You are what you watch

How television shows impact teens’ career decisions


Sophie Rodriguez, Staff Writer

Senior Tate Jameson dreams of becoming the next Kate Spade or Lilly Pulitzer.  Television series like “Gossip Girl” and “Project Runway” are near the top of her list of inspirations.

Students both within and beyond NDP are exposed to new careers and swayed towards certain majors by career-related TV shows. In a Seraphim survey, 54.6 percent of students said the career-related shows they watch have inspired or influenced their career preference.  

Influence from the media is both positive and negative in different respects, but one thing is certain: its presence.

The Media’s Impact

Jameson’s parents’ occupations as a preschool teacher and a mortgage broker did not inspire her hopes of becoming a fashion designer. Rather, she admitted to receiving the majority of her influence from various television shows, which have encouraged and confirmed a childhood passion.

Tate said she enjoys TLC’s “What Not to Wear,” appreciates the vintage style of movies like Clueless and watches “Project Runway” “all the time.” The show that has most inspired her is teen favorite, “Gossip Girl.”

Tate Jameson poses with one of her original paintings. Photo: Ane Marie Photography.

Two things captured Jameson’s interest in the show: its setting in New York City, where she hopes to live one day, as well as the familiarity of private school life.

She tilted her intricately braided and ponytailed head, her sparkly eyeshadow glittering as she animatedly described her love of the city.  Jameson admitted she idolizes Blair, the main character of the show, and loves the characters’ “girly, chic” style.  

Already an entrepreneur of a successful Instagram-based business, A Taste of Tate, Jameson sells quote-inspired paintings decorated with her font-like handwriting and curly patterns.

Moving forward, she hopes to use her unique blend of style and painting talents to create original clothing designs. To pursue this goal, she is looking to earn a degree in retail and consumer sciences, which entails business, fashion and marketing.

Senior Katie Cunningham has similarly developed passions inspired by television.

Cunningham is confident she wants to become a biochemist, with a side job in the FBI, the NSA or something similar. She plans on studying both biochemistry and psychology in college.  

She said she has watched the shows “Criminal Minds” and “Forensic Files,” which piqued her interest because they solved “modern day crimes.”

Jameson and Cunningham are not alone in the influence they have received from TV. Over half of surveyed students in a Seraphim poll said the career-related shows they watch have had some impact on their career preference.

According to Mrs. Gizelle Wong, NDP guidance counselor, the true percentage is probably higher since most students “don’t want to admit that that is their reasoning.”

This television effect extends beyond NDP’s campus limits.

Tammy Anderson, associate professor at the University of Delaware, said “the Facebook generation” is impacted most strongly through this medium; her own school saw an influx of criminal justice majors when “CSI” came out.

Across the globe in Italy, Giorgio Di Pietro from the University of Westminster coined the “Master Chef Effect,” describing the influence the popular new cooking show had upon the increasing enrollment in catering schools.

Clearly, television shows make an impact.

The Decision Factors

“The interdependence of family, school, and community culture play a critical role in shaping the youth’s occupational choice,” according to a study conducted in rural Pennsylvania from the Journal of Extension, a journal devoted to increasing effectiveness of educators.

Some people decide to follow in their parents’ footsteps when it comes to careers. One example is Dr. Geof Glovsky, parent of NDP students Jenna, Sam and Lauren and alum, Taylor.

“I wanted to follow my father’s footsteps,” he said, explaining his reasoning for becoming an orthodontist. It is also a dream of his to pass this tradition on to his children.

Parental influence is not as weighty as it used to be according to a Sciencealert: “A study by family history site found that only 7 percent of children end up in the same job as their parents today, whereas it was nearly half of children (46 percent) in Victorian times.”

So the question is: how are modern children deciding what to do with their lives?

Katie Cunningham focuses on a measurement during an AP Biology lab. Photo: Sophie Rodriguez.

Some make decisions based upon their strongest subjects in high school. For example, Kenzie Caswell, class of 2014 NDP alum and current ASU junior, decided criminology was a fitting major since she loved taking Psychology and Street Law in high school.

