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Miley Cyrus, Twerking and Acting Out: What to Make of Young Stars and Their Public Descents

If you missed former Disney Channel star Miley Cyrus’ shocking MTV Video Music Awards performance this past Sunday evening, I’m not sure whether I can, in good faith, advise you to Google it or not. It was that disturbing, truly, and the most classless thing I’ve seen in quite a while. 

I’m not a parent, but I imagine that it’s hard to explain to impressionable kids and preteens the behavior of some of their idols. Music, movies and TV are so much a part of our culture, and the prevalence of the Internet makes these celebrities’ episodes so accessible. So how do you let your kids be fans of the young stars’ crafts without condoning the mess some have made of their personal lives?

How can parents ensure that their own children enjoy the products that Miley, Lindsay and Justin are putting out without putting them on a pedestal? Is it even possible?

The daughter of 90s country music singer Billy Ray Cyrus, 20-year-old Miley has been slowly (but rather publicly) falling off the deep end, so to speak, for some time now. First there was the Salvia bong fiasco, then, the twerking (by the way, this thing is so prevalent that it has been added to the Oxford dictionary) and last weekend, Miley thrusted the air repeatedly, ripped off her clothes to reveal a nude outfit reminiscent of a bare body, twerked some more and stuck out her tongue all the while. Calling it anything less than excruciatingly painful to watch wouldn’t be a fair description.

Miley’s production was outrageous, even given her most recent history, and it is just another example of the youngest, richest and most famous celebrities’ tendency to expose their least dignified moments to all of America—perhaps as a cry for help, or maybe to prove a point.

Lindsay Lohan has been doing this dance for years now—finding herself in and out of rehab six times for various addictions and even landing in jail. Amanda Bynes is in the news every week for a different incident, whether it’s posting strange tweets or allegedly schizophrenic behavior. Britney Spears went through a difficult transitional period, one might call it, and even the no longer-13-years-old Justin Bieber is getting flak for reportedly smoking weed, reckless driving and excessive partying.

16-year Park Cities resident and mom of two daughters Leslie Davis said in regard to celebrity incidents like Miley’s provocative dancing that a “hands-off” parenting approach, or simply hoping for the best, isn’t a good idea.

The key to teaching her girls what to draw from Miley-like behavior, especially her youngest, who is a 17-year-old Highland Park High School student, is to keep up an ongoing dialogue.

“We talk a lot in our house. We still do have a lot of discussions at the dinner table. That’s a tradition that we’ve kept up,” Davis said.

Because Davis taught her children at a young age the difference between right and wrong, how to behave and with whom to associate, she felt it appropriate to progressively let off of parental controls on her cable and give the girls more freedom.

“My process was always very gradual. You let go of things like internal controls because they will be exposed to it either way and [children/teens] need to learn how to deal with it,” Davis said.

She believes that having her daughters involved in structured activities when they were younger also helped them grow into intuitive women who can recognize when celebrities are acting out.

Speaking specifically to Miley’s bumping and grinding on artist Robin Thicke during the VMA performance, Davis said she was concerned that young girls might look to that as an example of what’s appropriate for women in their heterosexual relationships. Maybe not to the same extent—but viewing it repeatedly over time could lead to a lowered standard for how they’re treated by young men and ultimately, a devalution of women in society.

“That [behavior] is not a relationship, but they’re too young to understand the difference,” Davis said.

Dallas licensed professional counselor Marci Stiles also has two daughters, 20 and 24, and she said that Miley, Lindsay and Amanda tend to go for the “shock factor.”

“They’re almost expected to do that… you have to be bigger and better than the last one and more sensational,” Stiles said.

She said our society keeps demanding that celebrities “push the envelope” but said challenging your children not to accept this as normal begins with conversations in the home.

Stiles said after seeing performances like Miley’s that parents should start talking to their kids. Tell them how you feel as a parent and ask them what they think.

“I would just discuss with them that people feel the need to do [that] to get attention. It’s the wrong kind of attention,” she said. “I’d say, 'that hurts my feelings as a woman; I would never want you guys to be treated like that.'”

With both of her daughters involved in hip-hop style dance, Stiles said it was sometimes difficult to set boundaries on the types of music they listened to.

“I didn’t allow certain music in the house because it was just vile and degrading,” she said. Still, Stiles said she respected what she thinks is an inherent privacy belonging to her children.

“I’m not one of those parents who ever went through their kids’ stuff.” Stiles said her daughters knew the lines of communication were open.

The therapist said the most important thing is equipping children with good decision-making skills and discernment early on.

“It’s all about talking to them. They’re people,” Stiles said.

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Friday, August 30, 2013