Mal Fletcher
Britney Spears & Co – Keeping Your Kids Away from the Celebrity Trap

How can you keep your kids from falling in love with the celebrity ideal? If you're a parent, and especially if you have teenagers, you will have asked this question along the way.

A few years ago, a European survey of young adults asked, ‘What would make you most happy in life?’

The number one response was: ‘I’d be truly happy if I could be famous.’ When asked the follow-up question, ‘famous for what?’, the answer was usually, ‘It doesn’t matter … just famous for anything.’

The New Year has hardly dawned and already we’re reminded about the ‘dark side’ of celebrity.

Britney Spears, once the highest selling female artist on the planet, has lost the legal right to see her own children because of her desperate and perhaps despairing behaviour.

Sadly, this very talented but troubled young woman has been on a downward spiral for some time. Many people look on in sorrow and bewilderment, asking: "Doesn't anyone in her inner circle have what it takes to reach her and turn her around?"

Many parents will look at their own kids and wonder whether they’re immune from this kind of behaviour, especially in an age when celebrities are major role models for the young.

My own kids are now adults and my wife and I are grateful that they’ve turned out well. But no matter how old or young your children are, they’re still your children and you can’t help but feel concerned from them and for the world they’re inheriting.

If you’re the parent of teenagers, you’ll want your kids to learn something positive from the Spears situation, and others like it.

What can we do to help our children avoid the traps associated with celebrity; the pitfalls for their self-esteem and their sense of perspective?

1. Celebrate the real heroes in your world.

The celebrity culture elevates notoriety over real achievement. Many celebs are well known simply for being well known. They have PR people who ensure that they’re photographed at the right parties, with the right people, in the right places.

But our kids need heroes they can touch. They need for us to talk up exemplary people whom they can actually interact with. They need people within reach who are modelling wise decisions and selfless living.

There's no need to talk down the bad examples – that can make you look mean – just celebrate the good ones. Find people in your own circle and that of your children who are doing something noteworthy, and talk it up.

Sure, teenagers will still find some aspects of celebrity interesting – we all do – but they won’t take the celebrity view as their main perspective on life.

2. Love your kids for who they are, not for what they can do.

I suppose we all want our kids to attract attention for excelling at something. But when that starts to happen, we need to send out the right signals.

When other people begin to praise your kids for some talent or achievement, join the celebration (in fact, you should lead it!), but keep gently encouraging them to lead a well- rounded life.

Discourage them from focusing solely on the one area where they excel. Show them that they’re valuable for the totality of who they are, and not just for their ability in one area.

3. Show that you’re not enamoured with celebrity trappings.

One of the reasons people love to follow the celebrity scene is that it seems to represent an ideal. Human beings are by nature aspirational; we long to be better than we are.

The trappings of celebrity, like money, status and recognition, may seem attractive but they don’t represent the highest goal in life. There are higher things to reach for. Christ said that we find our true selves and live to the full only when we’re willing to put service of God and other people ahead of our own interests – without losing respect for our own God-given qualities.

Earlier this week, I watched a TV interview where a former child star was asked how she’d managed to stay so well-balanced, in spite of her fame. She said, “My mother always kept me busy, and she didn’t fall in love with the fruits of my fame.”

Many parents send out the wrong signals about what’s valuable in life and their kids gradually learn to aspire to the same things. If you’re in love with money, or status, or power, don’t be surprised if your kids copy young celebrities who have money, status and power in abundance.

4. Give as much encouragement as you can, as often as you can.

"Feedback is the breakfast of champions," said a wise person. Actually, I think feedback positive feedback is the breakfast, lunch and dinner of champions!

I don’t know about you, but I thrive on encouragement; I just don't seem to be able to get enough of it. The more I taste it, the more my appetite grows. I’ve never tried anything really daring when I’m feeling discouraged or sad. I’ve only ever reached for the skies when somebody has told me I can!

When I was younger, I received some good encouragement, but it was often mixed with less complimentary statements that were designed to keep me humble.

None of us wants to produce children who are big-headed or arrogant, but mixing sincere compliments with put-downs is confusing for our kids.

It’s not my job to keep my children humble. My role is to encourage them, by my example, to keep their feet on the ground, respecting other people as well as themselves.

5. Try to steer your kids away from celebrity tittle-tattle.

So much is written about celebrities these days that even the most ardent celeb-watcher grows cynical about how much of it is actually true.

We can't be watching our kids all the time, or constantly checking what they’re reading on the net or on news-stands. We wouldn’t want to; how would that help them learn to think for themselves?

But we can offer alternative reading material and we can encourage some positive peer pressure. If you see a great website that you think will interest your kids, send them the link.

If they have a hobby or special interest, buy them a magazine or two along those lines.

One of the best things my wife and I ever did was keep our kids in a very communityt-minded church while they were growing up. Today, our adult children are thriving and are surrounded by people who, like them, are striving to make a positive difference in the world.

Peer pressure is a great help when the peers are applying the right kind of pressure!

6. Try to keep the lines of communication open.

With teenagers, of course, this one can be very difficult at times. They are, after all, in the awkward position of trying to establish an independent identity, while still being in need of your parental experience and protection.

But you don’t need to be an expert in teenage thinking and behaviour to keep the lines open.

Some years ago, I sat in a press conference with popular author and youth speaker Dr Tony Campolo. He was asked why it was that, despite being middle aged, he could still relate so well with young people.

His reply was simple: "I just remember what it was like to be young."

That’s where communication begins, with empathy – putting yourself in the other guy’s Nikes for a while and seeing the world from his perspective.

If you can, from time to time, take a short time-trip back to how you were feeling at their age, you’ll find that talking to your teenagers becomes just a little easier (though it can still try your patience!).

Mal Fletcher (@MalFletcher) is the founder and chairman of 2030Plus. He is a respected keynote speaker, social commentator and social futurist, author and broadcaster based in London.

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