Jemima Lewis: Stop trampling on young people's dreams

It is true that modern children are strikingly materialistic, but we can hardly blame them

Share

Why should it matter if children just want to be famous? A new survey by the Learning and Skills Council (LSC) has provoked much tutting because it states the obvious: teenagers admire celebrities.

Fifty-six per cent of the 16-19-year olds surveyed said that becoming a celebrity was a good route to money and success. Twenty-six per cent said their main reason for wanting to be famous was to prove other people wrong. One in six felt quietly confident that they would find success through celebrity, and more than one in 10 said they would leave education or training if they got the chance to be on television.

What a sensible bunch they are. At least one in 10 children isn't cut out for academia anyway: why shouldn't they seize the opportunity to do something fun, profitable and good for the ego? But the killjoys of the LSC are having none of it. Fame for its own sake, they caution, offers little by way of job security. "If making money is the reason a young person wants to become famous, then by staying on in education or training they can significantly increase their earning power by gaining these essential qualifications." Inspirational words indeed.

The odds of hitting the big time through reality TV are, admittedly, poor: around 30 million to one, which makes it rather less likely than winning the National Lottery. But the chances of becoming an astronaut are also slim. Since when did childhood aspirations have to be realistic?

One of the most loathsome characteristics of school career advisers is the relish they take in bringing children down a peg or two. Constance Briscoe, one of Britain's first black female judges, has just published an autobiography describing her struggle to escape from a violently abusive home life. It was her impossible aspirations that kept her sane.

After watching a TV drama called Crown Court, and being deeply impressed by the wigs and gowns, she resolved to be a barrister. "But when I went to see the careers teacher at school about it," recalls Briscoe, "she was not encouraging. Had I thought about Boots the Chemist?"

Later, when the school organised an educational trip to Knightsbridge Crown Court, Briscoe buttonholed a young lawyer - later to become Michael Mansfield QC - for career advice. On the way home, she was ticked off for being too forward. "As for being a barrister," opined her teacher, "it is good to have dreams, but they have to be realistic. Dream about something you can achieve."

Statistically speaking, the teacher had a point. Girls from Briscoe's background - savagely beaten by a psychopathic mother, molested by an illiterate step-father, consigned to a mediocre secondary modern because her parents didn't want her getting ideas above her station - rarely make it to the top. But Briscoe did (with the help of one Michael Mansfield QC) and I'm sure it is a great satisfaction to her to have, as the teenagers would put it, "proved other people wrong".

Wanting to be famous is a more problematic career goal because it is so amorphous. How, worry the grown-ups, will Little Timmy go about it? Is there some kind of work experience he could do? Once upon a time - even within our lifetime - being famous was not a career at all, but a side effect of being good at something. Socrates called it "the perfume of noble deeds". Of course, he never saw Celebrity Big Brother.

The invention of reality TV has changed the nature of fame. It has turned ordinary people into celebrities, and made celebrities seem ordinary. This is one of the conceits of the current Celebrity Big Brother: one of the contestants is a promotions girl from Essex pretending to be famous, and none of her housemates had noticed the difference. In any case, by the time they get out she will be a celebrity in her own right. "Famous for being famous" used to be an insult: now it's just another branch of the entertainment business.

The unspoken fear behind the LSC report is that teenagers are aspiring after the wrong kind of fame, and for the wrong reasons. They want to get rich with a minimum of effort, and think they can achieve this by taking part in a televised orgy in a hot tub. It is true that modern children are strikingly materialistic (in a recent survey of under-10s, money topped the list of the best things in the world, closely followed by pets), but we can hardly blame them for that. They have been brought up in a culture that worships money, and that rewards celebrities far more lavishly than brain surgeons or barristers.

Yet somehow, they have clung to some residual good sense. The teenagers in the LSC survey never specified that they wanted to be on reality TV. On the contrary, when asked whom they aspired to be like, they picked people whose fame is firmly rooted in talent or hard work: Tony Blair, J K Rowling, Stephen Hawking, David Attenborough. Reality TV may have whetted their appetite for fame, but it has not curtailed the scope of their dreams - and neither should we.

jemima_lewis@dennis.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Programmatic Business Development Manager

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: As the Programmatic Business Dev...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day + Competitive rates of pay: Randstad Education Reading: Ma...

Geography Teacher

£110 - £130 per day + TBA: Randstad Education Reading: Geography Teacher neede...

***Sports Graduate***

£50 - £70 per day: Randstad Education Preston: This role has arisen due to inc...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Scientists believe the discovery could lead to new treatments for loss of memory function caused by ageing and other factors  

We need a completely new approach to caring for older people

Carol Jagger
 

Daily catch-up: out of time, polling and immigration and old words

John Rentoul
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past