I was dozing on the couch, doing some last-minute channel surfing before surrendering the TV to my 9-year-old son, Noah, and his PlayStation, when a sound byte announcing teen starlet Jamie Lynn Spears’ pregnancy grabbed my attention. And Noah’s.
“Yeah, I heard about that,” Noah volunteered. Seems a friend already gave him the dirt about Britney’s 16-year-old li’l sis.
“So what do you think about that?” I ventured, rubbing my eyes in vain. You just never know when you’ll need to put your parent cap back on.
“I don’t care, as long as I’m not involved,” he shrugged.
“Oh yes, thank God for that,” I wryly replied, my smile hard to miss. He didn’t, and rolled his eyes. We’ve already had‘The Talk,’ so he knows the basics about how babies are made. It’s all fairly gross, as far as he’s concerned. For now, he couldn’t care less about babies or the Spears sisters.
“I just want her show (“Zoey 101,” which airs on Nickelodeon) to get canceled so there’s more time for"Drake& Josh” (his Nick favorite). Nice.
Unless your kid lives under a rock, never watches TV, avoids talking to other kids and never tags along when you go to the grocery store—where older kids kill time reading magazine covers in the checkout line after they tire of hounding us for candy bars—he’s bound to hear the buzz about the latest Spears’ baby sooner or later. We’d all love to insulate our kids from the harsh realities of others’ choices, but doing so 100 percent of the time is unrealistic.
Jamie Lynn’s predicament is just the latest in a long list of bombshells concerning the personal struggles of Hollywood’s youngest stars (think DUI-dogged Lindsay Lohan, whose"Parent Trap” remake my kids have watched about a billion times, and Vanessa Hudgens of"High School Musical” fame, whose nude photos on the Internet nearly derailed her Disney career). Human beings, including our kids’ celebrity idols and others closer to home, are inherently flawed and prone to occasional lapses in judgment.
So, what do you do when your child learns about a young celebrity’s or someone else’s misbehavior? You could ignore it, but that would just leave your child to muddle through the issues on her own, without the benefit of your insights and values. Instead, regard these unfortunate tales as convenient segues to teachable moments. These are golden opportunities for you to again discuss with your kids the consequences of engaging in risky behaviors.
You could boycott a troubled celebrity’s brand and turn the channel, join the fray and smugly chew the fat with your friends about how pathetic the Spears sisters’ parents"must be,” but what good does that do? I hear lots of judgments, but what I rarely hear, in the media or elsewhere, are expressions of compassion for the Spears and other beleaguered celebrities.
I remember spotting a particularly poignant image while watching televised Britney-news last fall. Britney drove while her boys, then 2 and 1, sat behind her in their car seats. I noticed that her older son reached over and grasped his baby brother’s hand, as paparazzi hungrily snapped photos. Another thing I’ve observed? If you look closely at Britney’s candid pictures, she more closely resembles a scared little girl than a woman having a good time. Her smiles seem forced and her actions are cries for help. We may not be in a position to intervene directly with Britney or Jamie Lynn, but we can model compassion for others and encourage this response in our kids. A nice side effect? Your own kids may feel safer being open with you about issues in their lives. An expression of compassion is not an endorsement of risky behavior. You still get to set limits and follow up with consequences.
I think that as colleagues in parenthood we need to step up and support Jamie Lynn and her new family. I’m not kidding. We may not like how and why it came to be, but here it is, nonetheless.
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Jennifer DuBose, M.S., C.A.S., has been a clinical member of The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy since 1995 and is a featured blogger at ChicagoParent.com.