The imposed responsibilities of pop stars and actors to uphold certain levels of propriety for the sake of their underage fans is aa argument I hear parents make often. Miley Cyrus should know better than to wear low cut shirts when she performs for eight-year-olds. Britney Spears should refrain from sexually suggestive lyrics knowing that little girls take their queues from her. Rihanna should set an example for girls by making a different music video about sexual assault. I empathize with parents who constantly have to shield their children’s eyes from outfit choices, explicit videos, and breaking news about sex tapes. But while I understand their efforts, there is a crucial element missing from their reasoning to hide magazine covers and keep certain channels out of reach: children shouldn’t be idolizing celebrities anyway.
Celebrities are not worthy of being your child’s role model.
Reese Witherspoon and Rihanna may seem like strong female examples, but let’s not forget what they essentially are: performers. No matter how sweet or demure or “down to earth” they seem in front of the camera, these are people who have spent their lives in promotion of themselves — and in a business that is notriously vile. Actors and pop stars are people conditioned to worship at the altar of self, vanity, and self-absorption and in an explicitly adult industry that is not geared to be considerate of children or their needs. Regardless of what expression of “art” that has propelled them, celebrity careers are made possible by an industry that promotes nothing but vice — something that I think many parents forget when singing the praises of one sweet-faced Disney starlet over another.
Many celebrities openly pursue the very traits that many parents hope to keep their children free of: greed, selfishness, and sex appeal above all other attributes. Adults who spend their lives being lacquered with makeup and presented before cameras should be suspect to parents who want to instill authenticity and sincerity in their children.
It’s up to parents to present their children with alternatives to mass media paradigms of talent or beauty by celebrating figures who are known for something other than racey videos or leggy dresses. Placing contemporary artists, writers, thinkers — people who contribute to our culture with ideas and creativity and intellect — on par with Khardashian glamor is the new task at hand for modern parents hoping to wrestle their kids free from reality TV. Prioritizing the work of promising modern artists, storytellers, and public figures is what’s needed to ensure that kids have a pool of idols to choose from.
Children shouldn’t have to sift through an industry teeming with superficiality to locate strength, inspiration, bravery, and genius — and our ever-quickening world of social media, internet, and viral content is proof that they don’t need to. Social media is making these individuals more accessible than ever before, and I urge parents who see nothing but harm in social media use to consider that.
Parents who observe their teenage daughters backsliding into the grips of The Real Housewives should consider leaving some Jessica Valenti books lying around. Little girls who love to watch YouTube clips of charismatic reality TV stars should consider giving Melissa Harris-Perry a watch. Kids who delight in funny stories before bed might like to watch a few Rachel Maddow segments from time to time. There are so many brilliant people shaping our world but unless you choose to bring them into your home, it’s difficult for your children to find them.