Number-One Value In Tween Television: Being Famous

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American Idol Contestants Lauren Alaina and Scotty McCreery perform during the 2011 'American Idols Live!' tour at the UNO Lakefront Arena on July 22, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Two researchers identified the most prized values in tween TV shows over the past 50 years. Back in 1967, the number-one value communicated to 9- to 11-year-olds was “community feeling.” In 2007, it was a “desire for fame.” Thanks, Hannah Montana. (via Healthland)

Patricia Greenfield, a psychology professor at the University of California—Los Angeles, and a doctoral researcher gathered 60 raters, ages 18 to 59. And they had them rank which values were portrayed as most important in 10 TV shows: the two shows most popular with tweens from 1967, 1977, 1987, 1997 and 2007.

If you’re familiar with the shows, just a glance over the titles will produce an almost uncontrollable urge to shake your head and say, “My, how things have changed.”

  • 1967: Andy Griffith and The Lucy Show
  • 1977: Laverne and Shirley and Happy Days
  • 1987: Growing Pains and Alf
  • 1997: Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Boy Meets World
  • 2007: American Idol and Hannah Montana

(MORE: Is TV Teaching Kids to Value Fame Above All?)

And these are the two top values each pairing conveyed, respectively.

  • 1967: community feeling, benevolence
  • 1977: community feeling, image
  • 1987: self-acceptance, community feeling
  • 1997: community feeling, benevolence
  • 2007: fame, achievement

In all the decades leading up to the present, fame was never ranked above 13 of the 15 values. Meanwhile, in 2007, fame and achievement were followed by popularity, image and financial success. After decades of ascendance, community feeling found itself in 11th spot. (Apparently those two seconds where American Idol contestants hug each other after finding out that someone else is getting kicked off the show just doesn’t have the staying power we had hoped.) “This reversal in the importance of the two values paints a picture of fairly dramatic change,” the researchers write.

Some outlets have reported that this study proves the number-one desire of tweens is fame, which is not strictly true. Though we can expect TV to reflect its viewers, especially in an age where feedback in every possible medium is encouraged, not a single tween was surveyed in this study. The authors do, however, discuss how younger raters were more attuned to values such as fame. They also point out that desiring fame while having little care for community feeling seems a fair reflection on the online social lives many younger people have grown up cultivating, where tangible interactions are lost in the race to rack up Facebook friends and YouTube views.

(LIST: 100 Best TV Shows of All-TIME)

They end the study with a rather cool warning about the expectations shows like American Idol could be breeding. “Early adolescents are not watching characters in everyday environments; instead they are watching and likely identifying with youth who have enormously successful careers to the point of becoming famous,” they write. “If tweens observe characters they admire succeeding and achieving wide public recognition and material success with little effort or training, they are likely to believe that this success is entirely possible and easy to achieve. This is an important issue for future research.”

The article, titled “The Rise of Fame: A Historical Content Analysis” is out in the current issue of Cyberpsychology: Journal of Psychosocial Research on Cyberspace. See Healthland’s take, written by Belinda Luscombe, here.

Katy Steinmetz is a reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @KatySteinmetz. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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