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We've seen the pattern all too many times. It's become almost as predictable as the seasons. A much-adored, mostly squeaky-clean pop star "spices up" his or her image when adulthood approaches. As agents and producers urge the teen sensation toward what Hollywood considers relevancy (and a boost to revenue), the young star swaps bubblegum and innocent crushes for highly sexualized dance routines, lyrics and clothing.

Tweens and teens who follow this celeb's every move typically watch the metamorphosis with admiration. And since Mr. and Miss Pop Icon are often self-proclaimed role models who say they want to be a positive influence, fans have no reason to believe they'd ever lead them astray. Parents realize, of course, that this attitude is not only wrong, but dangerous, especially now that the entertainment industry conditions children from a young age to think of superstardom as next to godliness.

It's as Veggie Tales and JellyTelly creator Phil Vischer said in a recent Plugged In Online interview, "There are now 70 kids' TV networks around the world—all buying shows because they've discovered how much money there is to be made from kids. … And that's where advertisers can come into play, and that's also where the producers get very aggressive in trying to figure out What do kids like? What are kid fantasies today? And that leads to the number one kid fantasy that's being promoted in the U.S. today, which is to be a rock star. … I wanna be a star, I wanna be in Hollywood, I wanna be rich and famous."

Popular, highly acclaimed TV shows such as Hannah Montana, Sonny With a Chance and iCarly (as well as blockbuster movies such as the High School Musical franchise) promote and reinforce this celebrity daydream. Nickelodeon's latest hit, Victorious, is about an aspiring young singer who attends a Hollywood performing arts high school. Kids are watching by the millions as their favorite celebrities achieve fame on and off screen.

But impressionable young fans watch just as carefully when these teen idols take serious missteps. Consider the public outcry that Britney, Miley and Lindsay, among others, have caused with their poor decisions in recent years. Based on media frenzy alone, you would think the universe revolves around these stars. Fortunately, that's not true.

Despite the culturally persistent idea that a parent's influence becomes less relevant as tweens and teens mature, it's actually teen icons who hold less sway than Mom and Dad. A 2007 Weekly Reader survey found that 67 percent of 12- to 18-year-olds believe that parents are their most important role model. That puts parents in the driver's seat. Consequently, when young stars make serious slip-ups under the microscope of public scrutiny, Mom and Dad have a wonderful opportunity to navigate their kids through Hollywood's tangle of vicarious lessons.

So instead of rolling our eyes in disgust when the latest teen phenom inevitably fumbles their stardom, we should use incidents as opportunities to teach discernment. Talk to your kids about who their favorite stars are, and why they're so popular. Ask whether the celebrity's behavior has in any way influenced their own, and why. The why might surprise you and offer new avenues for discussion.

When young celebrities wear revealing clothing, talk about that decision. Discuss the importance of dressing modestly in a culture that urges young people to do otherwise. Explore where true beauty comes from and what it takes to achieve it (1 Sam. 16:7, Prov. 11:22 and chapter 31; 1 Tim. 1:8-10).

If a teen star is reported to be sexually involved with a boyfriend or girlfriend, use that real-life incident to examine the appropriate expression of sexual desire, and the physical and emotional consequences of misusing God's gift of sexuality (Ephesians 5:3, 8-20).

On the whole, help them see how, by the grace of God, their own behavior can be different from actors' damaging moral missteps. But be sure to point out positives, too. If someone in show business does something well, highlight it and discuss why it's a decision worth emulating.

As a parent, it can be easy to question your adolescent's respect for your authority after a disagreement over a missed curfew or a bedroom strewn with dirty laundry. But numerous studies confirm that parents are the key role models for their children. So underneath that moody, sometimes messy demeanor, chances are your child respects—and even likes—you. As you sort through celebrities' often outrageous behavior, remember that you hold more clout than the latest teen icon.

Published June 2010