Cunningham, current senior, also believes her liking for science and Psychology classes make her suitable for biochemistry.

Yet, both of these students also cite various television shows that have impacted their decisions as well.

According to a Seraphim survey, 100 percent of surveyed students regularly view or have viewed in the past two or more career-related television series.

Wong said that there has indeed been an increase in the media’s impact on students’ choices.

The Reason

Watching beautiful Dr. Meredith Grey or Dr. Derek “McDreamy” Shepherd heroically save lives and participate in hospital romances on the television series “Grey’s Anatomy” is enough to convince just about anyone that they would like to scrub in for surgery someday.

Josephine Murray, writer for The Guardian, uses this logic to explain how career-related television shows appear so “exciting” that they often lead viewers to “consider it as a career.”

Karuna Sharma, author for the International Journal of Applied Research, said, “An overwhelming majority of young people are influenced by television programmes when choosing a career.”

As to why, Sharma seconds Murray’s assertion: “The entertainment options can even turn some careers into trendy options… by glamorizing them. This glamorous view may make some people interested in entering these professions.”

“When watching things on media, you can get caught up in what that might be like for yourself,” Wong said.

She explained that television shows are often “embellished,” making their featured occupation seem “very appealing.” Thus, she reminds her students that situations pictured in media are “not always as accurate as you would hope.”

Cunningham, a TV viewer, said she is aware that shows are dramatized with exaggerated events and attractive characters, adding that she is “not guiled” by the idea that she is “going to solve a crime in three days.”

Sharma said that “nearly one fifth of the sample [of a 2006 study by Levine and Hoffner] spontaneously expressed skepticism about the accuracy of work-related information depicted in the media.”

Apparently, some teens are aware of this embellishment.

Regardless, as long they are viewing the content, they are likely influenced subconsciously. According to Andre Evans, writer for Natural Society, a website that explores different risks to human health and possible solutions:

Television, movies, and music create a profound subconscious effect on the human mind that influences and dictates the choices that they will make to at least some degree.” Evans added that, especially in western culture, individuals are constantly subject to these influences through “entertainment mediums.”

Seniors spend time on laptops during Anatomy class. From left: Jenna Glovsky, Erick Muro, Erica Wiskerchen, Taylor Lincoln and Madison Hamilton. Photo: Sophie Rodriguez.

A study performed by the American Heart Association supports this claim:

While most teenagers (60 percent) spend on average 20 hours per week in front of television and computer screens… about 7 percent are exposed to more than 50 hours of “screen-time” per week.”

Considering the amount of time teens spend viewing media and the impressionable condition of their minds, some type of result seems inevitable.

The Consequences

Students can get frustrated because they have knowledge from television, but don’t realize what the industry is like,” Ed Hennessy said about his culinary students at the University of Delaware.

He explained that students are often disappointed to learn that the instructors do not “scream and shout and swear” like in “Hell’s Kitchen” and they do not spend much time baking elaborate pastries like on “Ace of Cakes.”

“Television is not reality, so what’s portrayed on the television is for entertainment value and doesn’t show the day-to-day aspects of a career,” guidance counselor Lisa McMorrow said.

A common mistake Wong has noticed is the oversight of key details like an occupation’s compatibility with one’s interests and aptitudes.

Daniel Francis, the Faculty of Science Advisor for the University College of the Fraser Valley, shared an anecdote of a student, “Stephen,” who “does not like blood,” but was determined to become a doctor because of his favorite television show. Clearly, this would never work out.

Wong said that another issue is students underestimating how much schooling is necessary for their desired end. “Sometimes there’s not much of a connection between the process you have to go through and where you want to be” (Wong). For example, the wish to become a surgeon like Meredith and “McDreamy” is not enough to motivate 14 years of education after high school, nor to compensate for a disinterest in science.

According to Francis, “academic advisors are now responsible for dispelling misconceptions about the careers portrayed on television and in movies.”

