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'Center of the universe': Experts warn against  too many kid photos

Nov. 29, 2013 at 10:16 AM ET

Chances are you’ll see a lot of kid photos on Christmas cards this holiday season.

With the proliferation of smartphones, tablets, and digital cameras, children find themselves the stars of their own photo shoots.

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Focusing the camera on children too frequently might make them feel overly important, some experts say.

Some toddlers grab their parents’ smartphones and snap their own selfies. Other children give creative direction -- “Take my picture, Mom, I’m being cute.” 

Others simply smile when anyone reaches for a phone, assuming that this means it’s photo time. Afterward, these same kids ask to see how their photos turned out.

These images create rich memories, but so much photo taking can be too much of a good thing, an expert says.

“We need to keep track of what values we are communicating by taking the picture and posting and distributing the picture,” says Judith Myers-Walls, a professor emeritus of human development and family studies at Purdue University.

“Are you taking a picture of the child and not as a family as a whole? They might think they are the center of the universe.”

Taking photos of children isn’t new, of course. Family portraits have existed since the advent of cameras, and before that, paintbrushes. As time has passed, a portrait transformed from an expensive, special purchase that took time to develop, to an instant, daily event. Myers-Walls does not think people should stop taking photos of their children and knows that during the holidays the photo taking increases, but she does believe that it should be done mindfully.

“I think it becomes almost a habit and not consciously guided,” she says.

She recommends parents consider hiring a professional photographer to take family photos, which highlight that each family member plays an important role.

Myers-Walls also believes parents should encourage their children to use cameras to record images they think illustrate the family or the holidays. This allows the children to turn the focus away from themselves and onto the family.

“I think it’s important to decide when taking the photo: what’s the purpose? Is this to help my memory of something; is this to play around and be silly; is this to communicate? What I am communicating to whom?” she says.

While focusing the camera on the children too frequently might make them feel overly important, Alain Morin, an associate psychology professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta, says research finds that taking too many photos creates another problem.

“The use of self-focusing stimuli, a mirror, a picture, a camera … anything that induces awareness for others [makes] you start thinking about who you are. And, you think about your shortcomings,” he says.

With children instantly able to see their photos on cameras and then on social media, they experience two viewing events, meaning there are more opportunities to criticize themselves, he notes.

“When people are exceedingly self-focused, they self-critique a lot and feel bad a lot,” Morin says.

But even though too many photographs might cause people to be overly critical, having a lot of photos isn’t always a negative, he notes. Photos can help people create stronger memories, leading them to have a better sense of who they are.   

“Taking pictures and (having) lots of pictures of kids is going to enrich their autobiographical memory,” Morin explains.  

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