In the Parenthood

Let down by a role model: Tips for talking to your child

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse  June 23, 2010 08:44 PM

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In the Parenthood is in the pages of Thursday's Boston Globe, with a story about kids and parents who are disillusioned about Disney star Miley Cyrus's transformation from goofy tween-age Hannah Montana to R-rated sexpot. (Click here to read the article online.)

We've discussed whether Miley Cyrus has gotten too sexy, too soon, and whether that's just par for the course in Hollywood. But what do you do when your young child's role model is growing up too quickly -- and you don't want your tween to do the same?

I chatted with child and teen development expert Dr. Robyn Silverman, whose book about body image, Good Girls Don't Get Fat, is due out in October; she offers the following tips for talking with your child about role models and the hypersexualization of young stars like Miley Cyrus:

1. Expose your daughter to many role models -- both real and in the media. Role models should be of many different ages, sizes, backgrounds, so that your daughter doesnít put all her eggs in one basket.

2. Educate your daughters in media literacy. What do the images and words she sees tell you? What do they make you think? Start this process early so that your children know how media can be used in negative and positive ways. As they get older, teach them about how some media is used inappropriately to sexualize girls and create an ďimage.Ē This is what's happening with Miley -- and while it's a choice for her, it's not the only choice performers can make.

3. Ask your child what she thinks of what she sees. What does her gut tell her? You may be surprised that she isnít impressed with these changes. Ask open-ended questions that spark discussion ("How does this new image compare with what you used to love about "Hannah Montana?") rather than pass judgement ("Do you think she looks inappropriate?").

4. Underscore your values. If you donít want your child following in these footsteps, make sure your daughter knows how you feel. Tell her what you like and what you donít and why you think that way. What do YOU value in your family? What does she value? In light of those values, if she had the opportunity to talk to Miley, what would she say? If her best friend started acting this way, what advice would she give?

5. Brainstorm alternatives. If Miley is interested in changing her image from one of a child star to an adult, what would your daughter suggest? Is this the only way to convey that she is not a child anymore? This can be a fun way to open up the possibilities with your child -- and get their creative input.

6. Define what an empowered, confident, bold, beautiful girl looks like. Whatís the difference between positive and negative attention? If the definition is out there about what a girl is supposed to be -- and you don't agree with it -- help your sons and daughters redefine it.

7. Discuss what it means to be a role model. As a leader, what responsibilities does your child have to those who look up to her? Does she have to stay the same, or can she change? What can she do to change without feeling like she's disappointing others -- or does that matter?

8. Make sure your daughters understand that their bodies are so much more than something to look at. Martial arts can teach girls that their bodies can be strong and powerful, not just sexy.

9. Recognize that while Miley is transitioning doesnít mean that your daughter needs to follow in her footsteps. Donít panic. The more you push back and yell out your disgust, the more your daughter may cling to what you hate. Sheís a teenager, after all!

10. Remember that you can change role models. When she can see that she is changing as much as Miley, she can realize that their paths may no longer converge. That doesnít mean she canít still enjoy "Hannah Montana" shows from the past or Mileyís music before it became more sexual in nature. It does mean that maybe she relates more to someone else -- someone who currently shares her values and interests -- someone who may live right near by or someone who is promoted differently in the media.

To read the article, click over to tags child caring, coping, Hannah Montana, hypersexualization, in the parenthood, miley cyrus, parenting, role model, teens, tips, tweens

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7 comments so far...
  1. My kids are too old to be sucked in by Miley Cyrus (or for me to be worried about that), but when my oldest daughter was about 6 or 7, Brittany Spears was all the rage. My daughter loved her music (good for dancing), but became completely disillusioned with her when she found out she smoked. All on her own (though I have to believe my parenting had something to do with her decision to reject all things Brittany after that).

