When Good Role Models Go Bad

For some celebrities, even negative attention is worth seeking.
Caroline Knorr Parenting Editor | Mom of one Categories: Alcohol, Drugs, Smoking, Celebrity Influence on Kids, Media and Body Image, Screen Time, Sex in the Media
Parenting Editor | Mom of one

It seems that there are only a few short years between the time a child star makes it big and when he or she starts making salacious headlines. From Miley Cyrus to Justin Bieber, good role models can go bad. Sometimes celebrities attract headlines in such a negative fashion that it's really hard to explain their wild antics 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.

About Caroline Knorr

As Common Sense Media's parenting editor, Caroline helps parents make sense of what’s going on in their kids' media lives. From games to cell phones to movies and more, if you're wondering "what’s the right age for…?"... Read more

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Comments (32)

Teen, 14 years old written by Goldfish

Ha ha, this article isn't even applicable to me! My favourite bands/singers are all fantastic (or at the very least passable) roll models. Owl City, Hello Kelly, Taylor Swift (passable), Greyson Chance... Oh! And Hilary Duff! Best celebrity roll model in history! She grew up and out of Disney with true grace and maturity.
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Adult written by Senser123

See I do not like the fact that today's once good role models are going badder than the ones in decades past here's a tip for future generations of celeb role models if you really want to shed your good image do it in a more positive light do not think of shocking people.
Teen, 16 years old written by RockAndRollKid

UHG it's stupid how celebrities are now. I'm only 11 years old and all the celebrities I remember long time ago are now edgy,not responsible,careless role models. Mind the sex and edginess but some if these "role models" are using drugs and drinking. Kids are going to pick up on it. Even though I'm 11 years old this is affecting and shaping our world. From kid friendly pop stars to edgy and sexually not kid friendly pop stars.
Kid, 10 years old

I used to love Miley Cyrus in Hannah Montana now she is just ugh I can't even say it and I still love Selena Gomez but Spring Breakers seriously??? next Doc McStuffins is going to be working at a sexual health clinic, Jake and the Neverland Pirates skinny dip-diving off Bucky and Sherriff Callie drinking real alcohol from the Wild West saloon.
Kid, 10 years old

I used to love miley cyrus she was my role model and then when I think about the new her I just feel like crying cause she was my role model I was like her #1 fan
Kid, 10 years old

I used to love miley cyrus she was my role model and then when I think about the new her I just feel like crying cause she was my role model I was like her #1 fan
Kid, 6 years old

Miley Cyrus was a good role model in hannah montana but now she horrible,Justin bieber was never a good role model no one even likes justin bieber he now a criminal and is a total jerk to his neighbors.
Teen, 16 years old written by rebma97

I really don't know what's happened with Miley. It's like she's trying to get attention. Hopefully she'll calm down in a few years like Britney Spears did...
Adult written by darkay223

you talk about justin bieber like hes an object that only makes music for young kids hes a human to u know (i know it are almost only 10 year olds that listen to his music but thats not the meaning of his career)
Kid, 11 years old

Guys, I'm reading you comments about Justin. Will you please just STOP!!! Justin's just human, he's like everybody else.He makes mistakes and learns from that.I can't believe you guys! I've been a belieber since 2010!!! Please just forgive him! Parents! You still can let your daughter listen to him.I know he's 18 turning 19 on March 1,but he's only human we make mistakes. He's from Canada and had a difficult life.Moms, he was raised by a single mother.She had a hard life.She felt pregnant at 18.Would you imagine being a mother at this age?!!? No, you'd wouldn't. Justin's father left his mom and broke Justin's promises.Dad's would you every break YOUR promises to YOUR kids?!!? No! You won't either! So please stop saying mean things to him.Everybody! I think you should watch Justin's Never Say Never movie and read Pattie Mallete's (justin's mom) book.You'll really be surprised!Then you say he's not a good role model! He really is one to fans! He's still just a kid! When he stuck up his middle finger he was really mad. Justin tweeted later and said he was sorry. He truly was! I can't believe you guys. I think I'm not gonna stay on this site no more.PLEASE! JUST READ THIS POST and a reminder,JUSTIN DREW BIEBER IS ONLY HUMAN!HE'S JUST LIKE US.WE MAKE MISTAKES.JUSTIN SAID HE WAS SORRY.THAT'S ALL.And if you still hate him,all of Justin's fanbase is gonna get you for a bad role model.
Kid, 12 years old

