Sunday, July 5, 2009

I Wannabe Famous

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There’s a song with a repeating chorus line: “I wannabe famous.” This song talks about being a “hot topic”. The song’s gist is that others are always watching you, with the idea that it’s not a good thing to be nameless or unknown.

In a previous column, I talked about a disturbing trend investigated by author Jake Halpern. In his book Fame Junkies: The Hidden Truths Behind America's Favorite Addiction he reported the results of a survey given to 653 middle school children.

He asked, “Given the choice of becoming the CEO of a major corporation, the president of Yale or Harvard, a Navy Seal, a US Senator or the personal assistant to a very famous singer or movie star, what would you want to be?” Almost half of the girls (43.4 percent) selected the assistant role. Why? Halpern theorizes, “If they can't be famous themselves, they can at least ‘smell the red carpet.’”

Reality TV shows on networks like MTV and VH1 don’t help reign in the dreams of our little ones. Flip channels and you can find show after show demonstrating to our children that one can be famous without having any talent or skill to offer audiences.

Viewers also witness that self-indulgent people gain more fame by being obnoxious, insensitive and self-absorbed. And Halpern’s research tells us that teens who regularly watched celebrity-oriented TV shows tended to be more likely than their peers to believe they would be famous

CNN journalist Todd Leopold says, “Put these wildly popular shows in the context of an individualistic youth culture with an increasing sense of personal entitlement, and fame almost becomes a birthright.”

Twenty-nine percent of children on a recent survey wanted to be famous. Nothing shocking there. This is the “American Idol Generation.” Certainly we can agree that childhood is in some ways narcissitic by it’s very nature. Children typically do feel entitled. Think Santa here. Our challenge is to help our children outgrow the entitlement phase.

Research tells us that the best way to do this is to put our children to work!

Doling out chores (yes, some without pay) is a good way to help a child be grounded. Doing volunteer work is another.

Author and Consultant Janet Nusbaum (AKA the Organizing Genie) tells us “By proactively reminding children that their contributions (such as in chores) are necessary, expected and appreciated, children will develop a sense of belonging to something larger than themselves, become confident and secure in themselves, their environment, their place in the home and in society.”

Isn’t that what it really is all about?

But here’s where parents must be careful. It’s also important to nurture your children’s dreams and aspirations. What if they believe they are the next American Idol?

Some children do grow up to become movie stars, famous singers and professional tennis players. Dreams are fun, but even more fun is developing talents and skills through real-time activities. Talk to your child about their strengths, weaknesses, talents and gifts. Don’t be judge and jury. Help them understand their motivation.

Why do they want to be a personal assistant?

Why do they want to be Miss America?

Don’t discount their ability to succeed. If their desires are backed by interests, talents and gifts, help them seek out opportunities to flourish.

On the other hand, if they tend to be going down the road outlined by Jake Halpern, yearning for fame as identification, help them look at the world around them and find activities that will make them feel good about themselves now. There are countless ways to live interesting, productive lives while using talents and gifts, with or without that spotlight.

Allyn Evans
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