    Posted by ash June 24, 10 09:26 AM
  1. I'm sorry, this whole article is just ridiculous to me for one reason. Since when are these performers "role models"? Like, isn't a role model supposed to be just that? Someone who you wish to aspire to? So really shouldn't someone like Miley only be your role model if you plan to become a singer/disney star? I'm only 21, but I just want to say that when I was a kid, my role models were my teachers in school, counselors at girl scout camp, or real people THAT I ACTUALLY KNEW. I certainly enjoyed watching shows like lizzie mcguire, but I never considered Hilary Duff to be my "role model." My fashion inspiration or go-to person for current slang terms, perhaps. But seriously, WTF with this whole "Role Model" term being misused.

    Posted by Carol June 24, 10 12:34 PM
  1. Thanks for commenting, Carol. I think that the idea of a role model has changed a lot over the years. The way you define it seems spot-on to me, and it speaks to one of the key pieces of advice Dr. Robyn Silverman offers in my post: Introduce your child to role models from real life. I think that, for a lot of people, "role model" is synonymous with "idol," and those really are two very different things. -- LMA

    Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse Author Profile Page June 24, 10 12:46 PM
  1. Even if Miley didn't change, and start looking too mature for her age, I don't think her "innocent" Hannah Montana character is appropriate for the 4-10 age group that idolizes her anyway! Why would anyone want their impressionable kids emulating her wise-cracking attitude? All those Disney shows like Zack and Cody, High School Musical, etc. are absurd to me. They are all focused on teenage problems, boy/girl relationships, and how stupid parents are, yet are being watched by PRESCHOOLERS! It makes them aware of things or concerned about things that should not even be on their radar.

    I can't believe all of the parents that have told me they are "harmless" programs, because they are not violent. Or the ones that shrug their shoulders like they have no choice but to let their child watch them. The kids learn so many negative behaviors and attitudes from these shows and it amazes me that the parents have no clue, and are then stunned when their 10 year old daughter asks if her bum looks too big!

    Posted by mom2boys June 24, 10 01:21 PM
  1. I just re-read my comment and it sounded really angry! haha, i didn't mean it to. I really just think the issue here is that if you ask a kid between the ages of like 8 and 15 what they want to be when they grow up, so many answer that they want to be a singer/actor. and most of these kids have no musical or theatre training or serious interest, they just think it's cool and glamorous, and it really is the only job explicitly presented to them through tv. but there are so many other incredible and purpose-filled careers out there!!! there is nothing wrong with wanting to be a performer, but the media seems to give kids the idea that it is the most fulfilling and luxurious choice for everyone. Why can't the media spotlight the scientists, engineers, artists, psychologists, REAL musicians, etc. in their tv shows/movies? many of these people are just as deserving (and possibly more so) of "role model" status than many celebrities. i can guarantee that i didn't become interested in my major, geology and environmental science, that adds purpose to my life, through the disney channel.

    Posted by Carol June 24, 10 04:51 PM
  1. No mention at all of the most important role models in a child's life .... their PARENTS. Talk is one thing, but what you DO as a parent is so important. Pretty much each of your points should be backed by the parent(S!) living the values in front of the kids.

    Is mom an empowered, confident, bold and beautiful girl?

    Do both mom and dad act as good role models? Or do they talk about it, but still have poor habits? Actions speak SO much louder than words.

    Do mom and dad demonstrate good leadership?

    And so on and so forth. Strong kids start at home, with parents who are positive role models for their kids. Look in the mirror and ask yourself if you are as positive of a role model as you would like to be -- do you live the life you try and tell your kids to live?

    Posted by J June 25, 10 09:12 AM
  1. It's too bad Miley's dad has been allowing her to make sure bad decisions. First the vanity fair pictures, then the Perez pictures and finally these leaked pictures [link removed] of her that contain frontal nudity from a text message she sent her boyfriend. It just saddens me to see how much potential she had and how she ruined that.

    Posted by James Her June 28, 10 01:59 AM
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about the author

Lylah M. Alphonse
Lylah M. Alphonse is a member of the Globe Magazine staff and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling a full-time career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day, and about everything else at Write. Edit. Repeat. When she's not glued to the computer or solving a kid-related crisis, she's in the kitchen or, occasionally, asleep.

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