August 5th, 2011
09:39 AM ET
What do tweens value most? If you are thinking honesty or self-acceptance think again.
To find out, researchers say, watch their favorite TV shows. The values the shows promote above everything else, according to a new study from the University of California, Los Angeles, is fame. Other individualistic values, such as financial success and physical fitness are also high on the wish list.
The study, published in the Journal of Psychology Research on Cyberspace, found shows popular with children aged 9 to 11 now hold “fame” as their No. 1 value. Fame ranked 15th in 1997. This raises red flags for researchers, who say the shift in values over the last 10 years may have a negative effect on the future goals and accomplishments of American youth.
“(Tweens) are unrealistic about what they have to do to become famous,” Patricia Greenfield, Ph.D from the Department of Psychology at UCLA and co-author of this study told CNN. “They may give up on actually preparing for careers and realistic goals.”
"With Internet celebrities and reality TV stars everywhere, the pathway for nearly anyone to become famous, without a connection to hard work and skill, may seem easier than ever,” said Yalda Uhls, a UCLA doctoral student in developmental psychology and lead author of this study. “”When being famous and rich is much more important than being kind to others, what will happen to kids as they form their values and their identities?"
The study found that one of the main reasons for a decline in traditional values is the shift of values among characters on popular television shows during the past 50 years, from "The Andy Griffith Show" and "The Lucy Show" to "American Idol" and "Hannah Montana."
The authors say the newest television shows, which often tend to promote celebrity lifestyles, target a younger, more impressionable set of viewers. With the increase in exposure made possible through the Internet with YouTube, Facebook and other sites, tweens feel they can be famous while accessing a virtual audience of friends and strangers.
Clinical psychologist Joanna Lipari says television shows from every decade have always idealized the life they portray and tweens across the millennia have shared the idea of wanting to be famous. "Social media has now provided kids a way to take a stab at fame,” she says.
According to a 2010 study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, kids 8 to 10 years old spend close to eight hours a day using the media. Tweens' lives are saturated with onscreen content. The minute they turn off their television sets, they go on to a multitude of online communities, from video game sites to fan clubs, surrounding their favorite stars, say Greenfield and Uhls.
“There is no doubt we are living in the cult of celebrity,” says Lipari. The idea, she says, is “that being famous is a ticket to a better life.” Tweens are at a point where they have no money and no power, and are simply trying to develop their identity, Lipari explains. To them, watching stars live in the limelight, looks ideal.
Lipari says there is nothing wrong with children having big dreams of being rich and famous; they just need guidance to understand there is a process that includes hard work in order to get there.
Parents should talk with their children about the television shows they watch, Greenfield and Uhls advise. "But it's impossible for most parents to consume the amount of media their children consume," Uhls adds.
“Friends, family and community need to know how to shape these children, as opposed to shaking their heads and saying we’ve lost a generation,”says Lipari.
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