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Should stars be role models?

Should the stars your kids are into have the responsibility of behaving like role models, or is that asking too much?
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Patrick Pentland, June 20, 2013 4:15:46 PM

Should stars be role models?

My kids are young enough (6 and 9) that they are not aware of the tabloid press. They know who someone like Rihanna or Katy Perry is only through the radio, and they have no idea what the press says about them. But as they get older, and more media savvy, they are going to realize that the stars they hear on the radio, or see on TV and in movies, are not just characters, but real people often more worldly than their public image would lead them to believe.

Recently former Disney poster child Miley Cyrus announced in a Rolling Stone interview that she smokes marijuana. Tween heartthrob Justin Bieber has grabbed dozens of headlines in the past year for bad behaviour; from partying too loud, and run-ins with the paparazzi, to speeding through residential neighbourhoods in his Ferrari. Rihanna posts racy pictures of herself on Instagram, often showing her in skimpy clothing or smoking pot.

These are people living in a stratosphere few of us will ever experience. They are among the elite few who have the good (?) fortune of being granted “star” status. What this means to the layperson is that they are rich, popular, and their every move is covered in the press with the vigour that even world leaders don’t experience. Hollywood makes itself seem important so it can feed it’s hunger for attention and money, and these young stars are often the fodder it slowly chews up in the process.

But the question is: if these stars mentioned above make their money from their popularity with young kids, should they be role models for said kids? Do they have the obligation to behave in such a way as to impress upon kids a proper way of living? Should they be teaching kids lessons in morality simply because they are in the public’s gaze, and their actions should reflect where their general moral compasses should be pointing? I think that’s a lot to ask, yet that is often what is expected.

As a parent, someone closest to my kids, I don’t always make the best decisions. I have made errors in front of my kids, as any parent has. I’m not talking about fights with the police or drug charges, but smaller, every day mistakes like running a red light (by mistake, officer), or almost hitting a cyclist (who apparently is incapable of using his own brakes).

I am their father, and my actions and guidance should be one of the leading roles in their upbringing. But I can’t expect that my children will remain oblivious to mainstream media. At some point they will hear about stories concerning a popular star, either through the media or friends gossiping.

If the concept of being a star means success, and success means achieving a lofty goal, something akin to getting all A’s, then being a star means doing good. But reaching the level of success where you are in the public conscience, and followed by the tabloids, often means that you are noteworthy for more than just album sales, or movie roles. We like to see people succeed, and we like to see them fail once they have succeeded.

Justin Bieber is a 19 year old with a Ferrari. What are the odds that a teenager with a race car (and no one to tell him otherwise) is going to want to drive that car fast? The fact that he does so in a residential neighbourhood, and not on the highway or on a racetrack, only proves his immaturity, and flagrant disregard for the standard rules that most people feel obligated to follow. Why he doesn’t follow those rules probably has to do with the fact that he is treated as some form of entitled royalty, and he has the money to lawyer-up once the he’s actually held accountable for his actions.

Rihanna and Miley like to get high. They aren’t necessarily putting anyone’s life at risk, but they are very public about the fact that they like the ganja, and they are telling the world. Is this something I want to be discussing with my 6 year-old? Nope. Not now. But there is a real chance that she will hear older kids talking about it. Of course, she could hear older kids talking about many things, which I will then have to explain, which is part of being a parent.

My point is that these stars are real, flawed people. Smoking weed isn’t necessarily a flaw, but publicly announcing that you do it, when you know that the money you make to buy it generally comes from children, is. As far as I’m concerned. You smoke up, good for you. Do I need to know the details? Do my kids? By talking about it, are you making a political statement? Or are you just showing off? Do we need to know this about you? Does it add to your artistic credibility? Or are you trying to be cool, because your entire career has been built up and sustained by children, and the money their parents spend on your movies and music? Being a Disney pop star on Top 40 radio doesn’t exactly put you in the same league as Keith Richards.

I’m not even sure if anyone should have the title of “role model” hoisted upon them. But some sort of social responsibility should be expected from everyone, no matter what your income, or backstage access. These stars mentioned are all adults, and should have the right to behave like adults, but within that definition there should be limits simply because they also have a public persona, and level of success, that they gained by the support and adoration of young kids. You can’t have it both ways.

Rihanna saying she doesn’t have to be a role model when she gets back together with Chris Brown, the man that infamously beat her, sends a dangerous message to young girls. Period. It would if she was just an everyday person. But she’s not, and she needs to see, whether she likes it or not, that the price of being in the public eye is that the public sees you and what you are doing, and they will judge you on that. That’s what comes with those millions of dollars, the public and their “tsk tsk”ing. It’s not necessarily fair, but that’s the way it goes.

Of course, not all stars appeal to kids. There are plenty of bands, actors, artists, and general media characters that kids have no interest in, and they can go as crazy as they want. But if you depend on arenas full of screaming pre-teens to fuel your private jet, you owe them a certain degree of control, at least when the cameras are rolling, or when your phone is pointed at a mirror.

That being said, being bad to the bone has made many a career. I can see the frustration of a Justin Bieber; rich, popular, Ferrari-owning. It’s not fair to expect him, or Rihanna, or Miley, to be Raffi. Rebellion is also part of growing up. Testing boundaries, making mistakes, embarrassing yourself (and your parents) are all part of the process. Having cameras focussed on you as you go through all of it doesn’t help.

In the end, it’s up to me to be the role model, whether I disapprove of the tweets and speeding tickets of the stars or not. I’m not about to depend on Miley Cyrus to guide my kids, any more than I would expect some dude at the park to explain sex to them. Depending on, or expecting, people in the spotlight to educate your kids is a cop out. Sure, I’d hope people who make a living off of kids’ adoration would behave as if those kids were always watching them, but that’s not going to happen.

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