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When Good Role Models Go Bad

For some celebrities, even negative attention is worth seeking.

It seems that there are only a few short years between the time a celebrity makes it big and when he or she starts making salacious headlines. From internet-famous celebs such as Logan Paul and PewDiePie, to pop culture influencers like Kylie Jenner, good role models can go bad. Sometimes beloved celebrities, such as Michael Jackson, attract headlines in such a negative fashion that it's really hard to explain news coverage about them to kids who've looked up them.

The media seem to egg celebs on. Media frenzies can blow an isolated incident totally out of proportion. They can also glamorize bad behavior to the point that kids fantasize about doing -- or even acting out -- a star's misdeeds. And repeated stories of stars falling from grace can make kids jaded and feel like they're all big fakes.

You can cut through a lot of this nonsense by putting the events -- and the way they're covered -- in context for your kids. Explain that, yes, people mess up. But it's how we deal with the aftermath that matters. What can you say to your kids that won't make them roll their eyes?

Listen. Let your kids ask questions about what they've seen. If they've seen the magazine headlines in the grocery store line with you, ask them about it later. What do they think they saw? What do they think the star on the cover did? Letting them set the stage can help you determine what you need to address and how much detail you need to provide.

Grab the headlines, and make them teachable moments. If you see teen drinking on a TV show -- or you see pictures on the internet of celebs smoking pot or getting arrested for drunk driving -- check in with your kids.

  • For young kids, see how much they understand. Grade-schoolers get a lot of confusing information from their peers, so set the facts straight.
  • For preteens, turn celebrity misbehavior into teachable moments by letting them know what you think about the behavior.
  • And for teens, ask questions. For example, if a celebrity they like is in trouble with alcohol, ask whether their peers are using alcohol or whether they have any anxieties or questions about drinking. Take time to share your opinions -- and expectations -- about the issues.

Impart your media-savvy wisdom. Point out that the media uses stars' misbehavior to make money. The more that people turn to websites and TV shows for pictures and gossip, the more money the companies behind the sites and the shows make. Ask your kids why they think these stars get so much attention and whether they believe the stories they hear about their favorite celebs.

Use the power of consequences. Point out when a celebrity is suspended or loses endorsements as the result of questionable behavior. Establish consequences for what would happen in your own home if your child behaved just like their favorite star. Tell your teens the facts: Not all consequences involve being grounded. Explain that poor decisions now can lead to a reputation that can hurt them later.

Be the role model. Be a good role model for your kids. Talk about what's important to you. Kids need us to tell them what matters to us and why. When good role models go bad, kids can become confused because they looked up those stars. Set the record straight by reaffirming your values.

Caroline Knorr
Caroline is Common Sense Media's former parenting editor. She has many years of editorial and creative marketing writing experience and has held senior-level positions at, Walmart stores, Cnet, and Bay Area Parent magazine. She specializes in translating complex information into bite-sized chunks to help families make informed choices about what their kids watch, play, read, and do.