Do you ever think about how our children’s generation will handle the 1000’s of photographs they will have accumulated by the time they leave college?
I mean seriously. We, the digital parenting pioneers, documented their daily activities like no other generation of parents. Ever. Period. Never mind the first time they crawled, walked and first soccer practice, I’m talking about the hour by hour photos of them making that cute face (same as yesterday’s) or playing in the yard with their dog.
Yes, like true Digital Parenting Pioneers, we started the photo obsessed culture.
Why wouldn’t we? It was so easy and natural to use our cell phones, iPhones or Androids, to snap the daily special photographs and then share with our family and friends. As our children developed, they grabbed our phones to document what was important to them. And the count of cell phone pics continues to grow with a steady stream of selfies and ‘streaks’ they all snap of themselves and their friends on a daily basis. It’s really overwhelming. Our children are truly like troupes of photo journalists, each chronicling their every move—in-between classes of course. No phones are allowed during class!
The mundane and the special moments are equally captured and shared instantaneously, hence the name Instagram, and effortlessly as the technology continues to advance. As a Digital Immigrant coming from the last generation to grow up without the internet and mobile phones, I wonder sometimes what it would be like to have that collection, album, or gallery of pictures from my past. My parents did their part in the 1970’s and 80’s (how’s that for a #tbt…that’s the hashtag for throwback thursday) and I have set of sporadic photo albums and an even more random collection grainy, silent movies that mostly captured birthday parties and summer and spring break vacations. Back then, there had to be a reason to take out the camera. It wasn’t in my father’s pocket or mother’s purse. And then, just as with the current generation, I did my part through the 1990’s documenting my experiences with my own decent batch of photos: A partial album from high school and 3 albums from college. I remember going to CVS to get the roll of 24 pictures developed and the collateral disappointment I felt when many of the pictures were too dark, blurry or otherwise misfits. No awesome photo filters.
So I wonder what it would be like to have an almost daily log of high def photos and videos to look back on. What would that experience be like? Would it inflate the worth of those events or have the opposite effect in that as most events were documented they hold less value. As a child psychologist working with digital natives who are evolving in this current photo-obsessed culture, I speculate that the gigabytes of pics will have an impact on their self worth and perception of the world.
If everything and everyone is special, what will be the impact an individual’s development?
The basic stages of development have not shifted (stay tuned for future generations). Children remain innately motivated to seek out new and innovative experiences. The desire to find and feel secure in a peer group through the tween and teenagers years is also developmentally and biologically appropriate. The shift comes in the landscape of how and when these interactions are taking place and therefore the impact on the individual child’s development is also different.
The intensity, frequency and duration of these digital interactions are all elevated, yet the fundamental need to have the interaction is the same as it has been in previous generations of children. Parents often joke how their children are glued to their phones and can multitask, flipping from one app to another and somehow manage the onslaught of notifications popping up on their home screen. Multitasking in a controlled, practiced way feels good to most people—children and adults. You feel efficient and accomplished. I believe these pleasurable feelings reinforce a compulsion loop that keeps us (and our children) engaged in the virtual multitasking.
It’s impossible to feel bored when you have 8 apps open all at once in which you are communicating and being included with a variety of friends and social media followers.
Remember the busy signal we (digital immigrant parents) encountered sometimes when reaching out to our friends?
The busy signal was an interruption to our natural desire to be connected with our peers. Our children do not encounter that interruption…ever. In fact, most of the ‘talking’ has been replaced with some type of photographic expression often with a text comment attached. I think about all of these conversations our children are having as never-ending. Rarely do they say ‘goodbye’. The conversations are ongoing, but with long pauses, sort of a feeling of being ‘on hold.’ But then when the text or notification pops up, whatever we (yes, we and our children) are doing gets interrupted in a way that feels different than when the phone rang on my kitchen wall when I was kid. Ironic that this ‘call’ from a friend coming through your phone feels more urgent and in need of a response as compared to in the past when you could only talk or return a phone call when you were at home…on the telephone attached to the wall. We feel more urgency to respond although we have the luxury to respond when and wherever we want…literally.
So it’s the intensity, frequency and duration of our contact with others that drives us to be photo journalists. Digital immigrants and natives alike are in the same boat. We all are inundated with connections and a biological need to seek out new information to stay safe and explore our world.
As Digital Parent Pioneers, I urge us to consider the unknown impact on our children and meet our parental obligation to set limits, protect and guide our children… worrying and complaining about how dangerous the digital world is for our children keeps us in a reactive stance. Be mindful of the intensity, frequency, and duration of your own digital use, as well as your children’s digital diet. Ice cream is yummy…too much ice cream is gross!