The headline read, "Justin Bieber Arrested for DUI and Drag Racing." This is just one of the most recent of many incidents over the last few years of teen idols falling short. Remember Miley Cyrus' transformation? Individuals in the public eye - with the capacity of influence over our youth - doing the wrong thing in the wrong place for the wrong reason.
Who does your teen idolize? Who does s/he look up to? Respect? Imitate?
Britney Spears was married and divorced twice, forgot her underwear, checked into and out of rehab, shaved her head, got engaged and unengaged. Highly successful teen stars like Lindsay Lohan and Macaulay Culkin were involved with drug abuse and driving under the influence. Jodie Sweetin, star on TV's Full House, suffered alcohol and drug abuse and was guilty of endangering her daughter. Nickelodeon's Amanda Bynes received DUIs and was involved in a hit-and-run accident. Haley Joel Osment from The Sixth Sense and Pay it Forward was arrested for driving under the influence and possession of marijuana.
This list could be a lot longer. The point is that those figures in public life who appeal to our teens are unreliable role models. Yes, they are compelling. Yes, they are entertaining. But they are not sources of inspiration or behavior for our teen's lives. Many focus on selfish qualities, questionable morality, and a sense of entitlement that can derail your teen's sense of self and ability to succeed in a positive way.
Rolling the model
What can we do to swing our teen's fascination with entertainment icons to reliable models they can emulate?
We can encourage our kids to expand their interests. We can talk about why actors, singers, and other entertainers appeal to us. We can have a discussion about why they are so popular while putting into context what makes a good role model. There is a difference between being popular and being a good person to pattern our lives after. And we can teach that there are consequences to bad behavior--some are permanent.
Characteristics of a good role model
We need to emphasize the importance of adopting positive role models who can serve as mentors to our teens, provide examples of the qualities that make for a successful life, and improve self-confidence and achievement of goals.
Good role models can come from any area of life. They may be individuals who face similar challenges or who have common interests. They are usually examples of a successful approach to life; individuals who have firm character and strong values.
A couple of years ago, teens responded to a question from the New York Times about role models in their lives. Answers included sports figures, the head of a zoological park, an 11th grade English teacher, and family members. The one thing that everyone mentioned was the positive impact from observing someone overcome obstacles, showing strength in the face of challenges, and inspiring others to be better people.
Tom and Bill are authors of the new book Dads2Dads: Tools for Raising Teenagers. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org. Like them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Dads2Dads/341019369324702