Turning a Celebrity Media Frenzy Into a Teachable Moment

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If your kids have a Facebook account or surf the Web, it’s safe to assume they talk with their peers about Charlie Sheen, Lindsay Lohan or other celebrities’ very public battles with addiction and mental illness. Rather than avoid the topic, be proactive about being part of these conversations so you can influence them.

Starting from a young age, it’s important to have regular and open communication with your kid about the dangers, and consequences, of drug and alcohol abuse. Use celebrities’ public battles with addiction as ‘teachable moments,’ and educate them on the ability for substance abuse and underage drinking to dramatically impact one’s future and personal relationships. Determining how to start these conversations and what to say can be a very daunting prospect for most parents.

Tips for how to begin, what you might say, and approaches to avoid

  • Don’t prohibit, engage together: Unless it’s a highly age inappropriate TV show or movie, we don’t recommend prohibiting your children from consuming most media. Instead, use widespread media coverage of a current celebrity or other hot topic as an opportunity to engage in conversation. If you can, sit down and watch a show like Entertainment Tonight together and discuss the coverage of the celebrity afterward.

  • Start with a question: Your kids will quickly form their own opinion on a piece of news or gossip. They are also more likely to be engaged in the conversation if you show them that you’re interested in their opinion. Start the conversation by finding out what they think about the latest gossip or news on a celebrity. For example, you could say, “Christina Aguilera was arrested for being drunk in public. It must be so stressful to have a public career. What other ways do you think she could have managed the stress?” 

  • Teach healthy coping skills: Educate your children on the fact that many people turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with challenges in life when they don’t know how to constructively deal with stress. Remember that as parents, you have the opportunity to teach your children to develop healthy ways to cope with stress, such as writing in a journal, calling a friend or taking a yoga class.    

  • Talk about the illness: It’s very important to stress to your children that just because someone abuses drugs or alcohol, they are not a bad person. Unfortunately, society demonizes and stigmatizes addicts in a way that is inaccurate and insensitive. Addiction is a disease from which many people eventually recover once they seek professional help. Ask your child, ‘would you ever make fun of someone with another disease like cancer or diabetes?’

  • Leave out the details: When talking to your kid about a celebrity struggling with addiction, avoid discussing the details so you can prevent any potential “copycat” behavior. For example, don’t talk about the types of drugs a celebrity uses or where their partying binge took place. Instead, focus on the overall behavior with comments such as, “Charlie Sheen has done an awful lot of media interviews but sadly isn’t portraying himself in the best light right now. Thankfully he has such a strong support system around him of concerned friends and family that hopefully soon he will admit he has a problem and get professional help.”

  • Be an example: As parents, we are the number one model for our children’s behavior. Kids are extremely receptive and curious. Act in a manner you would want your child to emulate. Remember that a day time phone call with a friend could be easily overheard by your child, for example, so as a rule don’t say anything that you wouldn’t want your child to repeat back to a friend.

Ultimately, as parents one of the best things we can do is teach our children from a young age to treat others with kindness and respect, no matter their differences or personal struggles.

How do you turn the celebrity media frenzy into a teachable moment?

Image courtesy katcompass.wordpress.com.

Dr. Hokemeyer, PhD, JD, is a Marriage and Family Therapist for Caron Treatment Centers, a non-profit, leading provider of drug and alcohol addiction treatment. He works with individuals, couples and families to help them understand and heal from unhealthy patterns of relating to themselves and others. Dr. Hokemeyer also serves on the Board of Directors for the New York Division of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists.

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