Remember the days where it required education, hard work, and effort to earn recognition and respect? Oh, how times have changed. Welcome to the Internet age where ordinary people sometimes shoot to stardom overnight.
The definition of success has undergone a dramatic transformation within the last decade. We no longer measure success solely through academic, intellectual, scientific, or athletic achievments. We also measure success through publicity–of any sort.
Many of us recall the days when fame, popularity, and prestige were earned through credentials and accomplishments. Now, people are famous…for being famous. Period.
To illustrate this societal phenomenon we need look no further than the familiar faces that grace all of the popular magazine covers. The Kim Kardashians and Paris Hiltons of the world are not famous for winning athletic medals or for having discovered the latest genetic code. Quite simply, they are famous for being themselves. The fact that I don’t need to explain to you who these women are nicely illustrates my point.
Modern Role Models
With these women as role models, how is the younger generation attempting to emulate their success? Easy. All you need is a computer and an Internet connection. Social media is the new publicity agency, turning out scores of new “celebrities” every day. Archived posts, tweets, and videos-gone-viral have become the new book of business. All of this publicity at zero cost, and no travel required. You can become the next overnight global sensation from the privacy of your own bedroom.
The problem is the same as in every other endeavor–competition. Not every aspiring Internet sensation is going to hit it big. As a sex crimes prosecutor I am always very concerned to see young girls attempt to outdo each other with their sexy selfies and provocative screen names. Attention seeking teens are not thinking about the cyberpredators I know are out there lurking–and learning all about their likes, habits, and other private information.
The frustrating question for those of us who care about the welfare of our younger generation is this: Why do some of our young people aspire to become cyber-celebrities in the first place? When and how did the idea of having your face (or other parts of your anatomy) plastered all over the Internet become desireable?
Impact on the Younger Generation
The new societal definition of success as publicity is markedly affecting the aspirations and dreams of our younger generation. It also drives the way they spend their time. Instead of filling out college applications or studying in the library, some young people spend most of their time taking and posting pictures of themselves on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or their social media outlet of choice. If their picture or post gets enough “Likes,” hits, retweets, or–best case scenario –goes viral, they have it made in the shade.
It is difficult to emphasize the value of education and hard work in an era where for some people, overnight success is as easy as posting a racy picture on Instagram or making a controversial YouTube video. How much education do you need to dress up (or down) and create a sexy music video in your bedroom? None.
By using social media as the new self-promotion machine, some people have cleverly bypassed the need for a college education, old-school resume, and saved themselves countless hours hunting for a job. Who cares whether or not someone finished high school when they can create and post a YouTube vidoe provocative enough to generate one thousand hits an hour? We want our young people to ask themselves–how long will the newfound fame last?
How Can We Help?
One of the questions we are asking ourselves as parents is: Have we failed our kids some way, causing them to turn to their peers (and the rest of the world) for validation and affirmation? Whatever happened to healthy self-esteem being achieved through good old-fashioned effort and accomplishments? And don’t we, as parents, have the responsibility to bring up our kids believing they are loved, valued, and cherished for who they are?
The reality is that even in loving households, children still look to their peers for validation in many situations. We can therefore be proactive in seeking to influence our young people in healthy ways to counteract the unhealthy atmosphere they often observe while sitting behind a computer screen.
So, what wisdom can we impart to this younger generation that they will find useful in a world that embraces such a superficial definition of success? A few thoughts come to mind that we can share with the young people within our sphere of influence.
Beware the Flash in the Pan. Not every Internet celebrity will become the next Miley Cyrus. Social media darlings usually enjoy twenty seconds of fame before the flames. Most social media sensations crash and burn quickly. Why wouldn’t they when there’s nothing beneath the veneer? Overnight fame is sometimes short lived.
Novelty is In. Modern social media consumers have a short attention span, and a voracious appetite for variety. The public wants a constant stream of fresh faces and cyberspace is filled with plenty of contenders. With so many other webcam superstars to choose from, any publicity attained is likely to be short-lived.
The Security of a Back-Up Plan. How many YouTube celebrities make it in the big leagues? Not many. We can encourage our young people to pursue a career offline to distinguish themselves from the pack by providing substance to sustain the spark. Despite the allure of quick fame online, in the long run, even young people who are star struck in the moment can be made to appreciate the value of achieving success through accomplishments.
Be a Role Model. If you are concerned about this issue in the first place, you are in a position to make a difference. The world is full of wholesome, good people who can serve as real role models to young people. Family, friends, educators, and upstanding community members who authentically desire to promote the success of our younger generation are invaluable resource. The key is getting these kids out from behind their computer screens so they can begin interacting with a wider variety of real people.
The bottom line is that we, as parents and friends, can make the effort to protect our children, build up their self-esteem through authentic encouragement, and empower them to believe in themselves–without the bells and whistles of the Internet.
Get With It. In order to make sure we never give up on the younger generation, we have to meet them where they are. That means becoming relevant ourselves. Our children need to be encouraged to become the best they can be–on and offline. Don’t know how to connect with them? Get up to speed yourself…and send them a friend request.