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.