5 Ways to Help Kids See the Importance of Serving Others

A recent article from Science Daily say that FAME is the #1 value emphasized by television shows popular with children. UCLA physiologists say this is a drastic change from 10 years ago.

"The rise of fame in preteen television may be one influence in the documented rise of narcissism in our culture," said the study's senior author, Patricia M. Greenfield, a UCLA distinguished professor of psychology and director of the Children's Digital Media Center @ Los Angeles. "Popular television shows are part of the environment that causes the increased narcissism, but they also reflect the culture. They both reflect it and serve as a powerful socialization force for the next generation."

The top five values in 2007 were fame, achievement, popularity, image and financial success. In 1997, the top five were community feeling, benevolence (being kind and helping others), image, tradition and self-acceptance. In 2007, benevolence dropped to the 12th spot and community feeling fell to 11th. Financial success went from 12th in 1967 and 1997 to fifth in 2007.

"The biggest change occurred from 1997 to 2007, when YouTube, Facebook and Twitter exploded in popularity," Yalda Uhls said. "Their growth parallels the rise in narcissism and the drop in empathy among college students in the United States, as other research has shown. We don't think this is a coincidence. 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. The growth of social media gives children access to an audience beyond the school grounds."

"If you have 400 or more Facebook friends, which many high school and college students do, you are on stage," Greenfield said. "It's intrinsically narcissistic."

"Quite a few television shows that are popular with 'tweens' depict young people achieving great fame despite little hard work," Uhls said. "Such shows, including 'Hannah Montana,' which portrays the life of girl who is a high school student by day and rock star by night, do not convey how rare such success is or the sacrifices that are required to achieve it."

Uhls, who formerly worked as a movie studio executive, is disturbed by the messages that television shows are conveying to children. "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," said Uhls, who has an 11-year-old daughter. "Teens and tweens have the ability to talk with their friends 24/7. The ability for an average person to access an audience is new. Technology has given kids pathways to reach an audience as never before, and they are able to use the technology at a young age."

"Preteens are at an age when they want to be popular, just like the famous teenagers they see on TV and the Internet," she said. "With Internet celebrities and reality TV stars everywhere, the pathway for nearly anyone to become famous, without a connection to hard work and skill, may seem easier than ever. 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?"

In a second study, not yet published, Uhls and Greenfield interviewed 20 children (fourth, fifth and sixth graders) and found the children are learning the values television teaches. Fame seems to be a goal of many children, and they are keenly aware of the size of their social network.

In the midst of a "become famous" culture, how do we help kids go against the grain and live a life serving others? Here's five ways.

#1 - Teach it.
Make sure serving is a key component of what you teach children. Use passages such as Mark 9:33-35 to teach children what God's Word says about being a servant.

#2 - Model it. 
Serving is just as much caught as it is taught. Jesus modeled serving to His disciples by washing their feet. Let kids see you serving others.

#3 - Give them opportunities to live it.
Kids don't have to wait until they are adults to serve. You learn what you live. Be intentional about creating weekly and event service opportunities.

#4 - Partner with parents to demonstrate it. When kids serve alongside their parents, it makes a lasting impression. Host serving opportunities that bring kids and parents together.

#5 - Honor it.
Honor serving more than talent. Reward kids with gifts/prizes that they will use to help other people instead of themselves. Create a culture where being a servant is highly valued.

Posted by Dale Hudson