The Miley Mess & Role Model Reverb: What to Do

hannah_logo.jpgBefore I turn part two of yesterday’s preteen post on the pop culture hypefest of Miley Cyrus over to Dr. Robyn Silverman, our adolescent body image expert, I just want to say THIS is why I left the sensationalized tabloid-style TV journalism of ‘mainstream media’ long ago.

Headlines scream that she was ‘topless‘ and some even go so far as to say ‘nude,’ which is a stretch for anyone who has seen the artsy work of Annie Leibowitz, but hey, they apparently succeeded in crashing the Vanity Fair website with 4 million hits yesterday; that alone is a disturbing statement about the corporate pedophilia taking place in the media/marketing commodification of childhood.

If that’s not controversial enough to sell mags, now they’ve trotted out commentary about the ‘eww’ factor of the father/daughter duo in this photo, which again, makes me wonder where all this is landing on tweens, without reviewing the full context. (VF photo shoot video helps a tad, on Dr. Robyn’s blog)

As backpedaling news stories increase, I still echo the ‘where were the adults in this decision’ commentary of Jamie Lee Curtis’ post.

parental-pop-culture.gifParental Pop Culture’s forum gets into the blame game bit a tad with interesting sound-offs, but a lot of finger pointing vs. pragmatic deconstruction that parents can use.

That’s why Shaping Youth’s proud to team with Dr. Robyn Silverman’s solution-based approach, shifting conversational conundrums into teaching moments.

csm-on-button.jpgLikewise, Common Sense Media offers ‘talking tips’ on the Miley mop up, addressing the younger siblings/role model reverb and media as a super peer for sexual innuendo and normative behavior.

And the NYT’s Tara Parker Pope reminds us that it’s NOT our imagination, parents really have had a heavy dose of this tween idol mania gone south as of late…(Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Lynn Spears, Miley and more)

Finally, the L.A. Times pithily points out that Miley can’t have ‘the best of both worlds’ when the marketing dichotomy is this bipolar on the squeaky clean Disney front.

But what about the tweens themselves? On an applied sciences level, I’ve found anecdotally there’s not much buzz about Miley in our own middle-school polls at all. How so?

disneychannellogo.jpgFor starters, I dare say middle-schoolers are on the ‘upper end’ of tweendom and age acceleration has them already tapping into the One Tree Hill and What I Like About You pop culture picks leaving the comparative innocence of Disney’s Hannah Montana to the elementary school set…I asked my own 12-year old about Miley, and her response? “Why? What d’she do?”

This hit me as a sad note that there’s an anticipatory inevitability to celeb antics being equated with crash-n-burn nosedives. I’ll hush and let Dr. Robyn take it from here today, hoping that all this hyper-sexualized childhood banter and commodification will cease by the sheer weight of its own over-exposure.

Back to the positive tween green scene tomorrow…AJ

Why, Oh Why, Oh Miley: 8 Ways to Clean Up the Mess

By Dr. Robyn Silverman, Shaping Youth Correspondent/Body Image

dr-robyn-redsweater_face1.jpgYes, everyone is scrambling to right Miley’s misstep. Vanity Fair issued their YouTube video to show the relaxed atmosphere of the photo shoot (sans the actual Lolita-like photo in question).

Annie Leibovitz is defending her photos as “beautiful.” The network is claiming deliberate manipulation of a young girl. And the press is just trying to make sense of it all— the possible desire for a young starlet to shake her tween image and be seen as “more grown up,” the creation of a public frenzy that can add to the Miley millions (ahem, billions?), and which photo is more offensive (the one of Cyrus’s bare bod coyly wrapped in a sheet, or the shot of bare midriff while sprawled across her Daddy’s lap?).

But while the public is cyber-guessing the fate of Miley and her empire, parents and tweens are left in the wake of it all.

Moms and Dads don’t care about whether Disney will find a replacement for Miley— they’re busy wondering what to do next. Considering the harmful impact of increased sexualization of girls in the media and the jarring way tween idol was introduced as “not a girl, not yet a woman,” to her fans, it’s not surprising that parents are reeling.

