Celebrity Role Models
Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Mary Kate Olsen. Watching former teen idols crash from drug use, alcohol abuse or eating disorders has almost become an American pastime. As parents, it is our job to minimize the negative influence these out-of-control idols may have on our own impressionable preteens or teens.
Maryann McLain from Omaha, Neb., has a daughter who wants to be like Britney Spears. That concerns McLain who has watched the tabloids marking Britney's less than desirable behavior. "I tell her that Britney is a normal person whose only good points are she can sing and dance and had pretty hair," McLain says. "Then I point out all the bad things she's doing – not wearing underwear in public and letting people see that she isn't. Being stupid and driving with her baby on her lap – I do tell my daughter the graphic details of what can happen to the baby. I told her about the drinking and drugs and related them back to the classes my daughter had in school. So, in a nutshell, I try to relate what she sees to what's real in her life and pop those infatuation bubbles as fast as I can."
Teens and Teen Idols
Celebrity worship no doubt started when impressionable teens caught their first glimpse of Charlie Chapman and Irene Castile. This preoccupation with the rich and famous seems to have grown in proportion to our technology. In the early days, studios went out of their way to hide the missteps of their stars, not wanting a backlash of outraged parents. Now these same misdeeds are shown on television and the Internet – over and over and over until they become a part of our cultural reality.
Vicky Courtney, nationally renowned teen issues speaker and author, believes the media is partially to blame for our youth's preoccupation with celebrities. "Teens can hardly go a day without being exposed to the latest news regarding Hollywood's poor role models," she says. "With 24-hour news coverage on many of the cable stations and competition to get the best stories, pictures and film footage, teens have been saturated with too much information regarding the lives of these anything-but-wholesome role models. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of celebs and pop stars who have adopted the mindset that there is no such thing as negative publicity. In fact, it almost seems that those who behave the worst get the most press. Before long, teens come to expect the continuous news coverage and ramped up bad behavior among these celebs and pop stars."
According to Courtney, when teens are subjected to a constant barrage of negative news regarding celebrities and pop stars, it is easy to become desensitized to their bad behavior. Often, they are left with the false impression that their idols lead glamorous lives and some teens will desire to emulate the bad behavior in a quest to be like them.
"In a news junkie culture, there will always be an overdose of stories devoted to poor role models and the poor choices they make," she says. "If parents don't draw appropriate boundaries to limit their teens' media diets, their silence on the topic will send a message of endorsement. Parents can't protect their teens from poor role models 100 percent of the time, but they can limit the exposure, as well as teach them to discern the positive and negative examples they are witnessing among the celebs and pop stars."
Talking to Your Teen
Courtney says it's important that parents recognize that their children seem to be enamored with certain celebs or pop stars who are garnering attention for their bad behavior. The quicker they recognize it the quicker they can limit their preteen's exposure.
"Examples would be Lindsay Lohan and the Olsen twins who were much-loved among young girls for the innocent roles they played [The Parent Trap, Full House] in their younger years," Courtney says. "Unfortunately, as they got older they were often in the news for events that tainted their earlier innocence and left their younger fan base confused or disappointed. Since parents can't predict which of these stars will eventually self-destruct in the public eye, their only course of action is to be honest with their kids about their poor behavior and then draw boundaries to limit further exposure. In other words, it might be OK to allow your daughter to watch The Parent Trap, but it would be unwise to buy her the Lindsay Lohan fashion doll."
It's important that parents limit their child's exposure and use teachable moments to discuss possible life lessons on eating disorders, underage drinking, drug use, etc. Take advantage of teachable moments to point out celebrities' flaws and the fallout they are experiencing as a result of their poor choices (usually caught on camera).
And as Evie* of Philadelphia, Pa., points out, there are a few positive role models left. "There are some good teenage role models, such as Raven and Shia LaBeouf," she says.
The problem with teen role models is that they are just teens and capable of making horrendous mistakes. Teaching your teen or preteen that these idols are just human with strengths and weaknesses will go far in negating the influence they have on them.
* Last name withheld to protect privacy.