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What Teens Can Learn from Celebrity Scandals

Tainted Love
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Sean McCabe

No one can forget the 2009 photo of R&B star Rihanna -- her face swollen with bruises, a bloody nose, and split lip, the result of a beating by boyfriend Chris Brown, who was convicted of felony assault and sentenced to 180 days of community service.

On a scale of transgressions this one's a 10, so serious that it can't go unaddressed. "The bottom line here is clear," says Farley. "Abuse is never acceptable, and girls who find themselves victims in any way have to get out, fast."

Experts agree that parents need to recognize the negative, often violent, messages and images being projected to kids, especially young boys. "There's a lot of garbage coming at them that manhood is all about sexual conquest, material wealth, power, and arrogance -- what I describe as the bad-ass syndrome," says Kelly H. Johnson, author of A Better Man: True American Heroes Speak to Young Men on Love, Power, Pride, and What It Really Means to Be a Man (Brandylane Publishers). "I have a daughter and five sons. The older boys are in their 20s and the younger ones are in middle school, so I know what I'm talking about. There's definitely less sensitivity these days, while their coarseness is rising."

A lot of that has to do with the movie and music stars kids worship -- they're simply not worthy. But parents can provide a counter-balance by strongly voicing their disappointment and disapproval. "Kids have to know the qualities you value and why," says Johnson. "Use precise language -- words like dependable, selfless, loyal, which have more depth and content and really get to the heart of a person's character. You want your children to think in those terms, not simply right versus wrong or good versus bad, when they make their own decisions."

Be sure to point out when celebs do something right, as Rihanna finally did. "She scared us all when it seemed she was going to reconcile with Chris Brown," says Johnson. "To her credit, she pulled away and ultimately walked away. I like that it took her months and a false start or two, because it revealed her humanity and showed girls what a tough decision it was to stand up for her dignity and self-worth. She chose the hard right over the easy wrong."

And don't forget to talk about the road to redemption. "For example, if you tell your kids that Brown has a long way to go to regain respect and trust, you're conveying a deeper message as well -- that if your kids do something wrong and get caught, they can also make amends, and that you'll be there for them," says Johnson. "That's something they need to hear."

Finally, help your kids find heroes who truly deserve their respect. "There's a wealth of good people out there -- fathers and uncles, neighbors and friends, teachers and coaches -- who, as opposed to shallow, empty celebrities, have real accomplishments," says Johnson. "Just be sure to take a subtle approach, since teens don't want to feel like they're being lectured. You can't force-feed heroes to your children. They have to find and embrace them on their own."

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Originally published in the March 2010 issue of Family Circle magazine.