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It’s difficult not to get swept up into the lives of celebrities these days. TV shows, webcasts, blogs and tweets from and about the stars bombard us from every direction. So what’s a parent to do when her child’s favorite stars appear nude on the Internet or acts inappropriately in public? Take last month’s nationally televised Teen Choice Awards where 16-year-old Miley Cyrus performed a stripper-like pole dance—after appearing in eye-brow raising semi-nude photos at age 15 for Vanity Fair. Twilight star Ashley Greene popped up in the buff all over computer screens this past August as did High School Musical’s Vanessa Hudgens for a second round of “leaked” nude photos.
At the very least, these images and performances send a conflicting message to fans, especially when compared to the stars’ squeaky clean onscreen alter-egos. At worst, gut reaction can send parents into media lockdown mode. After all, what’s next? A Jonas Brothers sex tape? Disney magazines wrapped in plastic and sold in the naughty section?
“You can’t keep your kids in a bubble; they’re bound to be exposed to the shenanigans of starlets one way or another,” says University of Iowa professor Dr. M. Gigi Durham, author of The Lolita Effect. “The best thing to do is to talk with your child about your values, your reactions to these incidents, and the reasons why you feel the way you do.”
The key, adds child and adolescent psychologist Dr. Jennifer Hartstein is to stay as non-judgmental as possible, ask open ended questions and, whatever you do, don’t start star-bashing.
“It's important for parents not to bash their teen’s favorite stars. That will close down the conversation right away,” says Hartstein. “Parents should also be ready to hear that their kids might not think it's such a big deal.”
Ask your kids what they think would motivate these stars to act this way. Could it be low self-esteem? Peer pressure or maybe even a publicity stunt? It’s also important to remind kids that in the fast-paced world of Internet technology, that once something is said and done online, ownership is all but lost. Control over images and even words is gone, but the consequences can be long-lasting.
"Most importantly parents need to validate their teenage girls. Point out all the positive things about them in a way that reminds them that they don't need to act over-sexualized in order to get attention, keep friends and boyfriends, or feel good about themselves. Remind them that they can talk with you if they’re feeling uncomfortable and you will do your best to be non-judgmental and supportive.”