Just looking at the comments from yesterday’s post on the Powerful Parent Blog, you can see anger, dismay, and confusion. Tweens and teens feel betrayed:

“Oh my gosh, I completely agree. I was so upset when I saw those pictures. It was like, “Whoa. That’s depressing.” I don’t want to say it, but I think my role model has turned into a…well, you know. I’ll just say…one of THEM. The worst part was that I practically worshiped her. Now I feel stupid, especially since I was her biggest fan in the entire universe.” (by: Lifeswhatyoumakeit)

…and adults are asking for help:

“I’m a mother of a Tween girl and every time the media reports something new about a child icon— I gulp wondering; how do I explain this to my daughter? I sort of resent having to explain these more adult like issues before I would like to.” (By MaryRobb64)

Let’s get down to it. So what are parents to do?

  1. Chalk it up to a teachable moment: Ignore it, and it won’t go away. Might as well take the bull by the horns. Tweens and teens can learn from the mistakes of their favorite idols if you frame it correctly. Talk about your values, the values of the family, and what you believe the icon did right or wrong. Grasp onto stories of teens, athletes, or celebrities that made mistakes and then changed their life for the better. For example, America’s sweetheart Drew Barrymore once made headlines for drugs, alcohol, and partying but has since become a stable adult. This is a good lesson for teens to hear. In the same way, when athletes make mistakes and admit them publicly, it’s another moment for a great conversation.
  2. Ask questions: Stop talking. Take a breath. Don’t jump to conclusions. You don’t even know what your child is thinking yet! What does she think of Miley Cyrus’ decision to pose topless? What would she have done in the same situation? What does she think Miley should do next? You might be surprised by what your children have to say if you just give them a chance to express themselves.
  3. Communicate without condemning: You may want to be critical, but in doing so, you may alienate your child. That’s not what you’re aiming to do! Have a conversation about the icon in question. Remember, it’s not the individual you have a problem with, it’s their behavior, right? In the case of Miley Cyrus, don’t put her down, rather, talk about the message that her partially nude photograph is sending to her fans.
  4. Find the positive: I know it can be difficult at times— especially with celebrities you find so detestable. While you may not like everything about a celebrity–perhaps there’s something you can find that send a good message. The singer, Pink, may be rough around the edges, but she tells girls that it’s important to be themselves even when everyone is telling them to blend.
  5. Provide counter-media role models: All role models don’t need to come from between the pages of a magazine or on TV. Role models can be found everywhere. Teachers, big sisters or brothers, local heroes, soldiers, local artists, and even heroes and heroines in books can provide more stable, consistent role model standards. When you expose your children to a variety of role models, they won’t have to defer to celebrities and celebutants for inspiration.
  6. Take a look through their eyes: You might be wondering what makes your daughter or son choose a certain role model when their icon has made a few blunders. Take a walk in their shoes. Ask them about their hero–what is it about them that really floats their boat? When you look at Kelly Osborne, daughter of the famous-for-being-dysfunctional Osborne family, you may see a foul-mouthed girl dressed in black. Your daughter, on the other hand, might see a girl who speaks her mind and doesn’t conform to the typical size 2 celebrity body requirement that’s so prevalent in today’s world. A celebrity might make a kid feel more OK with themselves.
  7. Be the role model they deserve: Be a positive example to your child. They’re watching you to see what they should do next. When it comes to being a role model, you must be aware that the choices you make don’t only impact you but also the children who regard you as their superhero. Do you show confidence in yourself and what you look like? Are you respectful? Self-disciplined? Someday, they will be in the same predicament and think to themselves, “What did s/he do when s/he was in the same situation?” When you are a role model it’s not enough to tell your charges the best choices to make. You must put them into action yourself.
  8. Talk about powerful words and powerful actions: What kind of family do you aspire to be? Have a family meeting and get everyone’s input. While the outside world may be erratic and unpredictable, together, you can create safe boundaries and limits so that your children can stay on the path to reach their goals. Use the character lessons your children are learning in their classes each month as springboards for discussion at your own dinner table or “drive the point home” after you leave your Powerful Words member academy.

And, as my mother always told me, “this too shall pass.”

Tweens and teens are resilient— and you are too. And while your child is dealing with the blow to her icon, you can give her a safe place to land. She needs it and we’re depending on it.

Dr. Robyn Silverman spoke on “Dr. Drew’s national radio show at 3:35 EST/12:35 PST today” the interview should be live tomorrow, April 30th.



  1. Dr. Robyn added yet another newsy article here on her blog, which I’ll reprint in its entirety here later, but for now:

    Here ya go!!!

    Includes the role model study here:

  2. I adore Miley! She’s so wild!

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