It’s hard enough to encourage our kids to have good behavior – be kind to others, don’t lie, apologize if you make a mistake or hurt someone, say “please” and “thank you.” How on earth do we shape kids’ respectful, self-disciplined behavior when they’re confronted with a daily barrage of “don’t try this at home” behavior by adult celebrities in sports, entertainment & politics? Should we explain this behavior, and if so, how?
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford on alcohol and crack, LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling caught on tape making racist remarks, Dean McDermott cheating on his wife, Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus acting out, and the decade-long bad behavior of Chris Brown – and that’s barely the tip of the iceberg. What should we think about this?
It’s A Betrayal of Trust. Especially in our politicians. We elected them to lead, to represent our interests on a local or national level. We do expect more of our leaders, and we should hold them to a higher standard. They should hold themselves to that higher standard, too.
It’s A Bad Role Model. While sports and entertainment leaders have not been elected, we “vote” for them every time we see a movie or sporting event. They are, for better or worse, role models for kids. Even adults model themselves after celebrities. It’s my opinion that celebrities should take to heart their role model status and know that with the big contract comes the responsibility to behave in a manner exemplary for kids and other adults.
It’s Not News. Sad to say, most of the adult misbehaviour is recurring. We knew there were affairs in Bill Clinton’s past, before we elected him president and long before Monica Lewinsky stepped into the Oval Office. So who’s the fool? Congress spent most of the last two years of Clinton’s last term looking in Clinton’s underpants, grinding the US government to a halt. When you elect (and re-elect) someone with that track record, there’s a pretty good chance it will happen again. As they say, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
Once A Cheater Always (Often) A Cheater. I’m not suggesting we just look the other way when our leaders and stars have bad behavior. I think that a person who doesn’t honor their marriage vows is likely to break the ethical laws in other areas of their lives, too. It’s impossible to compartmentalize a sliding scale of morality: “I don’t honor the agreements I made in my personal life, but I do everywhere else.” I don’t believe that. The way people honor their personal commitments has a direct influence on the way they behave in every aspect of their lives. Yes, people make mistakes, but there’s a big difference between a one-time minor slip-up (I don’t consider extra-marital affairs minor) and serious, long-term, or repeated disregard of the law or your commitments to others.
It’s Hard To Be Normal. I think it’s almost a miracle if a child star grows up to be a “normal” adult. There’s nothing normal about that kind of childhood, and many of the people around the child, including the child star’s parents, have a direct conflict of interest. The boring discipline and limits required for non-celebrity parents and kids can be difficult to instill in today’s culture, where “all publicity is good publicity” and the bigger the meltdown, the better. We should re-think that attitude. You don’t want parents caught in the conflict of choice: Should I choose what’s best for my child as a human being, vs what gets the most attention (or makes the most money) now?
Winning Is NOT Everything. Players who choke their coaches, coaches who throw chairs, tantrums, and other materials at their teams, and sports pros who repeatedly fail drug tests. These are all examples of behavior that we encourage, by looking the other way and tolerating, in the name of a winning season. We must teach kids that we can win (or give it our best) AND remain true to our ethical values and view our competitors as human beings, too.
Take Responsibility. “I only smoked crack because I was in a drunken stupor”, “I have a drug/alcohol/sex addiction,” “We lied because we did anything we had to do to win,” “I have intermittent explosive disorder (road rage)”, have become part of the endless list of lame excuses for messing up and then making the problem worse by failing to “man up” or “woman up” and take the heat. What are we teaching our kids with this adult lack of moral backbone?
So how DO we talk to our kids about these human weaknesses and mistakes?
- Teach The Skills Of Critical Thinking. You can admire some aspects of someone, without having to like, or accept, all aspects of their behavior or choices. Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, and Chris Brown are all talented, creative performers, and the discipline and hard work they put in, at very young ages, to develop their talents and learn the music and business skills they needed to be successful are huge accomplishments. However, we need to teach our kids to be critical thinkers, able to say, “Even though I admire these people for some of their accomplishments, I disagree with some of their behavior.”
- You Don’t Have To Explain Bad Behavior In Too Much Detail. One parent asked me, “Do I have to explain to my kid the tools used for smoking crack?” Of course not. It is, however, a good opportunity to talk about how drug and alcohol use can impair your judgment, possibly putting you in extreme danger. After too much drinking, even crossing the street can become a dangerous activity.
- Give People Some Privacy In Their Worst Moments. It’s like a car accident – you can’t look away. But learn to stop following, reading, and talking about the continuing stream of negative exploits.The camera glare is relentless on these struggling celebrities. Give them some privacy and the chance to find their feet underneath them again. Especially the young ones.
- Learn To Stop Polluting Your Own Brain With The Toxic Examples Of Others. I get it – Rob Ford smoked crack in a drunken stupor. Enough said. Bad News Alert: Washington, DC Mayor Marion Barry was arrested in 1990 while smoking crack with an old girlfriend. Despite being charged with 15 combined counts of perjury and drug possession, convicted on 1 count of drug possession, and after spending 6 months in jail, he was re-elected mayor in 1994. Heads up, Toronto!
We ALL Make Mistakes – I Do & You Will, Too. Take responsibility, clean up our damage as soon as possible. Be genuine in our efforts to repair. Perhaps if I give others some slack when they make mistakes, they’ll cut me some space when I make my mistakes.
B Bolch, “Clippers Owner Donald Sterling In Firestorm Over Alleged Racist Remarks,” LATimes.com, Apr 26, 2014
A Edelman, L Larson, “Rob Ford Admits Smoking Crack Cocaine During ‘Drunken Stupor’ But Refuses To Resign,” NYDailyNews.com, Nov 5, 2013
R Maresca, “Tori Spelling Breaks Silence After Dean McDermott Cheating Scandal,” NYDailyNews.com, Apr 16, 2014
J Visser, N Alcoba, & P Kuitenbrouwer, “RobFord: ‘Yes, I Have Smoked Crack Cocaine,” NationalPost.com, Nov 5, 2013
M York & T Thompson, “Barry Sentenced To 6 Months In Prison”, WashingtonPost.com, Oct 27, 1990