around the planet. They may just look like travel pics, but they are also captured images of active moments telling stories of her breaking out of her small elementary school world and expanding her mind and blossoming her raw intelligence far abroad in a foreign land… or just on a bike on a new trail in the local river valley.
I’d rather her understand that these are the parts of her mind that we consider valuable and worth sharing with our friends and family.
Ruining #2: The Selfie… All About Her
I’m guilty of this. It starts with the effort to capture that one image to put into your Twitter profile that will be your smiling face to the world across the web. It ends with a category of pics called “selfies” in your media archive that look like an ego trip through the back-pointed lens of your phone’s camera.
I’ve seen so many people taking selfies in the last couple years I could probably make myself sound like a bitter old man if I wrote anymore about it.
I’ve also seen The Girl snap a few selfies. And why not. They’re fun. They have a purpose in communicating a small glimpse of one’s humanity across a world filling up with more emojis and txt-speak and less actual verbal conversations. They exist to fill a very specific need, and I hate to imply that they are bad. They just are this thing that we all do now… self-documenting our face to someone for some reason for some instant moment of communicating a reminder that we’re more than just words.
To remind people that we are a person.
To remind people of us.
To share a bit of our ego with whoever is on the other end of that message, viewing the photo, seeing the pic on the web.
But as much as a kid selfie is cute the first few times, there reaches a point when you start to wonder if the image is less about sharing that face like a lens and more about starting back at it like a mirror.
Elevating #2: The Group… All About Her Friends
On the other hand, do we still call those pictures selfies when the arm stretches out a bit further, still pointed backwards, to include everyone else around us?
I do this kind of selfie with a different kind of frequency: I hold out the camera for a group shot on a run because it’s the only way I can be in the photo. I hold out the camera for the trio of our family on the beach because it captures the intimacy of the moment with all of us spontaneously pausing to say look where were are… together. I hold out the camera for a hug with The Girl. I hold out the camera for something instant and temporary and candid that can’t be posed or frozen even long enough to find a place for a proper snapshot. It’s the kind of photo that reminds us that we’re part of something bigger and that working for these moments of friendship or family bonding are building blocks of personal integrity in a worldview wider than ourselves.
Ruining #3: The Showcase… Of Her Best Work
Proud dad alert here: I take a lot of photos of The Girl and her art projects. She has the heart of a budding artist in her and a week rarely goes by without another “masterpiece” appearing on the kitchen counter, or pinned to a wall at school, or stuffed into my laptop bag to be displayed at the office.
For a while she was deeply into painting. We’d bought some canvases and some brushes and let her slap colour onto the space as her heart desired. Then I took a photo of it and posted it on Instagram. And as proud as she was of that painting ten seconds previous, when it appeared online she frowned and walked away.
I think Ira Glass best explained the artist’s dilemma in a classic quote people often refer to as The Gap. It goes: “Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have.”
So all we do when we show off the not-quite masterpieces of our kid, all we do when we post videos of them playing the piano at an intermediate level, all we do when we show them do as well as we as proud parents expect them to do with any achievement, is that we inadvertently highlight their envy of an impossible something they can’t yet be. They can’t yet be it because they haven’t put in the hours to earn it… they aren’t old enough to be what they imagine that they will be someday when they grow up and achieve it.
They see their work shared as a picture before deep down they feel like it should be. Their taste is good, but their skills are jealous of a future state. And we do little more but inspire them to envy greatness rather than strive for it.
Elevating #3: The Exploration… Of Her Struggle to Improve
On the other hand, the second half of that Ira Glass quote concludes by reassuring us that: “We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
And while a kid might not get that sentiment exactly as it is intended, certain type of photos that I’ve taken, that I’ve occasionally posted have elevated the process over the product.
I’d like to think that a picture of her with her art supplies facing down a raw canvas, or a video of her lacing up her shoes for a long bike ride or a photo of the nervous anticipation leading up to a piano recital… I’d like to think that these types of photos inspire her imagination of what she could be rather than what she isn’t quite yet.
In that kind of photo, with every opportunity to share a photo we can snap or record towards an effort to emphasize the important things worth photographing… worth working towards, and the moments we think have the most value to who we are and who we want our kids to be.
Will that photo ruin their lives? Or make them better adults?