By Tracey Dowdy
We live in a culture that worships fame. Our kids often see celebrities as heroes and someone to admire. But what happens when those celebrities end up all over social media because they’ve gotten into trouble? Now what? How do you talk to your kids about Justin Bieber’s drunk driving arrest, or Ryan Lochte being arrested for lying to the police?
Instead of excusing or ignoring the story, use it as a teachable moment. This is your chance to do the kind of parenting you remember from those after school specials when you were a kid.These tips based on suggestions from Kate Roberts, Ph. D. and Savvy Parenting can help you navigate those awkward conversations and the disappointment children often feel when their heroes fall.
Keep it age-appropriate. Obviously you can be more direct about choices and consequences when you’re discussing a DUI with a 15-year-old vs. your 5-year-old. Younger children tend to think of people as “good guys” and “bad guys” so help them understand that good people sometimes make poor choices and this is a chance to learn from their mistakes.
Keep your opinion to yourself – at least until you’ve heard what your child has to say. Allowing them to express their opinion before you give yours means you’ll get a better understanding of how they’re processing what they’ve seen or heard.
Use the opportunity to teach them what a hero really looks like. Talk about people who serve as police officers, firemen, soldiers or other professions that take courage, sacrifice and hard work or, talk about real-life heroes who have done extraordinary things like Ruby Bridges, Malala Yousafzai, or Ryan Hreljac.
Keep an eye on their celebrity worship. Roberts cautions, “Children who are over-focused on celebrities are at greater risk for copying negative behavior.” Remind them that there’s a difference between a celebrity’s on-screen and off-screen personality, and often between who their publicist wants us to think they are and who they really are. This is a great opportunity to talk to them about being true to themselves and not giving in to peer pressure or group-thinking. Being a hero means more than being talented – a real hero has character.
Show empathy instead of judgement. While not condoning a celebrity’s bad behavior, there’s nothing wrong with showing compassion and empathy for someone who’s made a bad choice. Ask your child how they would feel in that situation and how they could learn from their mistake.
Talk about what it means to be a role model. Perhaps your child has younger siblings that look up to them, or perhaps your child excels in sports, academics or the arts. Help them to understand people sometimes have unrealistic expectations from their heroes and remind them celebrities have flaws just like the rest of us.
Teach personal responsibility. This is a tricky one because sometimes celebrities seem to get away with things the rest of us don’t. Talk about whether or not that is just or fair, and what it means to take responsibility for your actions.
Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.