Thursday, February 19, 2015

Of Portraits and Self-Esteem

As parents, we all want to raise strong, healthy, and ultimately self-sufficient children. Many parents realize that one of the greatest gifts we can give out children is a healthy self-esteem. While many of us consider things NOT to do (belittling, browbeating, etc), far fewer expend much energy thinking about positive things one can do to build a child's self-esteem. Research over recent decades has identified a simple way to enhance a child's self-esteem: the creation and display of family portraits.

The link between photography and children's self-esteem was established in the mid-seventies, in the Murfreesboro Study. In a nutshell, a group of fourth graders with low self-esteem (as perceived by their teachers) were given polaroid cameras with which they took photos of each other in a variety of assigned poses and expressing a multitude of emotions. They worked with these photos over the course of 5 weeks, scrapbooking the prints on a weekly basis. At the end of the 5 week period, the teachers reported an increase in behaviors indicative of positive self-esteem of 37% versus a control group, whose increase was just 10%. Ammerman, M. S. and Fryrear, J. L. (1975), Photographic enhancement of children’s self-esteem. Psychol. Schs., 12: 319–325. doi: 10.1002/1520-6807(197507)12:33.0.CO;2-X

Ok, so there's a link between self-esteem and photography. Great. How does that relate to family portraits, and why? To answer this, I'm going to reference the blog post that spurred this one: by Chris Cummins, a photographer out of Kansas City, MO. Chris did all of the legwork on this, so he deserves to be cited. He interviewed experts in PhotoTherapy, and this is the upshot of what they had to say:

  • The family unit is important, and a family portrait provides visual reassurance to the child of belonging and being valued.
  • A child sees himself as part of a unique family, with its own relationships and stories. This is reinforced by a photograph of the family, which captures a moment in time and provides a visual sense of the family in his place in it.
  • Printed family portraits, which require no power source or user action to view are more effective than photos on a cell phone or computer in providing positive feedback to the child.
  • Displaying portraits prominently in the home sends a message that the family values the portrait, and hence the family, and also provides opportunities to talk about the family.
  • Older children can participate more fully in the portrait creation process, offering their own thoughts on location or clothing, which can enhance these effects.
There's a lot more to the original blog post, which I encourage you to read if you find this interesting. My point is this: a family portrait is more than just a pretty picture; it has a positive psychological impact on your children. It's not something to "get around to one of these days," it's important and if you haven't done a family portrait in the last few years you really should set up an appointment. Show your children how much they matter.