Misconceptions in students’ first years of college abound. Caswell, for instance, went through several trials before finding a major that stuck.

Going into her freshman year of college, Caswell was an interior design major, thanks to her family’s background in home design in addition to her fondness of HDTV’s interior design show “Divine Design.” After watching it, she always felt “inspired to redo her room.”

What she had not anticipated was her classes’ focus on interior architecture rather than decorating. The Interior Design professor even warned his class on the first day that if they thought it would be anything like HDTV, they were wrong.

After one semester, she switched to Criminology. It seemed to fit since she enjoyed taking Psychology and Street Law in high school and loved criminal shows like “Criminal Minds” and “Law and Order.”

Katie Rodriguez, NDP alum, watches Criminal Minds, a show that led her down the wrong career path. Photo: Sophie Rodriguez.

Although she liked the major’s classes, when she thought about a long-term career, she did not know if she could handle being around so much sadness. She concluded that it was “interesting to learn about,” but did not think she wanted “to be surrounded by it.”

Caswell switched majors once again before entering her sophomore year, this time as a Health Education and Health Promotion major with the end goal of becoming a Physician’s Assistant.

With this major, which she is still pursuing midway through her junior year, she finds “all the cool concepts” in her classes to be interesting and can also envision herself doing this in the future, “unlike criminology.”

Her first few tries turned out to be dead-ends because of both misconceptions and lack of foresight for the long term.  On the third try, it looks like she has found a suitable match.

The Benefits

Benefits stand alongside the drawbacks of TV-inspired-majors.

McMorrow said that shows can open students’ eyes to different things they think are interesting, which they can then research.

For example, even if a student does not become a surgeon after watching a medical series, it could still give him or her an idea that they are interested in health or anatomy and prompt them to inquire about different careers available in that field: maybe nursing, teaching or research (Wong).

Another benefit Hennessy has noticed is that “students who have watched [career related] shows… can use their knowledge as a link to identify what they are learning.”

Wong said that relying on this television-obtained knowledge may be slightly helpful, but that they are only “snippets” and “do not give you the big picture.” If students truly want to explore a career, they must remember that there is still a “vast area” of knowledge to add onto what they have learned from TV.

From a different perspective, industries can also benefit from media popularization of their field. In fact, some industries like engineering have actively begun seeking more presence in the media, such as the Institute of Civil Engineers’ “Engineering Media Challenge.”

Gordon Masterton, the president of the institute launching this challenge, joked: “If either of the Ross or Rachel characters in Friends had been a civil engineer, I have no doubt we would be attracting more applicants into our profession.”

Both parties, students and industries, clearly stand to gain from this exchange in some form.

The ‘Solution’

So how can students make the most of the influences in their lives and avoid being fooled or misguided?

According to Wong, it is essential to recognize all influences at face value. Television shows are certainly opportunities to be exposed to more fields, but they are not always reliable sources of information.

Instead, Wong advises students  to do their own research to decide which major and career would be best for them. They should scrutinize their interests and talents, calculating their compatibility with the job and its education requirements.

Caswell also gave some advice: “Talk to people who have the major you’re interested in to figure out what your daily life would be like. Try something related, like a job at whatever type of company you want to work for. Get some experience in the field to see what it is like because I feel like it’s always different than you’d think.”

Still, a little uncertainty is not the end of the world.  According to the National Center for Education Statistics, “Over 80% of new students entering college – even those that have declared a major – are still uncertain about their decision and how they are personally connected to the academic program.”

McMorrow expanded upon this idea with her own estimates:

“Two percent of kids have known what they want to do since they were little. Eight to ten percent…have a feel for it but not a specific idea. The rest have no clue, and will go into college without a clue,” she said. “But that is what college is for; exploring and dabbling in different things.”

Switching around a bit when it comes to this big decision is not the worst thing, according to Caswell.

“Don’t be afraid to try a couple of different majors,” she said. In her own journey through college, Caswell was able to “learn a lot about different things” through each new major.

In fact, she said, “It was kind of fun.”