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July 24, 2011

Is kiddy narcissism the new epidemic

By Carol Lloyd, Executive Editor

On the way home from a recent play date, my daughter’s precocious and ever-inventive friend (who I’ll call Jane) turned her bright, inquisitive eyes on my 11-year-old daughter like a seasoned talk show host.

Jane: What do you want to be when you grow up?

My daughter: I dunno.

(I dunno???  She’s always answered like this, usually with a sluggish shrug – as if her adult future is a blank projectile screen.  Criminy, I think, I need to infuse this child with a sense of desire, ambition, something!  Presuming Jane has a very well-developed something, and that ambition is contagious, I turn the question back at her.)

Me: What about you Jane? 

Jane: I want to be a movie star.

(This catches me off guard.  Not scientist, not poet, not even actor, but movie star?)

Me: Why’s that honey? 

Jane: Because I wanna be famous.  It seems like famous people have a lot of fun.

Later, I asked my daughter about Jane’s response, to which my daughter patiently explained that this wasn’t the only example of a friend whose life goal was becoming a famous rock star (not musician), movie star (not actress), or in one case of a Waldorf educated 12-year-old: Taylor Swift. Throughout the ages no doubt fame – severed from any actual skill or activity or idea – has engaged the imaginations of many a child and adult, but a recent study suggests that children’s television offers ample reason for far more kids to set their sights on a vapid and glittery future. 

Hannah Montana: patient zero

According to a new report published in the July issue of Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace, fame is now the #1 value promoted by television shows most popular with 9- to 11-year olds.   In the study, which analyzed values in children’s television over a 40 year period (between 1967 and 2007), found that in the most recent 10 years studied fame leaped from #15 to first place, while “being kind to others” plummeted from second to 13th (something this girl illustrates nicely), and "community feeling" dropped from second place to 11th.

The authors of the study suggest that their findings may help explain the documented rise of narcissism and the drop in empathy.  (Also, not surprisingly, rising to the top five are "popularity" and "financial success.") According to Science Daily, in an upcoming, as-yet-unpublished study by the same researchers, fourth, fifth, and sixth graders reported that fame is indeed a common long-term goal with the size of their online presence already of great import. 

Parental cures losing effectiveness

The lead author Yalda T. Uhls is also a former movie exec.  Her conclusions from the study are depressing for parents struggling to shape the values of their kids.  She says that the realm of parental influence is diminishing with the ubiquity of media consumption:  "Even when parents are an active presence in their children's lives, peers and media go hand in hand, and peers can be more influential than parents.” 

Suddenly, my daughter’s indifference to fame makes a little more sense since we don't own a television.  What's more, her aspirational blank slate doesn’t look so bad. In time, I hope that there in that imaginative place where all futures begin she can project something meaningful, not simply more limelight nobody needs.



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You actually do have control of your children's friends, and can surround them with people of similar mindsets.

Courtesy and character will never go out of style.

And while I build up my kids each day to make sure they are full of (earned) self-esteem, it's important to remember their heads must still fit through the front door at the end of the day.

Thankfully my kids haven't gotten the "famous" bug. They want to be boring--good people doing good work. And that is better than "fame" any day.

i don't think that an aspiration of fame in an 11 year old is really going to affect the overall values of "Jane" as a person. like, everyone wants to be a movie star at some point in their lives, and not everything kids think that doesn't involve a goal toward a fat salary should be eradicated. sometimes it isn't about values. sometimes it's just about growing up. so just sit back and let them do what they want and don't get too depressed when you watch Hannah Montana.

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