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Ask Melinda: Teenagers, Photographs, and Mom’s Potty Mouth

Okay, I skipped a couple of Friday “Ask Melinda” columns this month. Deal with it. I have a new book to promote, a high school senior, and a stack of good books to read. I’ve been busy.

Question: How can I get my teenagers to cooperate when I’m trying to take pictures?

I plucked this Friday’s “Ask Melinda” question right out of the queue because I encountered this dilemma myself this week. I am freshly empathetic to how frustrating this task is. Teenagers rarely cooperate in endeavors that do not benefit them personally. I’m pretty sure I’ve covered this ground before. Ergo, you must find a way to make your photography session important to them. Duh.

Here’s how I see it: You can try straightforward shame first, something along the lines of: “Mother’s Day is coming up, and all I really want is a decent picture of my children which wouldn’t cost any of you a DIME.” If that results in nothing more than eye-rolling, try an appeal to their selfish natures: “Do you want your friends to see a horrible photograph of you on Facebook, my blog, on our Christmas card, or in the paper?” It’s a well-known fact that teenagers care more about what their friends think than anyone else. It’s all about clear skin, fabulous hair, and straight teeth. The problem is, if you have more than one teenager like I do, they never agree on which photograph is “the one.” Each teen chooses the photo in which he or she looks best—regardless of whether a sibling has his or her eyes closed, mouth hanging open, or fly unzipped. This debate can degenerate into all-out warfare in a hurry.

Solution: Teenagers are too old for feather duster banter with the photographer. They are no longer motivated by candy rewards. You have to shock teenagers into spontaneous grins and non-petulant, sulky body language. I did that this week by uttering a vile word—truly shocking profanity–in the middle of our photo session, a word my kids have never imagined coming out of my mouth. I shouted it in front of God and everybody—loud and proud. Immediately, gasps, giggles, and spontaneous laughter erupted all around me. It worked. I got the photo I needed.

ImageBottom line: You have to be quick-witted to get what you want from teenagers. You have to adaptable and wily. If posing with my kids in a Sunday dress and pearls, with my arms wrapped around the ungrateful wretches, in an effort to immortalize our happy family on film requires a little gutter dwelling to get me the photograph I want, I’m willing to do it. You can’t be too prideful if you want something from teenagers. Trust me on this.


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