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I Scream, You Scream

One of my current projects at work is to shoot (photographically speaking) a bunch of kids eating ice cream. The vibe is supposed to be happy kids, happy location, big happy sundaes, ice cream on all the cute happy kids’ faces, happy happy happy. It sounded like an easy breezy assignment, for I’ve never met a child who did not like ice cream sundaes with whipped cream, syrup, nuts and spinkles.
Until yesterday.
The shoot with one particular kid I’ll call Timmy started out fine. “Look at me, Timmy!” I directed from behind my camera in the happiest voice I could muster. “Big smile! Alright that’s perfect! Now put a REALLY BIG scoop of ice cream in your mouth! BIG SMILE, Timmy! Awesome!”
Timmy’s expression suddenly changed to one of disgust. He leaned over and spit a nut into his bowl. Then he unleashed his Inner Diva and proceeded to have a meltdown.
“Gross! Ick! Yuck! I don’t feel good,” he wailed. “MAMA! I don’t feel good.”
Mama comes over. “You don’t feel good? Come on, you can do this. If you do good, I’ll buy you a toy.”
Timmy wailed louder and put his head down on the table. “I don’t FEEL GOOD Mama!” The sundae was melting rapidly under the lights and running down the table.
“Ok, how about THREE TOYS? What kind of toy do you want? Legos? Spiderman? Come on, you can do this.”
At that point I jumped in for I couldn’t help myself. “Timmy,” I said. “Do you want to go and sit at that table and watch Jenny? If you feel better by the time Jenny’s finished I’ll let you try again. Ok?” He nodded.
We tried again after Jenny, but he was clearly not in the mood. Later I heard his mother scolding him in the lobby and he was crying and hanging his head in shame when they left. I felt sorry for the boy. He probably didn’t understand what this was all about and wasn’t comfortable sitting at a table under a thousand watts of hot light eating a bowl of ice cream while 4 adults and a handful of children stared at him. That’s totally fine. What I didn’t think was fine was the way his mother tried to bribe him into submission and good behavior. When bribery didn’t work, she scolded him in front of the other kids and obviously humiliated him.
People, I don’t have kids but instinct tells me that trying to control your child by bribing them is just begging for disaster. What is that mother going to do when her boy becomes a teenager and is bigger, stronger, and much more headstrong? Offer him a car? Electronics? Money? She’s totally asking for it. If I had been in her shoes, I would have excused myself and took my child home immediately. If my mama had been in her shoes, she would’ve done the same thing except I would’ve gotten a serious butt-whooping when we got home. By the way, it was socially acceptable to whoop your child in the 70’s. Where I came from, anyway.
Parents, please don’t try to live out your childhood dreams by forcing them on your children. Some children aren’t meant to be child stars.
I’m shooting another group of kids this afternoon. Lord have mercy.

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6 Responses

  1. brent says:

    the bribery thing is an easy trap to fall into. first it is small, usually something they wanted to do in the first place. then you realize what you’re doing….
    as for my girls and photos. i know better. they duck and weave every time they see the camera in my hand. so i just laugh when someone else thinks they can just take a photo of either one of them. i know better than to put them in that position.
    but still, what you saw might just be part of a bigger thing going on. and the mom’s frustration may be from something going on all day, or an ongoing issue between the two of them. for me, i like to save the personal embarrassment for something really good…like maybe their first date? hee, hee, hee….something for a dad to look forward to. 🙂

  2. Haji says:

    Kids live in the moment, and an ice cream in front of them may not always render a smile: try asking the kids about something they like: singing, dancing, Sesame St. Muppets. Once their minds are on something they like, expand it with an action from behind the lens: sing a silly song, dance a silly dance, and imitate that Muppet! You’ll look silly, sure, but who cares once you get the perfect shot? I shoot thousands of photos a year of my school’s students…the technique works every time, even with a bellyaching kid.
    As for that mother! Parents will reap what they sow.

  3. Inna says:

    ‘parents will reap what they sow’
    very well said haji-

  4. Josie says:

    Thanks for the tips, Haji! The next day’s shoot was a lot more fun than the first day. The kids were a lot younger (ages 3-5) and they had a lot LESS attitude. I enjoy working with that age group!

  5. Brian Que says:

    Now imagine, working like this EVERDAY and the kids are usually sick and noncooperative. Thus the life of a pediatrician. It’s a good thing kids are easier to hold down.
    Seriously, I absolutely agree with you Josie. That mom just approached the whole thing kinda wrong. Bribery then humiliation. I guess the good thing though is that the kid will never want to eat ice cream again.

  6. Josie says:

    At least you have the power to sedate!

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