I don’t like Justin Beiber. I find him appalling. When I see photos of him sitting in the front row for a professional basketball game with two imposing bodyguards standing behind him blocking the view of regular people, I’m disgusted.
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But this discussion is about more than my distaste for Beiber and his antics. It’s about idols and role models and how and why we choose them.
Justin Beiber is a 19-year-old pop star who has teen and pre-teen girls shrieking their worship for him. Of course, I’m viewing him through my disapproving 50-something eyes, and I had my own teen idols in the 1970s, including Bobby Sherman and David Cassidy of fame. I was even a fan of The Archies, a cartoon band spawned by the famous comic strip.
While I was in junior high, The Archies had a hit called “17 Ain’t Young,” language that my parents deplored enough to want me to stop listening to it. I tried to explain that it was just a song, but my parents feared I would idolize The Archies to a point where I found “ain’t” acceptable.
Probably because of my parents’ concern—and their ongoing guidance about all things acceptable and not acceptable—I swooned for my teen idols, but didn’t want to be like them.
Fast forward to the 21st century where teen idol Beiber is harassing neighbors, pushing people around, and generally being a jerk … or worse. His recent arrest in Miami for drugging and driving, followed by his even more recent booking in Toronto on assault charges, has parents of his teen fans, reasonably enough, in an uproar.
Although drugs and assault are a far cry from slang, these parents’ concern is based on the same principle as my own parents’: Will young fans view their idols as a role models, find their behavior acceptable, and want to emulate it?
Unfortunately, it’s all too possible. My sister — who raised two great kids and is in touch with the impact of popular culture today — reminds me that pretty much any 13-year-old will think a 19-year-old is cool, and will be far more influenced by what her peers think than her parents. That’s why this whole Beiber thing has me pondering about role models versus idols.
Beiber probably doesn’t want to be a role model; it’s too much work. He appears to prefer cultivating an almost godlike status as an idol instead—look at the young girls screaming for him even as he exists the police station. And it’s just this idolization that has parents worried.
Although such behavior isn’t new to Beiber’s generation, the real-life escapades of teen idols from the 70s and 80s emerged more slowly, instead of hitting YouTube within minutes of their occurrence, exposing kids to bad behavior as it happens.
This instantaneous exposure actually helps us, as adults, encourage conversations in real time about the consequences of poor choices, even by those we idolize, and gives us the opportunity to discuss how positive role models — teachers, coaches, mentors, parents — behave.
I think that’s a message kids can relate to, especially if we provide guidance — as I had — about what’s acceptable and what’s not. And that it ain’t too much trouble to try.
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