Editor’s Note: Justin Bieber turns 20 on Saturday, and his legal travails seem endless. Last month, CNN Parents’ Kelly Wallace explored what to tell kids who are Bieber fans about his recent bad behavior. The piece is below.
Justin Bieber's arrest is a conversation starter, many parents say
Parents should do more listening than talking, one mom says
Asking kids what defines "greatness" could be beneficial, former principal says
Here’s yet another time when I’m oh-so-thankful my kids are too young to a) be Justin Bieber fans and b) know anything about his arrest and Lamborghini joy ride allegedly under the influence of marijuana, alcohol and prescription drugs.
Sadly, parents of tweens and teens, especially those who continue to adore the 19-year-old superstar (despite his ongoing public travails), are not quite so lucky.
But instead of fretting over what to say, many parents believe his arrest is a chance to continue the conversation about drinking, drug use and doing either while behind the wheel.
“I have used these sorts of ‘public displays of difficulty,’ as I like to call them, to sometimes segue into a conversation about what they would do if they had a friend who was in the same situation,” said Devra Gordon Renner, a mom of two in Northern Virginia and co-author of the book “Mommy Guilt.”
“However, I don’t use these as teachable moments all of the time,” Gordon Renner, a clinical social worker, said in response to a request for comment on Facebook. “Teens only listen for so long and too many ‘examples’ feels like proselytizing to them.”
Parents should try to do more listening than talking, and ask kids what they think about Bieber’s troubles, said Rachel Vail, a New York City mom of two and author of numerous books for kids and teens including her latest “Kiss Me Again.”
“Scaffold their growing ability to think through complex issues like celebrity, entitlement, fame, substance abuse – and really listen to their thoughts,” said Vail, also on Facebook.
“So often we think we have to have the correct answers and serve them up like so many inoculations to our kids. Being present and asking questions is sometimes the wiser, more respectful, and ultimately more empowering route.”
Asking kids what really defines “greatness” could be enormously beneficial to them, said Tish Howard, a mother, grandmother and former elementary school principal.
“In conversations with my young students, I tried to steer the dialogue with them to a point where they were telling me the qualities they thought made someone worthy of being idolized,” said Howard, who continues to work with schools through her education consulting firm.
“Kids can come to an accepted belief that it’s not the talent that makes you great. It is what you do with it and your contribution to the whole that defines you,” said Howard. “It is okay for kids to love (Bieber’s) voice but differentiate that from him being a model of behavior.”
Parents can sometimes “go overboard” when it comes to worrying about who their teens idolize, said Gordon Renner, the clinical social worker.
“Who amongst us did not swoon for someone when we were teens? But in reality did any of us copy their lives and confuse it with reality?” she added.
Jenny Dean Schmidt, a mom of two and radio host of The Channelmom Show in Denver, says her 11-year-old would say she chose not to be a Bieber fan “on purpose.”
“We make a point of steering our kids away from ‘idol worship,’ reminding them that they are just as valuable as any celebrity,” Dean Schmidt said. “The fact that Mr. (Is he old enough for Mr.?) Bieber was arrested helps us drive home that point. Celebrities are just as fallible as anyone else, and there’s no need to worship them.”
Evan Katz, a behavioral therapist and author of the book “Inside the Mind of an Angry Man,” believes Bieber is suffering from what therapists call “imposter syndrome.”
“It’s basically someone who really lives in fear of being revealed for who he or she believes they really are,” said Katz, who said he suffered from this himself and shared his own experiences in his book.
“I guarantee when they go home and look in the mirror after a huge concert and a huge night that they don’t see the person that everyone else is seeing,” Katz said of Bieber and other celebrities who might struggle with insecurities.
“In fact, they are scared to death that people are going to see the person that they are seeing so … the person will continue to implode and fall apart.”
Katz’s advice to parents is to encourage kids to learn from the pop star instead of criticizing him.
“The lesson is happiness is an inside job and that true validation has to come from looking in the mirror and liking who you see regardless of … chaos going on around you,” Katz said.
Justin Bieber “got lost somehow and had to give up himself and he was so overwhelmed with validation from outside himself that he was lost and you don’t want that to happen to you,” said Katz, describing a conversation parents could have with their kids.
As for Bieber’s teenage fans, Dean Schmidt, the Denver radio personality, believes they shouldn’t stop liking him.
“And I’ll go one step further and say they shouldn’t judge him,” she said. “Every person needs love, so I’m not going to tell a child to stop loving a person (celebrity or not) just because they’ve made some bad decisions.”’
“It is important to remind our kids that our mistakes do not define us,” said Melissa Atkins Wardy, author of the new book “Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween.”
“Justin’s mistakes are a big deal, but they are not life altering,” Atkins Wardy said. “Thankfully, no one was killed while Justin was driving drunk and drag racing. Luckily, no one overdosed that night.”
That said, his troubles are also a cautionary tale of what fame can bring, she added.
“An important thing to point out to our kids is just how many of these young stars have crashed and burned out like this. Maybe,” she said, “being famous isn’t all it is cracked up to be.”