I used to live in New York City and worked at the Museum of Natural History. Not only was it a fun and exciting work environment, but it was also where I met my girlfriend at the time, who happened to be an assistant archaeologist.

In addition to the interesting nature of her work, what was striking to me was the reaction of my friends when I told them what my girlfriend did for a living. Almost without fail, they always said, "Oh, she's an archaeologist, like Ross, on Friends."

The Influence of Television

Having grown up in Los Angeles, I'm no stranger to the powerful influence of Hollywood. For better or worse, the messages fed to us through the media can have a profound impact on many of our important life decisions.

Whether it is choosing a profession (how many of us know a person who wanted to become a lawyer because of LA Law?) to the qualities we look for in a mate, as well as how we view ourselves, we've reached a point where what we see on TV plays a role in our decision making process.

For the record, this is not always a good thing.

TV is Not Reality

Unfortunately, a critical message that always gets lost in all of this is that TV is not reality, no matter how they try to sell it to you. It operates in a world of fantasy and make-believe. This is even true for what they call "reality TV," where the supposed real life events are scripted, choreographed, and edited to give the appearance of "real time."

Contrary to what the word "reality" in the name implies, nothing could be further from the truth.

A Disturbing Trend

In lieu of this fact, however, there seems to be a disturbing trend amongst teenagers that links the desire to have plastic surgery with the images that they see on reality TV shows, the same ones promoting plastic surgery as a path to happiness and fulfillment.

While appearances have always been important to teens, the desire to physically and permanently modify themselves to such levels seems a relatively new phenomenon. Factor in the misguided search for happiness and contentment through cosmetic surgery, and the results could be disillusioning, if not damaging, especially for kids at such an important developmental stage of their lives.

True Inspiration?

A new study published in the journal Body Image examines this phenomenon and the potential implications on the health and welfare or young adults. After surveying nearly 200 people with an average age of 20, scientists found that fans of cosmetic surgery shows like Extreme Makeover were more inclined to consider the procedures for themselves, indicating that they found such shows to be "inspirational" and an answer to a person's "dreams."

A Never-ending Cycle

In addition to the times when things do not turn out so well, the difficulties in investing so much of our sense of satisfaction and fulfillment in cosmetic surgery is that it can often be a never-ending cycle of discontent, requiring constant upkeep and renewal. The desire to get more work done can be addictive and even counterproductive. You need only look to celebrity culture to see the what happens when people go "under the knife" too many times.

What Parents Can Do

In the end, young people should celebrate their own natural gifts and not focus on surgically altering their images as the only way to achieve happiness. In the quest to improve ratings, these shows do us a disservice by promoting this message.

It does not have to be this way, and parents, of course, must play a role. With this in mind, moms and dads might want to consider the following:

  • Constantly remind your kids that TV is not real, and should not be used as a basis for making big life decisions like choosing a career.
     
  • Instill them with confidence in their abilities, not just in their appearance.
     
  • Keep an eye out for their strengths and guide them in that direction.
     
  • Teach the value of embracing individuality and the appreciation of who they are and what they have.
     
  • Encourage other activities besides excessive media consumption. Like it or not, the messages are biased and manipulative, especially on TV.
     
  • Expose them to real life experiences, especially travel, to help them discover what really inspires them.
     
  • Teach them empathy and the value of the world outside of themselves. Life satisfaction through consumption is often rooted in self-absorption.
     
  • Make sure they understand that everyone is beautiful in their own way.

I'm not at this stage in parenthood yet, but I was a teenager at one time. I know the power of media's messages, which have become even more prevalent today.

This highlights the need for parents to create a strong emotional foundation for our kids by which they can make the best decisions regarding their lives as they get older. Most of us are painfully aware of the fact that we cannot be there all the times to guide and protect our kids, even if we wish we could.