Are Pre-Teens Basing Their Values on Fame and Fortune?

According to a new study conducted by UCLA psychologists, fame and fortune are at the top of the list of most valued traits in popular shows aimed at pre-teen audiences. The researchers looked at 16 separate values and how they were ranked in 1987, 1997 and again in 2007. They examined the values portrayed by characters on popular television shows of the time, such as “The Andy Griffith Show,” “Happy Days,” “American Idol” and “Hannah Montana.” Yalda T. Uhls, lead author of the study, says, “I was shocked, especially by the dramatic changes in the last 10 years. I thought fame would be important but did not expect this drastic an increase or such a dramatic decrease in other values, such as community feeling. If you believe that television reflects the culture, as I do, then American culture has changed drastically.”

The results, which were compiled from Neilson demographic data as well as surveys of adults who viewed the shows, showed that benevolence, tradition and community feeling, which had previously ranked in the top slots, had all dropped significantly and were replaced by fame, popularity, achievement, image and financial success. The researchers believe this study explains the dramatic rise in narcissism in our culture. “Changes we have seen in narcissism and empathy are being reflected on television. In the past, children had their home, community and school; now they have thousands of ‘friends’ who look at their photos and their posts and comment on them,” says Uhls. “The growth of social media gives children access to an audience beyond the school grounds.” She is deeply concerned at the impact the messages of television and social media are having on our youth and self-image. “Preteens are at an age when they want to be popular, just like the famous teenagers they see on TV and the Internet,” she says. “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?”

© Copyright 2011 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Marcus.T


    July 15th, 2011 at 11:37 AM

    The shift in what the young people want is a clear indication of the decline of the moral fibre of us all as a society.Material things have sadly become more important than people and our relationship with them.This may give us materialistic gain but is degrading us on the whole as a human being.I’m saddened by this fact.



    July 17th, 2011 at 3:18 PM

    Upsetting trend this. Kids today have no ethics or morals. All they want is money and popularity. And the worst part is that these so-called idols of theirs profess such things and influence the youngsters to such an extent that they believe everything they see on the screen and want to emulate it in their own lives.

  • Steven Carter

    Steven Carter

    July 17th, 2011 at 5:42 PM

    The Andy Griffith Show was made in the 60’s and I’ve often thought how nice it would have been to live in the fictional town of Mayberry, where community spirit thrived and everyone looked out for everyone else.

    I naively assumed small towns today still held onto those values and when I moved to one I found out boy, was I wrong. There’s just as much backstabbing and competitiveness as in any big city. Maybe it’s the almost universal reach of TV that has something to do with that.

  • tina raine

    tina raine

    July 17th, 2011 at 7:59 PM

    The problem is nowadays no-one thinks their children are anything less than ultra-special. The narcissism starts with the way they are treated at home and continues at school with the “everybody’s a winner” mentality.

    We are so cushioning them with these “you’re fabulous no matter what you do!” mantras and they are just children so they believe it!

    No wonder they all think they will be superstars then get depressed when they realize in their teens they are average.

  • Graeme Lawrie

    Graeme Lawrie

    July 17th, 2011 at 8:39 PM

    It’s really how it is. Kids have dreams of fame and fortune, and even when they are young they know that nice guys finish last. Being nice isn’t going to fulfill your dream of being an astronaut or a rock star living in his own castle unless the Queen names you her sole benefactor in her will.

    Money makes the world go round and to have that money and get to the top you need to be a wolf, not a sheep. Fame and fortune comes at a price.

  • J.S. Errol

    J.S. Errol

    July 17th, 2011 at 11:51 PM

    Kids are easily influenced at that tween age. Seeing famous young people being loved by just about everybody on the planet like Justin Bieber, well of course they want to be part of that whole celebrity deal. At that age, you don’t know how the world really works, and only one in a billion wannabes are able to get that lucky and go on to stardom.

    The TV shows need to lay off emphasizing the fame side so much and tell more about how much hard work it takes to get there. At least that might give them a good work ethic.

  • Grant Dunn

    Grant Dunn

    July 18th, 2011 at 12:15 PM

    We don’t have cable anymore, but some kids shows that aired on Cartoon Network aimed at really young children like Gordon the Garden Gnome had several positive messages about helping others out.

    It’s curious that only the shows aimed at very young children have the kinds of messages that we parents want to relay to them. The older they get, the more selfish the messages of their TV shows appear to be. I could turn them all off. Maybe that’s the answer.

  • arnold


    July 18th, 2011 at 2:15 PM

    its mostly due to the illusion created by the see celebrities on television and on the internet but they do not think much of how they got there,how they earned their status,money and fame.they just WANt it and they want it quick.unfortunately you’re not going to find all that in a street accidentally,you’ve got to work for it.

    parents need to put this in their children’s minds.if they want something they need to work over it.there really are no shortcuts.

  • Nicholas Mallory

    Nicholas Mallory

    July 18th, 2011 at 3:24 PM

    I have a little book based on quotes from the Andy Griffith Show that details all the moral and life lessons The Andy Griffith Show demonstrated, including stepping aside to let someone else succeed, respecting people who mind their own business, being kind and accepting towards those who try to fit in that are different, and taking your time and being courteous when in conversation.

    One page says “Do what is right” with “Andy Griffith in four words” italicized beneath it. That was the underlying message of that series. There are no TV shows that do that anymore, more’s the pity.

  • Marsha Ross

    Marsha Ross

    July 18th, 2011 at 7:25 PM

    @Nicholas-The newest My Little Pony series does surprisingly. My children watch it. It talks about friendship and trust, along with pitching in and being tolerant of others without being very preachy.

    An example is an episode with a zebra who the ponies think is an evil witch from far away. She was actually just an avid collector of African-inspired art who likes to sing nursery rhymes in her native language, and is also a herbalist. Who knew My Little Pony teaches so much? :)

  • Allan Davis

    Allan Davis

    July 18th, 2011 at 8:36 PM

    What I don’t like is that TV gives them ideas on how to behave, and not in a good way. I would never have talked back to a teacher or questioned what adults said when I was a child. It was utterly unthinkable! If you were cheeky enough to do that, you would feel the back of my dad’s hand, guaranteed. How sad it is that children value fame over kindness.

  • Eric Wright

    Eric Wright

    July 19th, 2011 at 1:19 PM

    As you get older, you appreciate more the merit of positive traits like selflessness and kindness in others. In my early teens I wouldn’t have given that a second thought. Unfortunately TV does reflect current cultural trends and the children’s shows today do not paint a flattering picture of where our youth are headed.

  • rhonda knight

    rhonda knight

    July 19th, 2011 at 3:17 PM

    Why not let children think like this so they can have an optimistic outlook about what life has in store for them? We’re always telling them you can be anything when you grow up. As time passes, they’ll naturally forget about unfeasible goals and move onto more reasonable ones.

    Let’s not burst their bubble too soon. We all have dreams and annihilating a nine year old’s dream is callous.

  • Buddy Shelton

    Buddy Shelton

    July 19th, 2011 at 5:38 PM

    @rhonda knight: it’s not them having dreams that’s the problem, Rhonda. It’s where their focus lies. Being a compassionate, giving person is priceless. You don’t see too many jobs in the classifieds for that though. What the children need to learn is that fame isn’t everything and most times is fleeting anyway.

  • kyrieholland


    July 19th, 2011 at 10:46 PM

    As the researcher said “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?”.

    We’d be raising a whole generation of materialistic narcissists, that’s what. That’s not a world I’d want to live in and I hope it doesn’t come to that…but I worry we’re already there.

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