When I was a kid, I performed in various community musicals. As a painfully shy child, I somehow felt comfortable on the stage. The costumes, the pre-show jitters, the post-show satisfaction — I loved it all. That is, until my dad would pop in a VHS tape of my performances the moment we had guests in our home.
“That’s what I sounded like?” I’d think, watching myself on the TV screen and feeling suddenly mortified.
As our visitors would politely watch the amateur productions, I’d sneak out of the room and hide.
This event came flooding back to me while reading Julia Cho’s fascinating New York Times piece “Is the Immediate Playback of Events Changing Children’s Memories?” Seeing the footage of my performances changed my recollection of performing, even if slightly.
Now that we all have video cameras inside our pockets, ready to capture our children’s every adorable and impressive move, are we constantly stripping them of the fullness of their experiences, making them less of their own?
Many studies have been done on how a person taking a photograph reinforces or reshapes their memory, but what about our children — the subject of our constant documentation? Does seeing themselves in the third person change or even falsify their memories?
After speaking with researchers, she found that yes, showing kids videos of their big moments — a musical performance, Christmas morning, or the first time they met their baby sister, for instance — can warp their memories of those experiences. They move “from being a participant to being a more distant observer,” Cho writes. They might not get to feel what they would naturally feel if the event has been immediately reframed from the lens of an audience member.
Sure, there can be value in letting kids watch videos of themselves — if a piano student is trying to improve his skills, it’s a good idea for him to review the measure he tripped up on during his last recital. Seeing clips of ourselves, in general, can make us more self-aware. But we have to be ready for the playback. With our kids, it’s important to know that by pressing “play”, we’re giving them a new perspective of what happened, one in which they might not be prepared for.
My six-year-old daughter loves to sing, and I love recording her living room showcases. We often watch the videos together on my phone, and giggle. Lately, though, she’s been asking me to delete the videos in which she declares she sounds “so bad.” I think all six-year-old girls should believe they sound like Alicia Keys, so I’m going to stop recording for a while.
If you take videos of your kids, you might hold off on showing them the footage — at least for a day or two. If they just completed a big performance or received an award or had an epic birthday party, let them have their moment. Let them remember what they remember, without looking to see how others are reacting. Let your kid participate in their life, and not simply view it from a screen.