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  1. Children’s Health

Is It Bad to Take So Many Pictures of My Kid?

Take all the photos you want, experts say, but there are three things to consider as you document your child’s life.

CreditNicole Ruggiero

[Editor’s note: We asked readers to send us their most pressing questions about parenting in the digital age for a new column called “Ask NYT Parenting.In this edition, a mother asks about the ramifications of continually documenting our children.]

I take photos and videos of my kid all the time. She loves seeing herself on the screen. Will this affect her sense of self and make her too image-conscious in the future?

— Luxana Kirati, Bangkok

Parents, like most people in the digital age, are relentless photographers. We’re rarely without a camera, so we document nearly every moment, accumulating thousands of images of our children.

But sometimes there’s a nagging worry, much like the one Ms. Kirati described: Should we be taking so many pictures? How should we use them? Will our children become more self-conscious or, worse yet, start to value a photograph over an experience?

According to developmental psychologists and other experts, taking thousands of pictures and videos of your children isn’t necessarily concerning. What matters is how parents go about recording or photographing their children and the context in which those images are shared.

With that in mind, here are a few things to keep in mind when documenting your child’s life.

Don’t obsess.

It’s natural for children to want to look at images of themselves, said Philippe Rochat, a professor of psychology at Emory University and director of the Emory Infant and Child Laboratory. “There’s nothing to worry about,” he said.

Yes, we all take a lot of pictures. And our children will take a lot of pictures, too, of themselves and others. That’s not going to change anytime soon.

“I think that we can slow down the trend, but it’s unstoppable,” Dr. Rochat said.

“My advice to parents is that you live with it,” he said — but don’t obsess over it. Do encourage your children to think about how and why we take pictures.

Instead of preventing children from taking selfies, for example, you can take selfies with them, Dr. Rochat said. As parents, you can use those moments to start a conversation about the kinds of photos your child is taking, the image your child is trying to self-manage and how that image can affect others.

When parents are the ones behind the lens, they also ought to reflect on what they’re projecting to the outside world and the impact their behavior has on others.

Constant documentation can translate as being “self-centered rather than kid-centered,” he said. “Parents need to be aware of that, of how much they promote themselves through their kid.”

Foster a healthy self-image.

A 2018 study published in Developmental Psychology found that children start to care about other people’s opinions as early as 14 months old. In essence, positive or negative cues from an experimenter in the study influenced a child’s decision to press a button on a toy robot, and the children modified their actions depending on how the experimenter might perceive them. The study found the children were driven to present themselves well.

We’re continually communicating to others what is likable, valuable and praiseworthy, and children — even at a very young age — use the values that we place on objects to guide their behavior, Sara Botto, the lead author of the study, said at a TEDx talk in March.

I contacted Ms. Botto, a doctoral student at Emory University, to ask if constantly being photographed could affect a child’s budding self-awareness. As with so many other questions, there’s no definitive answer.

Taking a bunch of pictures to document memories is not harmful in and of itself, Ms. Botto said in an interview on Friday. But if parents, either verbally or in social media comments, use the pictures to highlight a child’s clothing or to make judgments about a child’s appearance, for example, then they’re communicating to the child what’s significant in those photographs. So it’s essential to be aware of what message is being conveyed and how your child might interpret it.

“Kids are very good at picking up social cues of what’s important and what’s not,” she said.

When pictures and videos are posted on social media, sometimes it can seem as though an image — and the reactions we receive in response to the image — are more important than the lived experience that led to the picture in the first place.

“Children develop their sense of self from many interactions they have, so the way they experience their life through a screen can shape their identity together with a lot of other factors,” said Anders Albrechtslund, an associate professor and director of the Center for Surveillance Studies at Aarhus University in Denmark. “But this isn’t necessarily a negative thing, and can be something you use to discuss with your child — how do they feel about how they are being represented? What is the difference between an image and reality?”

Respect your child’s privacy.

It’s important to respect a child’s need for privacy both on social media and in real life.

“Contrary to what some think, young children are very aware of the need for private spaces,” said Tonya Rooney, a lecturer in the School of Education at Australian Catholic University who is studying the digital documentation of young children in education settings. “For example, they might ask someone not to take their photo or they might resent the intrusion of a camera into their private play time.”

At first, children might be excited to see individual photos of themselves online. But as they get older, Dr. Rooney said, “they will have to deal with the added complexity of a history of photos online that might not bear any relation to how they wish to be seen in the world.”

One small study co-authored by Dr. Albrechtslund examined how 17 Danish families used digital technologies, and found that photo sharing was not only viewed as an obligation to others but also as an important part of the parents’ identity. This created tensions between parents’ desire to preserve a child’s right to privacy while also expressing an online parental identity, and managing what others might share about the family and the child, Dr. Albrechtslund said.

Perhaps what’s most important to remember is that children, just like adults, are individuals who begin to shape their sense of self from the day they’re born.

“If we can remember this — and not think of young children as passive and with no sense of self or privacy — then this can guide a more thoughtful approach to documenting and sharing children’s lives,” Dr. Rooney said.

Christina Caron is a parenting reporter at The New York Times.