It’s a parent’s worst nightmare: You take the kids out for an afternoon of wholesome Disney-esque entertainment. For two hours, the entire family shares a wonder-filled moment, marveling at famous child stars that dazzle and delight. When the show is over, everyone feels a little closer, and, as a parent, you’re gratified knowing that entertainment execs are tuned in to the family aesthetic. You even feel good about having paid the dream makers for their efforts. Then, after having entrusted your kids to the leading entertainers of our global village, you casually glance at the nearest magazine rack and — the horror! Your child’s newest pop idol has morphed into a high-class hooker. You feel betrayed…again.
Parents still smarting from the transformation of Hannah Montana into a Vanity Fair pin-up girl last April are scratching heads once again. After hoping against hope that their child’s favorite singers and YouTube personalities possess basic human decency, adults charged with raising the next generation are waking up to the reality that the entertainment industry’s top starlets moonlight as professional strippers and sex workers.
"All of the boys and all of the girls are begging to iF-U-Seek-A-my," boasts Britney Spears in her new hit song. The not-so-subtle sex acrostic for kids is a wake-up call to parents uninformed about the latest trends in children’s popular music. When sung aloud from the lips of 12-year-old girls, the lyric is even more shocking than the chorus from last summer’s radio hit, "I kissed a girl and I liked it" — a lesbian-laden anthem from singer Katy Perry. These are definitely not your parents’ teen idols.
While parents of young tweens remain hopeful that yet-unblemished teenage stars like iCarly’s Miranda Cosgrove will keep their dignity and clothes intact, it’s impossible to shake the uneasy feeling that our kids are under attack from social activists and child pornographers. Parents who trust their children with wunderkinds like Spears, Cosgrove, and Cyrus can almost bet the farm that, during some point during the teen years, pop starlets will pull off their wholesome masks and reveal their true identities as pole dancers, prostitutes, and, yes, even political pundits.
In Miley Cyrus’ recent CD release, Breakout, the young pop tart cast herself in a new role: worried pitch-person for climate alarmism. In her first major recording since her lapse into near child porn less than a year ago, Cyrus urges America to wake up to the earth’s woes: "Can you take care of her, maybe you can spare her," the teen tart belts out in trademark affectations, bracketed by Ohh-Ohhs and a Foo Fighters-ish chorus. Who better than Billy Ray’s little girl to scare teens into a weather-induced panic about the "final destination" of Planet Earth? Most parents just shake their heads.
Yet with such media trends in play, is it any wonder that Tween America is turning exhibitionist, obsessing over the weather, and partaking in Internet pranks that neither our parents nor our grandparents had the luxury — or poor judgment — to indulge in. Certainly, much of the celebrity madness permeating contemporary culture is synthetic, a bizarre chimera manufactured by media moguls who comprehend the power of pop stars to inculcate large populations.
But while celebrity may be synthetic, the hypnotic impact on youth is all too real. Hollywood’s social-reengineering effort has become so standardized that it’s practically formulaic. One, introduce unsuspecting kids and parents to irresistible child performer. Two, graduate young idol into an early adulthood, applying creeping sexualization during teen years. Three, watch nation of bedazzled youth mimic the pop-star’s every move. Four, dump troubled child prodigy, cash in, and repeat cycle with fresh face. It’s as predictable as it is exploitative. And it strips youth of both their innocence and money.
"What’s wrong with taking your clothes off in Vanity Fair or on YouTube?" today’s young tweens ask. "Isn’t that normal?" Parents groan, knowing that their youngsters are on the verge of making decisions that will affect their lives for years to come. The adult mind races: What will future employers do when they see my kids flashing the world on the Web? What will happen if my child’s future is curtailed in a Jamie-Lynn-Spears-like teen-pregnancy fad? Why can’t children think of the consequences before acting out in sensational ways?
Fortunately for today’s parents, there are many reasons to have hope. First, the lemming gene works both directions. The same human impulse that enables young people to mimic the Britneys and Mileys of the world can be used for higher ends. On an entertainment level, parents can revel in Walden Media’s virtuous family films like Bridge to Terabithia and The Chronicles of Narnia franchise. The entire Pixar oeuvre is also praiseworthy. Moreover, pop stars like Natasha Bedingfield and Miranda Cosgrove are — knock on wood — still models of decency. These media forces can have a tremendously positive influence on families and children.
Second, the monkey-see-monkey-do mechanism works most powerfully at home. Despite all the media vying for kids’ attention, parents remain the number-one influence of their children. What child would choose Miley’s latest TV adventure to a family outing — say, rollerblading, a game of wiffleball, or a bike ride to the local park?
Third, telling and re-telling the lives of true heroes can activate tween imprinting tendencies and provide healthy formation into adulthood. Who can resist the bravery of Amelia Earhart, the magnetic message of Martin Luther King, Jr., or the inspirational love of Mother Teresa. These stars lived real lives with real desire to see humanity lifted up to new heights.
Despite the almost-daily insanity foisted upon youth, parents have many reasons to believe that, with a little smart supervision, kids will be all right. Sure, a great many youngsters out there are "just being Miley," as the song goes. But with a little planning by concerned parents, our children can yet become their true best selves and worthy role models for the next generation.