I didn't watch the MTV Video Music Awards on Sunday, but I read enough news to catch the uproar surrounding Miley Cyrus and her performance as soon as I went online the next morning. The former Hannah Montana star came out in a skimpy outfit, made some pretty lewd moves during the performance of her song, then continued by sticking around to join Robin Thicke for his performance, and it only got worse from there. I won't bother with the details because, well, they're everywhere.
A lot has been made of Miley Cyrus and her behavior over the past few years. She's been photographed doing some pretty suggestive things, has said a lot of suggestive things, has admitted to drug use, and has generally gotten a lot more attention simply for the shock value that's created, and as people wonder what she'll do next.
I think what makes it so shocking and newsworthy is that she used to be a role model. Better or worse, Hannah Montana was a character that many adolescents and teens adored, copied, and looked up to. By association, they looked up to the actress that played the character. For years, what girl under the age of 16 didn't try picturing life as Miley Cyrus.
Her startling transformation is shocking simply because of how drastic a change it went, along with how popular she was. I don't think that her moves would be as discussed and as polarizing had she just burst onto the scene. But, since she ‘grew up' before the public eyes, all of the ‘naughty' things she does are magnified, since so many people are seeing them through the Hannah Montana lenses.
I'd have to think that many parents are concerned, especially depending on the age of their kids. If you had a girl that loved Hannah at the age of 8, chances are she's probably a teenager, and the drastic change can sure cause some confusion. Our kids are only 4 and 2, so luckily they don't have pop culture heroes.
Not just Hannah
Now, this goes way beyond Hannah Montana. I'm a sports guy, so all summer long, I've been following the unfolding drama concerning baseball and performance enhancing drugs. Ryan Braun, a superstar for the Milwaukee Brewers, admitted to use and is serving a suspension. Alex Rodriguez, who at one point was in talk as maybe the greatest ever, was suspended for over 200 games (he's appealing), and is now looked upon more with scorn by the vast majority of sports fans.
Even so, I'll bet many a young baseball fan had an A-Rod poster taped to their wall at some point.
They're not heroes
It just goes to show that with today's youth, athletes or actors or musicians can be well regarded, but they shouldn't be heroes.
And, it's up to parents to teach that lesson and show the difference.
I don't think parents should forbid their kids from putting posters on their walls. Nor should they try to shield them from ‘liking' the flavor of the moment. Honestly, that's going to be a losing battle.
What we can do is teach them a line in the sand when it comes to popularity. That's easier than it sounds, but I believe it's possible.
- Remind your kids that celebrities are people too. Superstars take on the aura of invincibility and fame, and people, especially kids, can forget that they are people too. Remind kids of this. If your daughter is carrying on about Justin Bieber and how great he is, open the discussion about how Justin Bieber completed his education while on tour. It serves as a reminder that superstars have to do the same activities that we do.
- Don't badmouth. It can be tempting to try to talk your kids out of their ‘idol worship' by pointing out bad behaviors or missteps, and using that as a basis for the kids to ‘take it down a notch'. That's not going to work. If anything, your trashing the celebrity will make them more protective and could cause them to double up their ‘worship'.
- Talk about things. Sit down with your kids and talk about their ‘heroes'. Find out what they like about them, and talk about that. If they have questions, answer them. Have regular conversations, and not just when things are going bad for their celebrity of the week.
- Be prepared for a fall. How many parents of girls who loved Hannah Montana have had to answer questions or start a conversation about what ‘Hannah' has become? Probably more than a few. Parents should be prepared for their kids star to do something questionable, and have an idea in mind on how to have that conversation if/when the day comes. Don't be caught off guard.
- Keep an honest perspective. When I was a kid, some of the heroes were guys like Michael Jordan or Michael Jackson, and Madonna had a pretty good handle on the music world. Many of the girls I was trying to impress as a teen couldn't get enough New Kids. Looking back, all of these people had their problems. Many parents probably want to say that ‘celebrities are worse today', when in reality they're probably not. The one thing that's different is that the media and internet can now capture and report on these things more quickly and in greater detail. If you go in with the ‘In my day, this never happened' mentality, you'll probably lose your kid and in their mind the discussion will be over.
- Be their hero. In the end, you should be the hero for your children. They're not going to see it as kids, especially as they hit teenage years, but you should still be doing the things that will make them turn to you as they mature. Teach your kids manners. Teach your kids empathy. Teach your kids to respect adults. And other kids. Teach them principles. Teach them that money is a tool and not something that their principles should be compromised for. Teach them respect for themselves, for members of the opposite sex, and to you as parents.
Oh, and the best way to teach them these things? Live them. Lead your kids by example. You'll build a stronger foundation with them by living the things above, practicing them, and showing them those things then you will by simply talking about them.
In the end, your kids will have their Hannah Montana and Justin Bieber crazes, but those will come and go. What's there before, during, and after those fads is you and what you teach them.
Celebrities are not heroes, and the best way to make sure that they don't become heroes in your kids eyes is simple: Be their hero instead.