“Skip the children’s Instagram pageant.” That’s the message Jennifer Taitz has for parents in her November 26 Wall Street Journal column. highly recommend it as reading for parents and grandparents. She begins by saying, “’How many likes did I get?’ When I overheard a friend’s 8-year-old-daughter ask how her back-to-school portrait had performed on her mother’s Instagram, my heart fell. No child should grow up believing life is a continuous popularity contest judged on social media.”
Taitz also wonders how parents can navigate sharing proud pictures of their child while relaying to the child that life is about more than presenting the perfect image. Taitz weighed the costs and benefits of social media in her life and realized that signing up for Instagram would only tempt her to be more superficial. She also worried about the example she would be setting for her children. She goes on to say that in her mind, “healthy living requires participating in the moment in a meaningful way. That’s not easy to do while staging and posting photos, then tracking responses.” She quotes Robin Barman, her favorite psychiatrist and author of Permission to Parent, as telling parents to look at our children with “hearts in our eyes, truly seeing who they are with warmth. But it’s difficult to appreciate a child’s inner world from the vantage point of an iPhone camera.”
Many years ago, when our youngest daughter was 4 years old and taking dance classes, the director of the dance studio clearly understood this challenge. The annual dance recital was a major production in a large university theater with professional lights and sound. Parents were allowed to take photos and use video cameras during the dress rehearsal, but cameras were strictly forbidden during the actual performance.
“Miss Emily” understood that not only did camera flashes and people standing in the aisles with videocams distract from the performance, but more importantly, she wanted parents and grandparents to watch the children’s dancing with “hearts in their eyes,” drinking in what our little ones—and all the little ones—were proudly performing rather than zooming our focus in on a viewfinder image. Miss Emily got it right…and she forced us to get right.
Some years later I found myself for several years the producer of our elementary school’s Christmas program, which, thanks to a very talented music teacher, was a grand costumed extravaganza of dance and song, Parents were not invited to our dress rehearsal so there was not opportunity to take photos then. But after one year of the children’s entrances being blocked by parents in the aisles with their video cameras, or standing in front of others to take photos, I realized that I had to take action.
My solution was to find a parent who was a professional videographer. I persuaded him to record the entire program and make copies available at cost to any parent who wanted to order them. Then I adopted Miss Emily’s policy and we banned cameras at the performance. Parents loved having the video of the entire program, but now they could enjoy seeing their children with “hearts in their eyes.” They were able to pay close attention to the children they adored. And that’s what our kids want and need. Taitz, a psychologist, says she can imagine the young girl she quoted as saying “How many likes did I get?” sitting on her therapy couch a decade from now, describing how her well-meaning mother chronicled her every move for a distant audience rather than paying close attention to her. And who could blame her for feeling frustrated and a little resentful?
So maybe during this holiday season, we should consider setting aside the picture posting at least part of the time and just watching the joy in our children’s eyes as they talk to Santa, open gifts and play with their grandparents, rather than recording and sharing it all on social media. Let’s let our children have our total loving attention and forget about the Instagram and Facebook audience. Happy holidays!
Mary Waldmann's expertise as a speech writer and media expert spans over 30 years including among other roles Public Affairs Director for the US Department of Commerce during the Reagan Administration. She is the author of Six-Word Lessons on Winning with Today's Media , Six-Word Lessons for Intentional Parenting, and Six-Word Lessons for Compelling Speeches.
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