Fall is well under way, and with the turning of the leaves comes the new seasons of television shows. In the last week, those shows have been the topic of conversation of interns at work, college students in line at the coffee shop and tweens in front of me at the bakery. What I noticed, especially with the tweens and teens, is that the shows they watch are sending them false messages about how to really “make it” in their careers and in life. They see that being a slacker on a reality show or having a trust fund are two of the most common paths to financial security. And while that is simply not true- no one has told most them that.
If you haven’t grown-up in Manhattan’s Upper East Side or Beverley Hills, then what other options for financial security are presented to your kid by today’s television? Clearly not education or discipline. When in reality those who’ve made it in this country often got there the hard way- hard work, education and sacrifice.
Ok, I fully appreciate that these programs are fictional. Clearly the glamorous lives of the rich and pseudo famous make more compelling television than the tales of real people, struggling to further their career and just about getting by on an unhealthy paycheck. After all we want to escape our reality- especially in tough economic times. That is how shows like Dallas became hits in earlier days. But is anyone giving our kids a reality check?
I met a 22 year old named Stacey who was 30K in debt (mostly credit cards) because she believed that if she acted like the hot young women on TV- she would have a glamorous life. Instead she was facing bankruptcy before she got her first full-time job. She had nothing to show for her spending spree, especially after her car was repossessed. So there are very real consequences when our kids role models are characters not actual people.
As a card carrying member of the media and a host of a reality show- I am not a fan of blaming the media. So, I look to the parents and say make sure you are telling your kids what is fact and what is fiction. It is your job. When my daughter watches TV – I watch with her (or at least stay in the same room). From the commercials to the programs- I let her know when something is fake or misrepresents reality. I do it as if I am letting her in on a secret- not in a way that diminishes her pleasure in a favorite program.
It is a parent’s job to make sure their kids- young, tween and near adults- understand that real success is anything but easy. Even reality stars who pretend to be slackers are often working very hard behind the scenes to capitalize on their fame. I know, I have met plenty who spent years becoming “overnight successes.” Paris Hilton and Snooki didn’t get to be household names by partying alone- even if that is what they want you to believe.
The earlier you start talking about what they are seeing on TV the more likely they will listen to you. I am not asking you to be a killjoy- I am asking you to be a roadmap. If they are inspired by something they see- don’t knock it- talk to them about how they can make it happen and what realistically goes into success. Work together to get answers and keep the conversation going.