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The Danger of Expecting Celebrities to Be Role Models for Kids

Updated on January 13, 2016

When a video of two members of the boy band One Direction leaked showing members Louis Tomlinson and Zayn Malik smoking weed, and talking about getting chicken in Chile, which is apparently slang for cocaine, The Daily Mail said it exposed the dark side of the squeaky clean band "adored by countless young girls and their mothers for their wholesome image." Louis also called a police officer on a motorcycle who was there to protect them a bitch.

Now I don't see any dark side here. I see young men engaging in behavior young men often engage in. Sure, it's unhealthy behavior but many people young and old have unhealthy habits. The problem is parents buying into wholesome images being sold to them by major media outlets.

Human Imperfection

My kids listen to pop music and watch TV. They become familiar with celebrities. But I don't teach them these celebrities are role models, either good or bad. I tell my kids that singing, acting or sports is a job and the people who do these jobs have both their good and bad sides like everyone else. It's ok to like a singer, actor or sports star, and put their posters on the wall but I do explain that these people are grown ups and that adults do a lot of things that aren't acceptable for kids. I don't set them up as role models or heroes.

But many parents mistakenly do and often encourage their kids to like the celebrities with wholesome images and avoid those who have "inappropriate" lyrics or personas. When things like the One Direction scandal happen these parents are frustrated because their kids' heroes weren't actually perfect after all. But it's no shocker that people in their late teens and twenties engage in behavior that's not acceptable for kids and younger teens.

Parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, teachers, coaches and priests all engage in behavior we wouldn't want our kids to know about. The difference is no one is trying to expose it to get a great story. This is a fact of life with celebrities. Sure they or their handlers may want to protect their perfect images but that's hard to do with the media constantly trying to dig up dirt.

Celebrity Downfalls

And we've seen these kinds of downfalls often in the past. Parents were angry when Miley Cyrus went from sweet and wholesome Hannah Montana to a figure who takes provocation further than even Madonna did. Many former teen stars want to rid themselves of their perfect personas as a means to transition to more grown up music or movie roles.

Movie poster for Spring Breakers starring Selena Gomez
Movie poster for Spring Breakers starring Selena Gomez

Justin Timberlake from the boy band N'Sync told SNL that he and Britney Spears pretended to be virgins when they were dating but he was actually "hitting it." Disney star Selena Gomez often talked about having a promise ring as a teen. A few years later she played a sexy college girl who holds up a restaurant to get money to buy alcohol and drugs in the movie Spring Breakers. Zendaya is the latest Disney teen selling a wholesome image to appeal to parents. We'll see if that lasts.

Taylor Swift was held up as a model for not having a sexy image or inappropriate lyrics. However, she later came under attack for dating lots of guys and then writing angry break up songs about them. Even if the criticisms weren't completely true, and she didn't date that many guys and she wasn't exploiting relationships to fill her albums' tracklists, young fans still became aware of the scandal.

Justin Bieber's 2014 mugshot
Justin Bieber's 2014 mugshot

And maybe you shouldn't rush to get your kids into the latest singing teenager Austin Mahone. Sure he talks about being religious, and how drinking is bad and not having sex. And his music is squeaky clean. But he does like to pose with his shirt off. He's attempting to sell sex to young girls while selling wholesomeness to their parents. He's also listed Chris Brown, who served prison time for violating parole after an arrest for assault, as an influence. Add to that, he hangs out with Justin Bieber.

And I'm sure when Bieber came on the music scene at the same time that raunchy pop girls like Katy Perry and Kesha were on the rise, he was probably seen as the safe alternative. Yet both women have been far better behaved in their personal lives and often sell positive messages to their fans while Bieber has had multiple run ins with the law for street racing, assault and vandalism. He got his first mugshot at the age of 19. He even has a prostitution scandal under his belt. And then there was the story about him and his dad smoking so much weed on a private plane that the crew had to wear oxygen masks. They were so abusive toward the flight attendant that she took refuge in the cockpit. Authorities weren't able to arrest them because they'd smoked all the weed before landing. Perhaps lyrical content is not always the best judge of character.

What to Do

So, what should parents do? Cutting your kids off from pop culture isn't necessarily a good solution because your kids will likely sneak behind your back to find it. It's best for parents to know what their kids are listening to and watching. That way parents can discuss these things with their kids. If someone they do admire is involved in a scandal, you can discuss it with them. You can turn negatives into teachable moments.

Most of all don't set up young adults who are in the public eye as perfect role models for your kids. That way if they do fall from grace you won't be disappointed. Because ultimately wholesomeness is a product that is being sold. I have more respect for celebrities who are honest about who they really are because at least you know where you stand with them. This isn't the case for people selling perfection publicly while often behaving very differently privately.

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