Parents Can Help Teens, Preteens Understand Confusing Celebrity Behavior



AMES, Iowa – Whether or not Charlie Sheen has really given his last interview, his behavior may continue to be confusing, particularly to teens and preteens, an Iowa State University Extension specialist says.

According to Malisa Rader, an ISU Extension family life program specialist, teens and preteens might be very confused by the actor’s erratic behavior.

“It can be difficult sometimes for young people to separate the character someone has played on TV or in movies from the real person. Similar situations also happen with sports stars, a favorite music artist or even someone admired in the world of politics,” Rader said.

Sheen joins a long line of celebrities and public figures in the media spotlight because of questionable choices they’ve made.

Help Young People Process Thoughts, Feelings

The bigger issue, Rader said, is how to help young people process what they may be thinking or feeling when someone they admire is acting in a way inconsistent with the person they thought he or she was.

Rader suggests being empathetic and open to how children might be feeling. Be willing to listen as they share their disappointment or confusion.

“Try to talk about the issues involved and not the person — who may be a hero to your child,” Rader said. “What I mean is, we don’t want to put children in a situation where they feel the need to defend the person they may have admired. For example, don’t insult or label the person. Instead, try having an honest conversation about why someone might be behaving in such a surprising manner.”

A celebrity’s behavior could provide an opportunity to discuss any number of issues with teens and preteens — from mental health and the effects of addiction to a family’s personal values, Rader said.

“This is a teachable moment, so use it! Be willing to share your thoughts related to your family’s values,” the ISU Extension specialist said. “Charlie Sheen and other celebrities are getting a lot of attention. So talk about people in your local community with admirable traits who might be going unnoticed – the neighbor who scoops snow off the driveway of another elderly neighbor, a friend that volunteers at a local animal shelter, a relative who plans family events to keep everyone connected.”

It is important for parents to keep role models and heroes in perspective for children, Rader said. “Actors, athletes, musicians, politicians — they’re human. And as humans, they can sometimes disappoint or act in a surprising or confusing manner. Use this as a chance to talk with your children about how we can recognize when we have made mistakes or are acting in a way that is confusing to others, how we can make amends when needed and how we can accept the help of others when needed.”

How Media Works

The Charlie Sheen story also can help parents teach children how media works — why some stories get sensationalized while others go unnoticed, Rader said.

“Just this morning we had the news on in my home as we were getting ready for the day. A story came on about Mr. Sheen and I heard my 11-year-old comment, ‘I’m so tired of hearing about him. Why don’t they find something else to talk about?’ This was an opportunity for me to talk with my daughter about media in our lives,” Rader said.

“I asked questions such as ‘Why do you think we keep hearing about this story?’ and ‘Is this really news?’ I used this opportunity not really to talk about Charlie Sheen, but to help my daughter develop a filter for what she sees, hears and reads in the media,” Rader said.

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[PHOTO] Malisa Rader, ISU Extension family life program specialist