Q: My 12-year-old daughter is devastated by what has been happening with Justin Bieber. She has been a fan of the pop star “forever” and she and her friends fervently follow his career and personal life. I originally supported my daughter’s obsession (allowing her to buy his music, hang posters in her bedroom, attend a concert, etc.), because I thought he was a good role model. But now I am at a loss. My daughter cried over his break up with Selena and was confused, disbelieving and hurt by his recent assault and battery charges, seemingly poor choice of friends, and insensitive statements about Anne Frank. I’m afraid Bieber is going to become the next Brittany Spears and that his breakdown may adversely affect my daughter—any help you can offer will be appreciated!
~ Bemoaning Bieber, Boston, MA
A: Dear Bemoaning,
We have to remember that the word fan was derived from fanatic. Many tweens fall hard for celebrities because these fantasy relationships are rehearsals for romantic and friend relationships that they aspire toward having in real life. For your daughter, Justin Bieber may have become kind of a surrogate boyfriend— idealized as “perfect in every way,” talented, romantic, kind, and completely focused on her.
Bieber’s recent behavior challenges your daughter’s fantasy, because it is clear that he is not perfect. And although that may seem silly to adults, the disappointment is very real for her. But this disappointment, like the infatuation, can be an experience that teaches her about human relationships – to realize that no one is perfect and to recognize both the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ qualities in potential partners.
There are several ways you can help your daughter cope and grow from this experience:
1) Acknowledge her feelings, and let her know that it’s okay to feel them. Her ideal of Justin Beiber was really important to her--her loss of it is real, and her sadness is valid.
2) Talk with her about differences between how media portray a person and who that person really is. Ask her to think of times when she’s seen a picture or heard a story about someone she knows that she thinks doesn’t match what she knows of them. Then explore with her the images, videos, and stories of Bieber not as accurate representations of a 19-year-old boy, but as products manufactured by producers and publicists to be sold to her and to people like her.
3) Talk about the price of celebrity. Justin Bieber is still a teenager, but as a public figure and the center of a multi-million dollar enterprise, he is under an enormous amount of scrutiny and pressure. Rather than condemning his poor behavior and bad break-up, talk about these incidents with your daughter in light of the amount of responsibility he has. Everybody makes mistakes; instead of focusing on his wrongdoings, talk about how he can recover from them.
4) Help her think about how this lesson can be applied to other real-world experiences. Tweens and teens often spend hours honing their profiles, pictures, and messages to present themselves in the most attractive ways possible. Your daughter’s ability to see through the “positioning”, photoshopping, and editing of Bieber can help her look beyond the carefully created photos and profiles of her peers, making it possible to get to know who they really are.
Above all, you can help this situation be a positive learning experience for your daughter. Leave her space to grieve her idea of who he is (acknowledging that she never did and still doesn’t really know), and help her gain a more nuanced and realistic understanding of how real human beings behave and what healthy, human relationships are like.
For additional insight see:
- Why do adolescent girls idolize male celebrities?
- The role of media figures in adolescent development
- Attribution style, self-esteem, and celebrity worship
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,