Three different studies, with one going back to 2007, show that kids just want to be famous. Apparently the days are over when children wanted to grow up to be astronauts or policemen or firemen. Now they want to be actors, singers or YouTube personalities.
This trend towards fame was first noticed in 2007. Yalda T. Uhls did a study with Dr. Patricia Greenfield at the UCLA campus of the Children’s Digital Media Center@LA, which was published in Cyberpsychology. The study found that in 2007, “fame was the number one value communicated to preteens on popular TV.”
Previously, in every other year, fame near the bottom of a 16 value list. In previous studies, community feeling (which means to be part of a group or accepted as part of a group) came in at number one or two. In 2007 the trend did a complete shift to place community feeling at the bottom of the list at 15 or 16.
It is interesting to note that the reality TV show Keeping Up With the Kardashians started in 2007. President Barack Obama only recently said that shows like KUWTK is to blame for corrupting our children’s values. Replacing honour, respect and hard work principles with being rich and famous without really having done anything to justify that fame.
The two individuals running the 2007 study felt there was a connection between the fame-oriented content of popular reality TV shows and the increased opportunity to post online videos and status updates for “friends” and strangers. Uhls and Greenfield began to suspect that the combination of these three factors had created the perfect storm for a desire of fame.
In their study they asked preteens what they wanted in their future. Their number one choice? Fame.
One 11 year-old boy told the researchers, “My friends and I are making a YouTube Channel… Our goal is to try and get a million subscribers.” The youngster, according to the researchers, had no interest in presenting any type of talent. He just wanted to get a huge number of subscribers and views for his channel.
Uhls and Greenfield came to the conclusion that in the 21st century, television influences children more than at any other point in its history. Despite having a plethora of multi-media choices, they still watched TV on on an average or four and a half hours a day. There is no reason to believe that has changed since the study was conducted in 2007.
They did point out that the introduction of social digital media would increase the effects that were evidenced in their study. So it seems the trend is continuing.
According to the Daily Mail, in 2009 a study was conducted in the United Kingdom that consisted of a survey completed by children. They were asked what they wanted to be when they grew up. It seems that the top three choices were sports star, pop star or actor with the percentages being 12 percent, 11 percent and 11 percent, again, respectively.
Jobs like Prime Minister, Doctor, policeman, et al, were much lower down the scale. It appears that the move of youth today to be famous applies to more countries than just the US. Even two years after the 2007 study, it appears that children still just want to be famous.
According to the survey, fame has displaced teacher as the number one choice of today’s youth. Child psychologist Laverne Antrobus wasn’t surprised by the result of this 2009 survey. She said the findings reflects the current celebrity culture. ‘Children see footballers, pop stars and actors on TV and their lives look exciting, glamorous and fun.”
She explained, “It is hard for them to realise that they are the end product of a lot of ingredients including talent and hard work. Wayne Rooney is not on the pitch at Old Trafford by chance. He has incredible talent, determination and has put in years of hard work. There is absolutely nothing wrong with children having big dreams but these have to be based on reality.”
Unfortunately, reality is being replaced with reality television and the culture of instant fame.
In Canada a study was conducted in 2011. The Christian Children’s Fund asked groups of 10 to 12-year-olds what they wanted to be when they grow up and almost half in the developing world wanted to be teachers or doctors. But in the more developed countries in the west, most wanted to be actors, singers or, somewhat amazingly fashion designers.
Like Laverne Antrobus in the UK, Psychologist Dr. Derek Swain isn’t surprised by the findings. He said that, “In a narcissistic world people’s lives are very shallow. There needs to be a focus on acknowledging what other people are contributing, how valuable that is and de-emphasizing the notion of paying attention to celebrities simply because they have a name and not because they have actually done anything.”
Dr Swain warned in 2011 that narcissistic children grow into adults who often deal with depression and anxiety if they can’t live up to their dream of fame. He cautioned that, “People should feel good because of what they do and not just who they are.”
Despite the lack of more recent studies or surveys, it doesn’t seem that this trend is abating. With even more reality television, YouTube personalities and increased amount of traffic on social websites, the trend will most likely get worse rather than subside.
So it appears that President Obama isn’t too far off the mark with his dislike of reality television teaching children false values. With the most recent studies showing that children just want to be famous there is, perhaps, cause for concern. If these children find out too late that such a goal is limited, the world will begin to be populated by depressed and unhappy adults who haven’t fulfilled their dream of fame.
By Michael Smith