Miley Cyrus: Disney Role Model Ruined?

When 15 year old, Miley Cyrus showed up topless and coyly wrapped in what appears to be a satin bedsheet in the June issue of Vanity Fair, controversy broke out and opinions multiplied. It wasn’t so much about what was showing or whether or not the Annie Leibovitz photo could be considered art. But rather, it was the mature spirit of the photograph juxtaposed with the immature fan-base the tween icon who worships her every move. Disney, the parent company of the billion dollar Hannah Montana franchise aimed at tweens is reeling, Miley voiced embarrassment and apologies, and her spokesperson claimed manipulation. But the ones who are extremely concerned are the parents of young girls who look up to Miley as a role model.

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Click here to listen to Dr. Robyn on the Dr Drew radio show talk about this issue

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Given that young girls like to dress up and act like their favorite stars, parents should be on alert. Developmentally speaking, tweens experiment. They’re trying on different identities and figuring out which ones feel right. In working out who they are, they copy those who they admire. So when teen singer, Avril Lavigne, wore a sleeveless T-shirt with a tie, girls showed up to school the next day having raided their Dad’s closet. Given Miley’s recent misjudgment (or perhaps the misstep of her parents, publicist, photographer, or host magazine?), no parent should be surprised if today’s tweens drop their favorite outfits and show up to playtime loosely wrapped in their Beauty and the Beast bedsheets as their best friend takes their best shot.

Where did all the role models go?

What makes up a tween/teen role model has changed dramatically over the last several decades. Kids used to look to public figures like Dr. Martin Luther King, President John F. Kennedy, or the squeaky clean Brady Bunch and Partridge Family for their inspiration. Then media took over. Everyone starlet seems to be growing up too soon, tying one on, or taking something off. Parents are contending with the likes of Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, and Eminem. The latter, who even quips in his lyrics;

I came to the club drunk with a fake ID
Don’t you wanna grow up to be just like me!
I’ve been with 10 women who got HIV
Now don’t you wanna grow up to be just like me!
I got genital warts and it burns when I pee
Don’t you wanna grow up to be just like me!

Teens and tweens are saturated with a large does of media garbage. The average American child spends 4-4 ½ hours a day exposed to TV, radio, video games, or the Internet. That means they’re spending the equivalent of a good part time job with questionable mentors.

Why it’s hard to trust:

We loved Lindsay Lohan as a freckle-faced charmer in Parent Trap. Britney Speaks was adorable in the Mickey Mouse Club. Barry Bonds had every boy’s heart in his hand as he got ready to break Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record. What happened to our kids’ role models? Either drugs, alcohol, DUIs, sex tapes, rehab, jail-time, psych wards, negative peer pressure, exposed body parts or a combination of a bunch of the above.

Parents and tweens are always selecting role models that seem wholesome, pure, and promising. We are seeking out people who exemplify the values we believe are important; respect, self-discipline, gratitude, and other powerful words by which we try to live. But the public is getting burned. It wouldn’t be surprising if parents are becoming suspicious and jaded. I think one parent said it best after a Hillary Duff concert;

“We thought she seemed really nice,” said Debbie Wright of Lexington. Wright had brought her two daughters, ages 9 and 13, to the show and waited for them on a couch in the parents lounge. She added, “Of course, we thought that of Britney Spears.”

When it comes to racy role model, Danica Patrick and her controversial decisions to expose (or overexpose?) herself or Kim Kardashian decides to pose for playboy, we know that, whether we think it’s a good decision or a bad one, and adult made the decision. It may make parents angry, but somehow, it’s different. These adults are allowed to do dumb things.

But tween role models aren’t allowed the same amount of space for slip-ups. Parents and tweens are watching their every move. They’re under 24/7 surveillance. They’re overexposed through TV, magazines, internet, texting, and every other media outlet that tells all. Miley’s Vanity Fair photos might only reveal her back, but parents see a Little Lolita. It may not be warranted. It may not even be fair. But they begin to wonder if it’s only the beginning of a series of bad judgments from the Hannah Montana star. After all, this is what they’ve gotten used to with the celebs who’ve come before her.

We know tweens and teens grow up. Celebrities grow up. But when our kids are copying their favorite star, parents are looking for consistency. Reliability. One hundred percent wholesome character. Anything else and the balance gets knocked around. The children have a few choices with regard to how to internalize the information:

(1) Go with the flow: Copy what their favorite role model is doing for good or bad. “What’s the big deal, Mom? Miley’s doing it…it must be cool, awesome, special, hot, daring…”

(2) Go against the flow: A harder endeavor. Make their role model the anti-role model and say “ta-ta” to their idol who deceived or disappointed them. “I never liked her anyway. Who does that? It’s so stupid, gross, dumb, raunchy…”

(3) Go into denial: Say it didn’t happen or it didn’t happen that way and keep on going in the same direction they always went, not changing a thing. “She was forced, tricked, pressured…she’d never do that if she knew what was really going on. Adults can be so disgusting. “The best of both worlds…oooohh, ooooohhh!”

So what’s doing to happen with girl-next door, wonder-girl, Smiley Miley? We have to wait and see how she handles it. Nobody’s perfect. Sometimes it’s not the mistake but how the celebrity deals with that mistake that provides the greatest lesson to teens and tweens.

You can help too–Stay tuned tomorrow for 8 tips to help parents cope with controversial role models!

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