The Toddler Selfie Obsession: Raising a Balanced Toddler in a Photo-Obsessed Family
The toddler-selfie craze is on the rise, and my little girl might be doomed to become a narcissist
The Associated Press has recently reported that toddlers are obsessed with taking selfies. Yup, itty bitty humans of only a couple years old are grabbing at their parents’ iPhones eager to take photos of themselves. If you are a parent, and you have an iPhone, it’s likely that you have either watched your child try to work the camera or have found your little one’s blurred self-portraits hiding in your photo library.
The AP also mentions that it’s easy for parents to encourage their toddlers to take up this selfie-taking trend. There are even apps available that cater to these little ones and their little fingers, making photo-taking super simple and toddler-friendly. One product takes it to the next level as a pillow with a smartphone pocket so toddlers can occupy themselves during a diaper change by taking selfies. Yes, I guess that really is a thing.
Deborah Best, a professor of cognitive developmental psychology at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, tells the Associated Press, “‘Tot-centric’ snapshots can help build a healthy self-image and boost childhood memories when handled correctly, but shooting too many photos or videos and playing them back instantly for a demanding toddler could backfire.” The instant gratification that toddlers receive from today’s smartphones is “going to be hard to overcome,” says Best. ”They like things immediately and they like it short and quick. It’s going to have an impact on kids’ ability to wait for gratification. I can’t see that it won’t.”
After reading about this, I became concerned. My 14-month-old daughter seems to have already caught the photo-crazed bug. At nights, as part of her wind-down ritual, she insists on looking at photos and watching videos of herself and others on my iPhone as she lies next to me in her little footed pajamas. When I pull out my phone and hold it in photo-taking mode, she is conditioned to flash me that scrunchy, toddler smile. Sometimes she even does it with a shoulder shrug. I can’t say it’s not cute. In fact, it downright kills me. And then she points and says “peez, peez”, aka “please,” (we know she’s not asking for peas) until I turn the phone around and show her the photo I just took. So, even though she’s not yet taking selfies of herself, she is insisting on seeing photos of herself. Is my 14-month-old daughter doomed to become a narcissistic, demanding photo-obsessed adult?
Photo-obsessed? Probably. No, not probably. DEFINITELY.
You see, my daughter Stella comes from a lineage of photo-obsessed people. I grew up in a photo-obsessed family. My parents, particularly my dad, were really into documenting every phase of our childhood, regularly taking photos and videos of us growing up. My parents were and still are very sentimental, and they loved to capture our family moments, big and small. No moment was complete until it was documented. We were so used to my dad taking videos and photos that the camera became sort of a part of our family. And when my dad held the camera up and asked, “What day is it, Annie?” that was my cue to turn toward the camera and give an interesting, yet succinct and hopefully upbeat intro into that day’s video journal—including the date, the location, why we were there and what we were doing for the day. We loved seeing the photos, and we loved watching the video playback.
So, it’s no surprise that now, as an adult, I snap an obscene amount of photos on a weekly basis. My iPhone is constantly maxed out because of videos, and I have to keep buying external hard drives to house all of it. Some of the video is of major events: birthdays, Stella’s first trip to the zoo, her wobbly first steps. And some of it is long stretches of video of her just sitting in her high chair, eating noodles or looking at a book not knowing I’m there. I have that same need to document, to capture moments, to capture looks, just like my dad. And of course it’s not uncommon for parents with babies and toddlers to be snap happy. I’m sure many of us feel the way that my parents did–our children are only this small once, and they are changing and growing before our eyes, why not document as best we can with photos or videos?
So, yeah, my daughter is photo-obsessed. Will that make her more prone to narcissism and needing instant gratification? Especially in this age of apps and smart phone technology Toddlers are known to be fascinated with their own image. Just as they love to look into a mirror, they love to see their image in a photo. Experts say that this interest in studying their image plays an important developmental role as they develop a sense of self. But I know, just as the experts caution, too much of anything can be a bad thing.
Of course I realize the value in enjoying the moment without a camera in my hand. I know it’s important to be present and to experience the joy of seeing my daughter do something amazing and capturing it in my mind and heart. And I appreciate the beauty and importance in that. I’m going to try my best to raise my daughter with an appreciation for capturing moments and sentimental things but not at the expense of really living that moment. I’ll do my best to teach her that balance is key. But it’s all relative. Balance to me, coming from my photo-happy family, probably amounts to 2,000 more photos than the next “normal” family. But I think that’s OK. And I also think a selfie here and there never hurt anyone either.
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