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Exclusion in the Instagram Age: How Can They be Having Such a Great Time Without Me?

Instagram and Exclusion

I just wrapped up working with a great group of 7th and 8th graders and wanted to share their ideas so that you can use them with kids (and adults) that you know!

If you ask a group of kids if they ever felt left out when they see images or videos posted in apps like Instagram, Vine or Snapchat, they will have a lot to say. Each of these apps can include images and videos of groups of other friends that may not include the viewer.

When I posed this question to this group, the middle schoolers all said that this happens all the time—and can be hard to deal with. They all agreed that it is better not to lie or make excuses if you are busy with one group of friends and another friend wants to hang out. Better to say, “I have plans” than to lie and say, “I have too much homework,” and then share images of yourself at spending time with other friends.

I asked them if they think kids post images with the intention of making others feel excluded. Most of the kids were reluctant to admit it—they’ve been on both sides of this issue. One boy suggested that other kids post pictures in the moment without really thinking about it.

One girl said that even if she is invited but can’t go, “I can feel pretty jealous and even mad that I am not there. How can they be having such a great time without me?” Ouch. This is a great insight into the complicated digital lives of today’s kids.

One student described the experience of vicariously experiencing a pool party that included many people in her class. As an alternative to watching the pictures roll in and feeling terrible, she invited two other friends—who had also been left out—to her house. They watched movies and did some baking. Good strategy!

Working with my Connecting Wisely Curriculum, I challenged students to come up with some strategies for this scenario: You are looking at your phone and see Instagram pictures of your friends or acquaintances hanging out without you—or a party you weren’t invited to. These were some of their suggestions:

  1. Watch some Netflix
  2. Eat some ice cream
  3. Call some other friends to invite them over
  4. Don’t watch—put away your phone!
  5. Exercise
  6. Hang out with your family

They were able to admit that if they had other friends over, it might be tempting to take and share pictures. When I asked why she would share pictures at all, one girl said that she wants to “show that she has a life outside of school.” Another kid said, “it is fun to share when you are doing fun things.” Other kids pointed out that social media is a way to mark the moment and preserve memories.

Putting away your phone is a great idea. Making a choice not to ruminate over your exclusion is a huge step towards empowerment!

I asked the kids, “do you think people just shouldn’t share images of events that exclude people,” and they all said, “NO! people have a right to share.” One girl clarified that, “one is OK, two is a bit much, and three or more pics from the same event starts to be obnoxious.”

As always, kids have great insight and come up with creative solutions. With a little mentorship from parents, teachers, and other group leaders, kids will help co-create the new guiding principles of social media etiquette.


These exercises above (and more!) are in my new curriculum guide that I co-authored with Karen Jacobson. It’s full of challenging and fun activities to help kids think about and manage the new and ever-changing issues of the digital world. While it’s pitched towards teachers and group leaders, parents could get a lot out of it too. It’s called Connecting Wisely & Well in the Digital Age: Social Emotional Exercises For Plugged in Kids, and you can find it here.

 

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Smartphones, digital photos, digital pictures, digital images, selfies, Instagram, social media, privacy, Picture Day

Every Day is Picture Day

Smartphones, digital photos, digital pictures, digital images, selfies, Instagram, social media, privacy, Picture DayRemember picture day at school? I hated picture day. There was a permanence to it that was terrifying. I knew my parents would have that wallet-sized photo of me forever, so I felt like I had one shot to get it right. Smile right, wear the right clothes, and make sure your eyes were open, for heaven’s sake! I am not sure who thought those glasses were the right size for my face, but it was the eighties (yes, that is me!)

For today’s kids, every day is picture day.

Armed with smartphones, their friends are taking pictures of them constantly. At any time, someone can snap a picture of your child—asleep on the school bus on the way home from a class trip, possibly drooling a little. In the locker room changing, or a in whole host of other inopportune moments.

It’s not just their friends—it’s you, too! You love your kids, and you want to capture the precious moments of them growing up. Look at your smartphone—how many images of your little darlings are there? Unless you are Jodi Foster, there are not as many pictures of you as a kid. Remember how we all felt for Chelsea Clinton in the 90s? You are the major source for your child’s digital presence.

Do you wish there more pictures of you as a tween? Probably not. Think about your top ten most embarrassing moments as a tween and imagine if there were pictures to record each of your failings. Or hairstyles. Shared. With everybody.

Photos mean something different to our kids than they did to us. They live in a more visual culture. Cameras are everywhere, built into the devices we carry with us at all times. Digital photos cost nothing to take, nothing to store, and nothing to share. Having a photo to mark every experience more of an expectation for these kids, but the proliferation of images also lowers the impact of each photo in our kids’ minds. We fret over the their “permanent” record but don’t spend enough time thinking about the permanence and publicity in using our social media wall as a family album. Digital images feel ephemeral to our kids, rather than permanent, which can distort their decision-making process.

Smartphones, digital photos, digital pictures, digital images, selfies, Instagram, social media, privacy, Picture DaySo, I want you to try something radical. Right now. If you have a kid who is 9 or older, do not share another picture of her. That is, until you ask her permission.

Yes, ask permission. It sends a message, and will accomplish some important things:

  • It teaches your child that her image is her own. It makes her recognize that sharing is a choice and that some things are private. Because you showed her that consideration and modeled some respect for her privacy, she’ll be more likely to ask before she shares a picture of her friend.

  • It teaches good boundaries. It’s important for a child to know that she can say no. The very act of asking for permission creates a moment of stop-and-think. This pause is very helpful—we could all benefit from it.

  • It teaches empowerment. Asking permission affords power to your child. It’s now her choice, not yours. It’s a wonderful gift, and she’ll start to expect the same consideration from her friends. Your daughter will feel empowered to say, “don’t share that,” when someone takes a photo of her. She can insist, “show me that you are erasing that.”

  • It teaches self-control. Now that you’ve established the guidelines of respect, urge your child to ask herself for permission to take or share a “selfie.” Social media is part of journaling, recording feelings, and celebrating small moments. You don’t want to quash that, but you want her to think about the risks.

Taking this step creates a respectful relationship. Your child will have a better understanding of this complex social exchange because you’ve modeled it. It will help her understand why it’s important, too. Talk to your child directly about how it makes her feel, and urge her to think about how others would feel when she’s the one taking the photo of her friends.

By respecting your children’s wishes, you are teaching the basics of good social media manners. This will pay dividends beyond beyond photo sharing. It will form a good foundation for your child to make better decisions about the new participatory media landscape.

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Photo Credit: Second Photo is by Daniela Reinsch