Justin Bieber—A Parent’s Helper. Really.

4 ways parents can use “bad actor” celebrities to their advantage.

Posted Jan 27, 2014

Miami Beach Police Department

Since his discovery in 2008, Justin Bieber has amassed a seemingly endless fan base. He has over 49 million followers on Twitter (where his profile says, “Let’s make the world better”), over 62 million likes on Facebook. And, in 2012, Forbes Magazine named him the third most-powerful celebrity in the world. Kids as young as eight years old idolize him.

What happens when a super star breaks the law?

His recent arrest for drunk driving and speeding made headlines few could miss. Even Andrea Mitchell who anchors a serious political news TV show interrupted former Congresswoman Jane Harman who was discussing national security mid-sentence to inform viewers of Justin Bieber’s latest antics. CNN did a special report on Bieber. Unfortunately, outrageous, unacceptable behavior is too often what passes as news these days.

While it is more usual for adolescents to become ardent fans, children seem to be growing up faster today and hence, their fandom often starts early. Sparked by the heavy media attention and Internet access, being a fan in elementary school is no longer unusual. If your child of any age seems to know about or be enamored with a star or celebrity, it is appropriate to discuss the star’s predicaments and missteps. It is equally wise to point out the positives about a famous person or group your offspring admires.

Parents cannot stop the celebrity media flow, but they can turn it to their advantage.

Negative behavior on the part of a celebrity, be he be a pop star or sports figure, is an opportunity to discuss unacceptable behavior and a chance to assert your values and expectations without seeming preachy and annoying.

4 tips for talking to kids about their heroes

1. Use newspaper articles or news reports as your starting point; they can be positive (a celebrity who volunteers for a cause, for example, singer Taylor Swift’s work raising money for young cancer victims) or negative. 

2. Ask your child what he or she thinks about the situation. Let your child take the lead in a discussion. Here is a great example of an eight-year-old who took Justin Bieber to task in a letter.

3. Don’t attack and try not to judge your child’s own behavior when talking about the event or incident. Avoid implying, for instance, you feel such and such friend is leading your child down the same bad path that a celebrity went down.

4. Chime in calmly with any points you want to make that may not have come up in the conversation. Children are pretty savvy; most of them know the dangers of drug use and risks of drunk driving, but they may not know, for instance, that young people can become addicted more quickly than adults. 

The pluses of children and teens being fans

Many parents are opposed to their offspring being fans particularly when they choose someone of questionable character. But there are developmental advantages to being a young fan. Many athletes, music industry stars, and actors and actresses serve as excellent role models. Being a fan can be inspirational, motivating a child to pursue a sport, artistic endeavor, or political career (think President Clinton’s childhood admiration for JFK).

Being a fan allows a child to feel part of a group—a group that follows the same person or team. Feeling part of a group is important to children and can fill a social need to be with and share interests with friends. Depending on the celebrity, aspects of fandom can even help define a child’s identity. When the going gets rough with Mom and Dad, being a fan gives children someone to feel connected to even at a great distance.

But, when the object of your children’s affection falters, start talking.

Have you spoken with your child about Bieber’s arrest or about the poor judgment and bad behavior of any celebrities? Share your experiences below.

Related: Hero Worship: Football’s Double-Edged Sword

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Photo Credit: Miami Beach Police Department

Copyright @ 2014 Susan Newman