But if the photo obsession is all in fun, then why was the preening kid in the park disturbing?Perhaps, in part, it’s because the best personal photos are usually the accidental ones: a loved one laughing, unawares, or a friend caught staring out a window. A kid with a hand on her hip, posing to please, has passed out of innocence into pageantry – from cinéma verité to Toddlers and Tiaras.
Earlier this week, novelist David Zweig wrote on The New York Times’s Motherlode blog that he was distressed by his own three-year-old daughter’s repetitive demands to see personal pictures, often of herself, on his phone and computer. “There’s something to be said for being un-self-aware,” he wrote. “Yet I suspect our collective obsession with photos is hastening its demise.”
But as Zweig wrote, the ubiquity of photography for this generation necessitates self-consciousness. Many in the field of child development believe that children begin to recognize themselves as subjects separate from the world between about 18 months and three years old. Mirrors and photos are key to the process. Surely this generation, the most photographed in history, will come into subjectivity earlier, and self-consciousness. One study by the U.S. organization Common Sense Media found that 52 per cent of all children have access to a mobile device at home – smartphone, tablet or iPad. The diversions offered by the devices are many, but the camera is an easy, built-in one; my eight-year-old literally taught me how to take videos with my new HTC phone.
If a child is constantly being photographed and looking at the photos, there’s a collapsing of the distance between experience and memory. The moment and the recorded moment are so close together now that, in its most alarming form, the actual moment doesn’t seem fully experienced. “Let me see!” is the battle cry of a kid who’s not living in the present. As Susan Sontag wrote in On Photography: “Life is not about significant details, illuminated in a flash, fixed forever. Photographs are.”
Tell that to parents. If you’ve attended a childrens’ concert or play, then you know how hard it is to see through the waving branches of arms extended, clutching cameras and phones. This seems like an appropriate metaphor for my generation’s obsessive parenting practices: By locking our gaze on our own little singular snowflakes, we can easily miss the whole. The real story might be the unknown kid in the crayon costume rocking out on the edge of the stage, but parents are prone to record only the stories that star their own kids. Then, of course, these images are disseminated via social networks, endlessly casting our progeny as the players in a parents’ narrative of My Perfect Family, with or without the offspring’s permission.
Digital photography allows for constant curation of images, which usually means the selection of only the happiest moments. When pictures had to be printed, the good and the bad had an almost equal chance of survival, and some of those ugly pictures are some of the best: Dad’s wobbly eye; the cat's butt caught in the corner; the really bad perm. The perfectly posed childhood leaves little room for the messy part of living, where the joy is.
I don’t want to give up pictures – and my kids would never let me – but I do notice the moments without the camera, because they’re increasingly rare and lit with a different, quieter energy. Adults need to remember what it’s like to experience an undocumented, uncontained moment, and kids need to feel that they are forming themselves not to be seen, but to be.
Narcissistic traits are quite common in adolescence but this does not necessarily mean that the child will go on to become a narcissist. Research has found the diagnosis of narcissism to be significantly more common among men.Ref Faulty or inadequate parenting, for example a lack of limit setting, is believed to be a major cause, and both permissive and authoritarian styles of parenting have been found to promote narcissistic symptoms. The following parenting behaviors may result in a child becoming a narcissist in adulthood:
- Permissive parents who give excessive praise to the child, thus fostering an unrealistic view of themselvesRef
- Overindulgence and spoiling by parentsRef
- Failing to impose adequate disciplineRef
- Idealization of the childRef
Narcissists are concerned with their image rather than their selves. They often act to promote their image at the expense of their self. The self is a bipolar structure with the two extremes of an immature grandiosity at one end and a dependent over-idealization of other people at the opposite end. Healthy self-esteem is not formed if a child is not valued for his or her own self worth. Usually the child is only used for the benefit of the parent's self-esteem and to further the parent's needs. A narcissistic personality may be formed to make up for this lack of support and encouragement from parents.
The natural narcissistic tendencies in children during adolescence can cause parents to behave either in an authoritarian way or in a permissive way towards their child. This narcissistic vulnerability in adolescence is prone to embarrassment and shame, self-consciousness and shyness, and questions of self-esteem and self-worth. Healthy development of the self requires parenting that is demanding enough to encourage growth and independence but not so demanding as to prevent growth through over-control. Both extremes, a lack of guidance (permissiveness) and authoritarianism, should be avoided to reduce the likelihood of the adolescent becoming a narcissist in adulthood.
Many people, including many psychologists, believe that narcissism is a product of our times and our system of values. In the western world in particular, we are constantly bombarded by images of the ideal through the media, this may contribute to the rapid growth of narcissism in society. In extreme cases, narcissism may be linked to invocation whereby an individual's normal personality is replaced by another. This psychological state, where the narcissist becomes almost entirely divorced from reality, can be a means of communicating with or getting closer to a deity or spirit which some believe can result in demonic possession.