I’ve pondered fame and what it means to be famous over the years and I’ve worried about the disproportionate value our young people place on fame. I believe that fame obsession among kids, from teens down to younger children, can have unexpected negative effects.
In a culture decades into reality TV (remember when the “experts” were predicting it would be short-lived?) it’s difficult for kids to see anything but the positives and coolness of being famous. That’s the value system they’ve witnessed their whole lives: Being famous is a goal, it’s a free ticket to whatever you want; strive to be famous.
Even in a household that limits television or even restricts it all together, that message is pervasive. In school bus discussions, on morning news loops and papers, splashed across magazines at the grocery store check out line. Fame is held high, coveted, envied.
A 2009 UK study found that the career goals of today’s kids versus 25 years ago vary greatly with the top three slots today being pop star, sports star and actor. Of those three, only sports star even showed up on the list 25 years ago, in 7th place.
In the extreme, fame obsession among kids and teens can lead to real-life consequences. From imitation in styles and risky behaviors, to misplaced goals and priorities, to outright craziness as portrayed in the film The Bling Ring, in theaters nationwide Friday. The Bling Ring is based on the true story of teens breaking into celebrities’ homes and stealing millions of dollars of stuff in an effort to live like the stars. Click here to read a Mother’s Circle post on lessons on Internet safety from The Bling Ring.
Clearly, that’s on the far end of the spectrum. In my life and as a Mom, I strive for a balance. I love going to the movies and I’ve had my times of pining after Rob Lowe and Shawn Cassidy (I’m giving away my age!) but my crushes had perspective. It’s normal to be star struck to a degree, even the stars say they get star struck. It’s our job to teach our kids the difference between a healthy admiration and fanaticism.
We were on the set of Grown Ups 2 last summer (in theaters July 12) and the kids were clueless about most of the major adult stars but spotted Cameron Boyce right away. They were happy to meet him and talked about it for a couple of days, but then it faded into a happy memory of a fun experience.
It’s a good thing to aim for greatness in whatever field your passion lies, but the difference now is so many kids desire to be famous just to be known – fame just for fame’s sake. The sentiment seems to be that if you’re not famous, you’re less important and have less value. That’s at the crux of what concerns me.
As parents, what are some things we can do to counter this fascination with fame? How can we guide our children through a fame obsessed society?
Here are 5 Tips to Minimize Fame Obsession Among Kids:
1. Share your family values regularly
What makes a good life? Talk to you kids about your family’s values and ask them this question. What qualifies as success to you, to your children? Ask for their opinions about books or current events, encourage them to share what happened in school and tell stories with lessons about your day. In all we do as a family, we have opportunities to not only live our family values, but to point them out and help our children recognize our family culture.
For example, you could say, “In our family, we don’t hit. Please ask for a turn,” or “In our family, we always tell the truth, even if you think you’ll get in trouble.” These are some simple ways to reinforce and define your family values for your children. Start young and continue regularly. Dinnertime and bedtime are two daily routine times that are perfect for deliberate discussion of a particular value that needs addressing.
By sharing your family values consistently, you’re shaping your children’s ideas of what is worthy. You are helping them figure out what is important and what is not.
2. Help kids learn to set personal goals
Goal setting is an important life skill to teach at a young age. Goal setting gives kids tools and strategies to define what that would like to achieve; it helps them outline a way to get there and then experience the satisfaction of accomplishment. This builds them up from within and a more confident child who loves himself is less apt to be influenced by something or someone simply because they’re famous.
Having kids write down and articulate personal goals helps parents know where to guide their children in their interests and it hands kids control in their own lives. A child who is empowered and believes in himself, in his ability to achieve and has a parent’s or other adult’s support (see tip #5) is a child who will grow into a strong teen and adult.
3. Do a self-check
Take a quick peek in the mirror. Be mindful of the discussions you have and the magazines you peruse in front of your kids. Are they overhearing you and your girlfriends chat about celebrity gossip or television shows as if they’re real life? Do you talk about wishing for so-and-so’s clothes or hair? Of course the impact is different with a toddler or kindergartener than with a pre-teen or teen, but having a consciousness about your behavior is an important consideration in all things parenting.
4. Watch TV and movies with your children and share your thoughts
From the time the kids were little, I’d chime in on what they were watching, adding snip-its of our values and layering in another way to see things. When Caillou was on, I’d comment, “Boy, he sure does whine a lot,” or later when Hannah Montana had a blessedly brief stint on our TV, I’d remark, “Whoa, she sure talks disrespectfully to her father.” Soon, they’d point these things out on their own.
As they got older, we’d discuss concepts after the show, or even pause a program, to get the kids’ feelings on a scene or to instill our viewpoints. The kids really get it and learn, too, to evaluate what they’re seeing on TV. Watching together and talking empowers them to think on their own and not absorb and accept something just because it’s on TV. As parents, even as peer group influence increases, we still maintain a position of great influence on our children’s perceptions and decisions. Talk to your kids – even if it’s an uncomfortable topic.
Discussion of films and TV shows also allows parents to bring in some reality and distinguish a character versus a real person. Bring an awareness that teams of writers create the story and the actors are just pretending, break down the behind-the-scenes for them. Ask your kids questions about the actors in a program: What do you think her real life is like? Do you think it would be hard for him to know if his friends like him because of him or because he’s on TV? Do you think her parents would really let her do that/wear that/say that?
5. Encourage positive relationships with other adults in your kids’ lives
Relationships with supportive and caring adults in a child’s life are vital. Beginning with trusting and open interactions between parents and children and extending to other figures a kid can look up to gives them a circle of resources. I wish I could credit this quote, because it’s one that’s stuck with me for years: “A child can never have too many adults who love him in his life.”
Aunts and uncles, grandparents, teachers, coaches, parent’s friends and others can make up this ring around a growing child. What a powerful tool to have in place for a teen to seek out other opinions or to have respected adults reinforce something a parent has said. Role models who represent success without fame, people who set an example of a happy life out of the spotlight are wonderful resources and guides.