Parents, not Miley, are to blame



Well, this week I feel (sadly) vindicated. This is exactly what happens when we entrust Hollywood, the media, and corporations with our children!

First, parents of young Hannah Montana fans had to explain the leaked photos of a bra-clad Miley and her boyfriend on the Internet. Then they were treated to a very grown-up photo spread of Disney's 15 year-old teen-queen with bedroom hair and only a silk bed sheet covering her nude body.

Not too long ago another Disney star, High School Musical's Vanessa Hudgens, had to apologize for her leaked nude photos. Like this latest Disney debacle, it too sparked endless discussions on the fan sites and message boards that so many very young girls frequent.

Frankly, the shocked headlines are what I find so shocking. Well, that and all of the "outraged" parents. Don't they realize that this "teenager" is a billion dollar franchise whose marketing plan depends on capturing a younger and younger audience?

The operative word here is "teenager". She's a teenager and if only teenagers watched Hannah Montana, this incident could actually be a teachable moment where we warn teens about taking compromising photos in the age of the Internet and Girls Gone Wild.Unfortunately, Miley's audience not only includes my 17 year old niece, but also 5 to 11 year olds, who happen to be the most susceptible consumers of the ubiquitous junk sold in her name. So now, parents with 6 year-olds in the Hannah Montana fan club will have to have a conversation they would just as well have put off for another 8 years.

In the end, this isn't Disney's fault and it's certainly not Vanity Fair's. It's not even Barbara Walter's, who told us in her glossy post-Oscar interview, that Miley was a "role model". And a "Christian!"

No, parents of young children have only themselves to blame for allowing Miley to become their 2nd graders' role-model. Have we all forgetten about the term "age-appropriate"? Or at least the joy of a childhood where playing "house" did not involve a bored baby-doll masquerading as a streetwalker (have you seen the Bratz babies?).

It seems that too many parents these days are too tired or too busy to swim against the current. We want our kids to fit in. We'd rather not deal with the nagging, so we give in and buy the video game or doll or outfit without thinking it through. We defer to kids, instead of carefully evaluating products and programs to see if their messages actually reflect our values. Thus, we end up mindlessly encouraging and financing a disturbing trend.

Since I first started blogging for ParentDish this fall, I have sounded off numerous times about the pressure on our kids, and especially our girls, to grow up too fast. From sexy Halloween costumes to thongs and racy t-shirt messages, our little girls are being robbed of their right to just be little girls.

My oldest daughter is eight years old and High School Musical, Hannah Montana and the like are not permitted in my house. I don't want my girls emulating a teenager in a micro-miniskirt and thigh high stockings - I don't care how benign the bubble gum pop songs are. Moms like me are called a lot of things - controlling, prudes, and helicopter moms. Why? Because we'd rather our girls aspire to be astronauts or veterinarians rather than gyrating wanna-be "rock stars"?

It's not easy. My daughter may very well be the only girl in her class who does not own a Bratz doll or watch concerts and sitcoms with teenage themes and stars. With a precious few exceptions, it is only through my blog that I encounter like-minded parents. Thank God for the Internet! I was beginning to feel like an island unto myself. Never mind the irony that it's the ex-MTV girl who's forbidding the Disney Channel in her home.

Still, there are plenty of moms who visit my blog who disagree with my parenting style. And that's OK. They can't understand why I'm trying so hard to protect my girls from cultural forces that would have them start thinking about boyfriends, break-ups, mid-driffs, and make-up long before I think they should. I'm repeatedly told, "You can't protect your kids from the world". Perhaps, but I can try.

Look, what 15 year-old starlet wouldn't fall under the spell of the iconic Annie Leibovitz and the surreal atmosphere of a fancy celebrity photo-shoot where everyone's telling you how beautiful you look? Sure, her handlers should have known better. And of course, the judgment of her famous dad - who actually participated in a series of loungy photos that were more "hot Hollywood couple" than daddy and his teenage girl - is rightly being called into question.

But the problem is not Disney, or Miley, or Billy Ray Cyrus. Christian or not, Miley is a teenage girl susceptible to all the temptations that have tripped up child stars since the dawn of television. Teen stars haven't changed all that much, parents have changed. And yes, the media has also changed. So let's all slow down and become more reflective and selective about the culture (and role models) our young children consume.

Until parents of little girls and little boys decide that "age-appropriate" matters, Hollywood, Mattel and every other corporate entity will continue to serve up shows and products aimed at capturing the widest range of young consumers, regardless of the implications on a child's innocence. They're just doing their job. Are we?

To learn more about Rachel visit www.rachelcamposduffy.com

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.