Your kid's role model may not be perfect but, neither are you.
My 16-year-old daughter loves Beyoncé; she loves her music, her strong pro-woman message and her enviable dance moves. I won't deny, as a grown woman who likes upbeat music, I have some Beyoncé love myself. But my opinion changes when I think of her as my daughter's role model because I find some of Beyoncé lyrics, outfits, and extremely sexualized dance moves concerning.
What's a parent to do when your child's role model is less than ideal?
Here's the bottom line; we don't get to pick our children's role models. We can try but inevitably who they look up to is their choice. When pushed too hard in one direction, children will often deliberately head the other way. They will fight harder to defend the person they idolize and may begin to value your opinion less and less. So, don't be a hater. Avoid a confrontation by starting a conversation instead. Here's how:
Skip The Snark
Talking about role models can either bring you and your child closer together or it can drive a wedge between you, sometimes for years to come. If you dive in with, "Beyoncé looks trashy" or "Justin Bieber is an idiot" (even if you think he is) or "Miley Cyrus is a bad person," you have just taught your child to judge others harshly, not to be a critical thinker, and that the only opinions you approve of are the ones that align with your own.
Would you like it if someone hated on a person you respect and idolize? No, you would resent the person doing the criticizing and walk away, inwardly vowing never to share your thoughts or feelings with that person again. Do you really want to push your child away over a superstar?
Ask Open-Ended Questions And Then LISTEN:
Try to understand what about this role model captivates your child rather than focusing on the person specifically. Ask questions such as: "What about Beyoncé do you like?" "What don't you like about her?" "What have you learned from watching her, listening to her music and reading about her?" "If you could talk to Beyoncé, what would you say to her?" "What do you think she struggles with as a person?" "What do you think makes her feel proud?" "If you were her, what would you do differently?"
Fun, curious questions allow you and your child to talk honestly about role models by noting both their positive and negative virtues which help your child see that shining star is really just another human being. Questions also create space for sharing your own strengths and weaknesses and invite your children to reflect on their own. I don't love Beyoncé's sexualized message, but I certainly do like that I can talk about healthy sexuality with my child. I also admire Beyoncé's work ethic and her independence in both her personal and professional lives, and these are great attributes I'm happy to point out to my daughter. We've also used the topic of Beyoncé to discuss race, sexism, social influence, the media, etc. Rather than focusing on what you dislike about your child's role model, flip the conversation into a discussion about what you and your child value.
Talk About Other Possibilities For Role Models:
Now that you've identified what attributes or behaviors your child admires, tell your child about role models from your childhood, particularly those who were not pop stars. Did you have a teacher who changed your life, a clergy member, a beloved relative, or even your own parents? Tell your child how those people helped you become better, stronger, smarter, more courageous, or even kinder and more giving. If possible, introduce your child to your role model(s) and let them see for themselves that ordinary people can positively influence others as much as any pop star.
Beyoncé is both flawed and fabulous and so is your child's role model. But as parents we can be both flawed and fabulous, too. Focus less on the vices of your child's super star hero and help them see the humanity in all people instead. By having this conversation, you will both learn what motivates and inspires your child and what is important to them right now. That's information that can help you parent better, love them more, and help your child stay out of trouble. Leave it to Beyoncé to sum the point up perfectly — "Your self-worth is determined by you. You don't have to depend on someone telling you who you are."
Lisa Kaplin is a psychologist and life coach at www.smartwomeninspiredlives.com. Contact her at Lisa@smartwomeninspiredlives.com Feeling stressed out? Here's Lisa's free gift for handling that stress today!