PUT u the finger up it not good role model. One day u have kids u says hey kids went u it okay to put the middle finger ok I sorry justin dumb!#$
Kid, 12 years old

The middle finger is not always the right answer really the middle finger childern can copy you. That is not good rule model.
Teen, 13 years old written by smartkitty

stars gain alot of pubility for this kind of stuff, so their mistakes a rewarded in the end,not a good thing to teach kids
Kid, 9 years old

Ok the JB case was not that bad he only extended the middle finger because he was tired and the paparazzi wouldn't leave him alone to be with he girlfriend Selena Gomez. Otherwise I would like to show an example of this. Miley Cyrus started out as the good girl with a southern soul and a good role-model of a character as well. Now she wearing short shorts and is getting into things that aren't for kids. I agree on Brittany Spears though she is just wrong sometimes.
Teen, 13 years old written by SockyChibi<3

Yeah, I can relate. There may have been some celebs on kid shows that act all nice, and clean, but next thing you know, they start cursing, doing drugs, sex, all of that that kids don't expect them to do.
Teen, 13 years old written by ILoveYouStupid13

Gosh hes not an idiot its not like he actually ment it i think....... and plus mean it was the heat of the moment, forgive and forget people.
written by adagioprincess

Who cares and by the way Justin Beiber was doing that at the idiot paparazzi who took the picture I don't even like him
Kid, 11 years old

Yep, always knew it, Justin. The boy that millions of tween girls obress over just stuck his middle finger out. How wonderful! You're being a great role model, Justin. Now all your fans are gonna start a middle finger frendzy. That's the thing about stars. One minute they're the best people in the world: they are a great role model, they care about their fans, and are down to earth. 2 years later, they are on drugs, drinking, having ***, cussing, and wearing inapproprite clothes. It's so frustrating and sad to see stars transform into bad people that are on those gossip magazines with bad articles and rumors on the cover.
Kid, 12 years old

You know, I think it's really funny how a lot of people have ignored the fact that Justin is still a teenager. You act like he is a 22 year old man who out of no where started to throw middle fingers and F bombs. Like really, how many of you didn't do crazy things when you were teens? Unless your parents/guardians kept you locked in your room everyday I think everyone did. Teach your children the right things, and they will do the right things. Yes, this is all coming from a 12 year old girl. (:
Teen, 13 years old written by TrevorPickett

I can't stand the existance of tween media. Not only because I just think it is attrocious, but I don't think it is any good for the target audiance. Many Disney Channel stars are awful role models, celebrities are becoming a focus way too soon, and about half of the tween-targeted shows out there have inappropriate attitude. I regret the fact that my sister got exposure to this junk.
Kid, 12 years old

Try and find a celebrity that is: 1) Less Popular, cause people go crazy when they are TOO famous 2) Supports a good cause, so kids see there's more to life than movies and TV 3) Has a good reputation, so your kids don't imitate bad behavior 4) Uses appropriate content in their work, again, so kids don't imitate bad behavior That might make a good role model. But overall, the media isn't the best place to find a role model. Look somewhere else!
Kid, 10 years old

Well, when this happens, explain to your kids why not to choose them as a role model. I know celebs can be stupid,so dont let your kids watch these stupid TV shows meant for 14 year old ppl like Jersey shore and especially Degrassi.
Kid, 11 years old

he's changed big time. hes never been a role model from the start. i remember when i had a huge crush on him cause i thought he was nice, cool, and a good role model. but not anymore. i hate his guts
Kid, 12 years old

Oh Justin... I thought you were better than that. Shame on you. I mean, if you think about it, he's actually really stupid for doing that, since he's being surrounded by cameras and all. And if your not ready to handle the paparazzi, THEN DON'T BECOME A FAMOUS PERSON. Like I said he's stupid. This article talks about a lot of good points and I applaud the website for addressing these serious issues. I &lt;3 you Common Sense!!! ~iluvewanmcgregor
Kid, 11 years old

I sort of agree. But, since he had been in the limelight for 2 or 3 years by then, he had never really thought about how famous he would get and how much the pap's would follow him. It's not like I agree with him putting the middle finger up, but we're not perfect, are we? He said sorry and it was in the heat of the moment when he swore. The cameras were annoying his girlfriend and that made him angry.