Are celebrities the right role models for your children?

In this age of social media, our children have never been more exposed to the lives of celebrities. But do they make good role models? If it's a sports star your child adores, then maybe, but Lindsay Lohan? Probably not.

We all know how important role models are for children. It’s easy to ensure that you, as a parent, are acting as good role model, but with easy access to TV and the internet, some kids might not be able to work out that what Lady Gaga does on stage might not be appropriate for them. Here are some tips for guiding your child through their role model choices…

  • Check that your child understands what they are seeing. If you are watching a Lady Gaga video, talk to your child about what they understand about it and fill in any missing or incorrect bits of information they have gleaned. If you are watching news footage about a star who has been arrested for drink-driving or has overdosed, talk to your child about what they understand about drugs and alcohol. Use the celebrity to prompt discussion and understanding.

  • Talk to your child about their chosen role model. What is it about them that they like? Then bring up any unsavoury habits the celebrity might have and ask your child why they think they do these things. Some kids will have no idea, so this is your chance to talk about your values regarding drugs and alcohol, making sure your child has the facts straight.

  • Talk about the celebrity’s good points as well as the bad. She or he might be a great actor or sports player – reinforce to your child how positive that is. But the celebrity may also have an eating disorder or substance-abuse problem. Discuss with your child why this has happened and see what they come up with.

  • Help your child realise that fame does not often equate to happiness. Use  examples of celebrities who are A-listers but whose lives seem to be in constant upheaval. Pose the possibility to your child that leading a happy and fulfilled life is more about your personal values and the way you conduct yourself than simply being famous.

  • Try to work out why your child is so enamoured with a particular celebrity. If it’s just because they like their fashion sense, their music or the way they play soccer, then that’s great and you should reinforce this. But if your child thinks it’s cool that they take drugs or starve themselves to be thin, then you need to address this and point out the inevitable downward spiral that comes from those lifestyle choices.

  • Always have an opinion. Most kids are keen to know what you think of the celebrities they like so make sure you know who they are talking about and can have a good conversation about them. You might think they are dreadful, but don’t just write them off – talk about why you don’t think they’re too hot and give your child good reasons for it. Your child is learning from you how to determine good behaviour from bad.

  • If your child becomes too obsessed with their celebrity role model, ask yourself why. Putting posters on walls and following them on Twitter or Facebook are all reasonable adoration activities for teens. But firing off fan letters every day, being unable to talk about anything else and copying the celebrity’s behaviour should set off warning bells.

  • Explain how celebrity works to your child. As with most things, there is a lot of money involved for the media organisations who follow these people and report stories about their lives. It might be fun to read the stories and look at the pictures, but your child probably needs to know why it is happening.

  • Be a good role model yourself. You love “McDreamy” on Grey’s Anatomy and your child sees that, but you need to explain why you feel that way. Wanting to leave your husband and marry the actor who plays “ocDreamy” is not a great example to set, so don’t say it out loud. But just liking the character and the way he looks is fine.

  • In your spare time, look for role models in your child’s everyday life who may have a better influence than a celebrity, such as a sports coach or teacher. Talk to your child about all their admirable qualities.

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