Are camera-crazy families raising a generation of narcissists?

by DaniGirl on October 16, 2012 · 6 comments

in Mothering without a licence, Photography

I read with interest an article in the New York Times parenting blog this past weekend: Why we should take fewer pictures of our children. The author’s premise is that we are making our children too self-aware with our incessant documentation. David Zweig says, “Like most everything, self-awareness is healthy in moderation, and problematic in excess. For adults excessive self-awareness has links to a host of ills from anxiety to vanity.” He then goes on to link this self-awareness to the fact that kids are seeming older (in their behaviour and attitudes) at a younger age now.


Maybe it’s because Zweig has a daughter, or because I am too invested in obsessively documenting my kids’ lives photographically, but I am not sure I buy into this one. I could give you a couple of good reasons why maybe I should put down the camera every now and then, and at the top of that list would be so I would be more in the moment and not so busy trying to document it. But whether those photos, in the taking of them or in the viewing of them, is somehow damaging to the kids’ self-esteem or gives them too inflated a sense of self? Um, no.

Zweig says, “So, both components of our photography obsession β€” the experience of parents and others regularly clicking away, and the regular viewing of the results of this relentless documentation β€” are making our children increasingly self-aware. And this is a shame because a lack of self-awareness is part of what makes youth so precious.”

I say the kids love these images now and they will treasure them later. I wish we had more pictures of our family growing up, and I especially wish I had more than a dozen pictures of my parents’ childhoods. The only thing we enjoy more than looking at the “old” photos of our young family together is watching the few hilarious videos of them that I’ve posted to YouTube over the years. There may be a couple of years when they reach the teenage years that they are not quite so enamoured by the photos of these years, but I’m guessing that if they’re anything like me (and so far they do seem to be) then they will love these photos more with each passing year.

257:365 Photographer-in-training

In direct counterpoint to Zweig’s article, if you have not already you simply must read Allison Tate’s beautiful blog post, The Mom Stays In the Picture, on why you should relinquish the camera every now and then (ahem) and get in the frame. Allison says,

I’m everywhere in their young lives, and yet I have very few pictures of me with them. Someday I won’t be here — and I don’t know if that someday is tomorrow or thirty or forty or fifty years from now — but I want them to have pictures of me. I want them to see the way I looked at them, see how much I loved them. I am not perfect to look at and I am not perfect to love, but I am perfectly their mother.


So when all is said and done, if I can’t do it for myself, I want to do it for my kids. I want to be in the picture, to give them that visual memory of me. I want them to see how much I am here, how my body looks wrapped around them in a hug, how loved they are.

So I suppose you’re not too surprised where I stand on these issues. When I first read Allison Tate’s blog post last week, I vowed while wiping tears from my eyes that dammit, I would hand over the camera to Beloved more often – and haul out that tripod so all five of us can be in a couple of frames as well. Because I will keep taking pictures of my family, and I’ll probably keep sharing them here with you, too, for many years to come.

What do you think about these very different blog posts? Do you see merit in David Zweig’s fears that the next generation will grow up to be narcissists? Or do you think that Allison Tate is right on the money, and what we need is simply more photos of the whole family, rumpled and wrinkly moms included?

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Danielle October 16, 2012 at 6:23 am

I don’t know. I think time will tell. Just thinking of my facebook feed, I know some parents can go a little overboard with the photos sometimesT.

I will say though, I wish there had been more pictures of me when I was young in the 70s and 80s. My parents seemed to have a ton of baby pictures, than a handful until I was about five. After that, the pictures are sporadic. Aside from those awful school portraits, entire years of my life went undocumented (probably for the best in my teen years though).

2 Tanya October 16, 2012 at 8:34 am

I’m all for taking lots of photos, but what drives me crazy is that many parents insist that their kids pose and smile for EVERY photo. Some of the best ones I’ve taken are the candids, where the boys are playing or whatever and barely even realize I’m taking a picture.

3 Mary October 16, 2012 at 10:10 am

Everything in moderation, right? When my kids did a show at the end of their hip hop daycamp this summer, I caught myself becoming obsessed with snap, snap and snapping away to get that perfect shot. I was totally MISSING the awesomeness of this moment of seeing my kidlets perform – and when I put down my camera and stopped to take it all in, this became one of the highlights of my summer. In the end, I got one okay shot of the show – but that’s enough because I really got to take it all in and enjoy the show.

Now what I really need to do is get organized and print the darn photos I take and put them in albums. Because in 10 years, who knows if those digital photo files will even work anymore! ; )

4 Jill October 16, 2012 at 12:00 pm

I agree with Tanya, although it is nice to have a few posed pictures here and there… I too LOVE the candid pictures, I usually put my 85 or 100mm on and my girls don’t even notice I’m taking their picture.

As a side note, my girls are adopted, from China. Lilah was 1.5 year old and Phebe was 2 years old when they joined our family… I have about 5 pictures of each my girls in that space of time, we also have basically no information of all the time they spent living in an orphanage. So for me, I know I’m trying to make it up to my girls for the months and years that we have no idea what happened… I want them to feel that they have a little bit of control, knowing what happened after they joined our family… and also so they will know how much they are loved – although I do hope our actions speak louder than picures! πŸ˜‰ I vowed I would blog and journal everything until they are at least 5 years old and then tame it down from there!! My eldest daughter is 5 now, so maybe it’s time to tame it down to monthly updates!! πŸ˜‰


5 Shauna October 17, 2012 at 11:48 pm

One of my favourite things to do is look through and play with old memories by looking through childhood photo albums. I am grateful for every moment that my parents ventured to capture, and I see nothing wrong with it…though I guess we were on a film basis, so people were a little less snap happy.

I REALLY agree with Allison. I so wish that my mom had been in more photos herself. I find it unfortunate to look through old albums and never see her because in my memories she was always there–I guess she was behind the camera! It seems incomplete. I treasure pictures of my parents together or shots of my mother with the kids. A little anecdote for you: when my brother was 6, he drew a family portrait at school. Everyone was in the drawing except my mother. When we asked why she was excluded, he explained “Because she’s taking the picture!” Amazing what kids notice!

6 Shan @ the fairy blogmother October 20, 2012 at 9:26 am

I was 12 when my Dad passed away. Most of the important people in my life now (excluding my own family) never had the chance to meet him. He was the one taking most of our pictures growing up, so there are very few pictures of him around. Those pictures are the only way I can share him now with my kids, my husband or anybody else who has come into my life in the past 27 years. That’s what I have to show them and say this is your Grandpa, this is what he looked like so they have a way of making a connection, so he’s something more than just a story I can tell. No surprise, I think pictures of the whole family are so important.

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