Raising Self Conscious Children?

I read a post by DaniGirl from Postcards from the Mothership this week. She responded to an earlier post by David Zweig regarding excessive documentation of children. This is an interesting debate, so I thought I would just jump in, whether anyone wants to hear what I think about it 🙂

To recap, David Zweig argues that we photograph our children too much, and that this, in conjunction with children later watching themselves on some iDevice, is causing them to be more self-conscious. He worries that this self-consciousness is preventing children from “being in the moment” and being children. DaniGirl (who, by the way, has done a family photo shoot for us a few months back and I recommend her to anyone who would like their family photos to be awesome) disagrees and argues that photographs are indispensible memories for years to come. I wholeheartedly agree, but I also have other qualms about Zweig’s approach.

Zweig starts by citing a study that “suggest(ed) that self-focusing stimuli (such as mirrors, or photos of oneself) increase self-consciousness.” This sounded to me a bit like professional jargon, so I looked up the study. Dr. Alain Morin gave college students a self-consciousness questionnaire, and asked them to estimate how often they were exposed to self-focusing stimuli in the past. So the conclusion really should read: people who recall having been exposed to more frequent self-focusing stimuli tend to show higher levels of self-consciousness. Ignoring people’s fallible memory, this relationship could be apparent in the data because exposure to self-focusing stimuli causes higher self-consciousness. But this correlation could, alternatively, mean that a certain personality trait (I’ll call it narcissism at the risk of being shunned by my personality-specialized friends) drives both seeking out self-focusing stimuli and having higher levels of self-consciousness. We can’t tell from this one study, and unfortunately it seems that there are no other studies that picked up this line of investigation.

Another point Zweig raises is that “A 3-year-old shouldn’t know which of her actions are worthy of being documented; she should simply be in the moment.” Now, 3-year-olds are kind of my specialty – I see quite a bit of them as my research involves observing them. And I disagree. In my opinion, 3-year-olds should think they’re awesome and should think that all of their actions are worthy of documentation. Here’s a quote from a research paper written in 1990: “preschoolers give formidable accounts of their running and climbing capabilities, their knowledge of words and numbers, as well as their virtuosity in winning friends and influencing others.” The author of this paper, Dr. Susan Harter offers the term “normal distortions” to describe these exaggerations. And it’s exactly that: normal. I would be worried about a 3-year-old who doesn’t think she’s awesome.

Children getting older younger is the concern Zweig raises. Well, children mimic adult behaviour. We are descendants of monkeys, after all. And if the role models are getting younger and younger, there’s no reason to think the popular culture would not trickle down to pre-teens. It looks to me like a very understandable attempt to fit into adult society, in preparation of being adults.


One thought on “Raising Self Conscious Children?

  1. When I was 3, I clearly remember being really self conscious! I was actually just researching self conscious at age three to try and see if this was a popular thing, because I’m still dealing with the same issues today (age 19). When I was very small, I’d pretend to be more shy than I was by hiding behind my mom’s coat to mask the fact that I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to embarrass my self, so instead I took the socially acceptable cute route! I also remember I’d never engage in sports with my friends because I never played at home so I knew I wouldn’t be any good. Instead I sat on the edge of the driveway and watched the other three and four year olds laugh and get competitive.
    I guess that I’ve always been extremely self aware, and as I get older I don’t know how to stop! I know that what I need to do is take risks, so I’ve forced myself into sports and the performing arts, but in life there’s still no luck. Not with people my own age anyway. I guess that’s what happens when you’re an only child, who’s been through the classic bullying scenario. I’ve turned to people who are older than me to adore me my whole life, and now I’m trying to work fast to make up for the time that I wasted not developing those skills with people my own age. I really wish someone would have caught this and helped me deal with it when I was younger.
    So yeah, not really a question is it? Haha

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