From Where Do Our Tweens Learn Values?

What values do you want your children to learn? Who do you want to teach them those values? Of course, we all want to teach our children the values we believe in and support. But there is another teacher in your home. This teacher reflects the values of our society and teaches those values to your children, tweens, and teens whether you agree with them or not. Who is this teacher? TV’s, videos, and screens.

Tweens’ average daily screen media use ranges from 4-6 hours per day with 53% of that time being with TVs and videos. As you can imagine from these numbers, TV shows and videos can have a huge impact on the values our children learn. A recent report by UCLA’s Center for Scholars and Storytellers assessed the values tweens (8-12 years old) saw portrayed in popular television shows from 1967 through 2017.  This study examined the top watched “tween television shows” and “surveyed which values were being communicated in the storytelling.”  The 16 values they tracked included achievement, benevolence, community, conformity, fame, financial success, hedonism, image, physical fitness, popularity, power, security, self-acceptance, self-centeredness, spiritualism, and tradition.  You can learn more about the findings in The Rise and Fall of Fame: Tracking the Landscape of Values Portrayed on Tween Television from 1967 to 2017. But I want to share how just a few observations about how values have changed over that 50-year period.

In 1967, Community Feeling was the #1 value portrayed in shows for tweens. By 2007, Community had fallen to #11. Fortunately, it rose to #5 by 2017. Valuing a sense of community has had quite a roller coaster ride in television.

In 1967, Benevolence was ranked #2 in values portrayed on television shows popular among tweens. By 2007 it had dropped to #12. It did rise to #8 by 2017. Still, it fell below achievement, self-acceptance, image, popularity, community feeling, fame, and self-centeredness.

On the other hand, fame was ranked #15 in 1967. It rose to #1 in 2007 and remained #6 by 2017.  Achievement was ranked #10 in 1967 and rose to #2 in 2007 and #1 in 2017. What five values were between the #1 achievement and the # 6 fame in 2017? #2 was self-acceptance. #3 was image. #4 was popularity. #5 was a sense of community.

Notice the difference. The top 3 values in portrayed 1967 were a sense of community, benevolence, and image. The top 3 values portrayed in 2017 included achievement, self-acceptance, and image. Benevolence ranked #8 in 2017. Achievement, popularity, fame, and self-centeredness all rank above benevolence. Are these really the values we want our children to learn? I think most of us would say not. Instead, we’d say, “Houston…we have a problem.”

This review of “televised values” also looked at reality shows vs. fictional shows. Not surprisingly, reality shows conveyed self-oriented values like fame, image, and self-centeredness. Fictional shows conveyed more community-oriented values like benevolence, a sense of community, and self-acceptance.

We must ask ourselves: what values do we want our children to observe and learn for 4-6 hours a day? Right now, they are learning the values conveyed through television and social media. As a parent, what can you do?

  1. Teach your children to be wise consumers of television. Teach them to use critical thinking when they watch various shows. Teach them that reality shows do not depict the life of your average person and fictional shows do not depict the complexity of struggles people experience in life. Complex problems do not resolve in a 30- to 60-minute show, or even in a 2-hour movie.
  2. Expose your children to real world issues in an age appropriate manner. Let your children learn about the world at a level appropriate for their age. This may be as simple as taking a trip to another state or reading fiction stories about various people’s struggles. Trips to history museums are also a way to let our children learn about the world.
  3. Volunteer. Serving other people is wonderful way for your whole family to learn and have fun about the needs of the world around us. In the process, we also learn that people with needs are often people like us.
  4. Read. Research suggests that reading increases empathy and kindness. Read your children a story at bedtime. Even as children become teens and young adults, we can read a book at the same time (maybe one of their choice) and enjoy talking about it as you both read.

These are just four suggestions to help convey the values of your family to your children and teens. What are your suggestions for teaching our children the values we cherish instead of leaving it up to TV and videos? Share them below. We could all use some suggestions.

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