Justin Bieber's story isn't a new one. He might be the latest child star turned young adult lacking the necessary coping skills to deal with insta-fame and excessive wealth which gets him into trouble with the law, but his story isn't much different than those of Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan or several other members of young Hollywood. Still, his reckless and illegal behavior made headlines and ignited the customary polarizing opinions either judging or supporting his choices that Americans so love to share over social media. If there is one thing America loves, it seems, it's to talk about a fallen star.
With all of the talk and judgment about Justin Bieber's most recent behavior, we are missing one crucial element: how he got here. As a psychotherapist and parenting educator, Andrea Nair, MA, CCC explains, "If we focus too closely on judging Bieber's behavior, we can miss the opportunity to discuss what may have contributed to it, and what the consequences are."
Disney churns out child stars at an alarming rate, and Nickelodeon isn't far behind (those members of the Fresh Beat Band aren't getting any younger, don't you know). And while these kids are given the opportunity of a lifetime and more money than they ever thought possible, they also seem to be making a fairly significant trade. In exchange for instant fame and great fortune, they must forgo childhood, grow up in the public eye and miss out on some very crucial stages of development. The result? Drug and/or alcohol abuse, eating disorders, reckless behavior, depression, anxiety, and the list goes on.
The hard truth beneath the splashy headlines and media attention to this story is that Justin Bieber's story just might belong to any number of children in this country. This pattern isn't unique to Hollywood. What parents need to wake up and recognize is that fast tracking childhood and pouring on pressure to succeed and rise above the rest sets the stage for a complicated transition to young adulthood and can potentially lead to drug and/or alcohol abuse, reckless behavior and mental health problems later in life.
How many YouTube videos of very young children playing an instrument (4-year-old drummer is amazing!) have gone viral in the past few years? How many children have made their debut on The Ellen Show (like the most recent pint-sized pianist)? How many children are pushed to succeed from a very young age simply because a parent believes they have an aptitude for something?
Play is the business of childhood, and yet it is often pushed aside in our success-driven culture. Child stars are plucked from obscurity and shaped into something specific because they have a talent that stands out, but what those talent scouts seem to overlook is that talent takes time to cultivate. If child stars were given the time to grow up in a developmentally appropriate manner and afforded the opportunity to hone their skills, they might very well have had a happier, and more successful, outcome.
Children raised by parents who force them to forgo normal childhood activities in favor of practicing an instrument, a sport or some other linear focus near constantly are traveling the same path as child stars, on a smaller scale.
If Justin Bieber's latest antics can teach us anything, it's that it is long past time to slow down and take back childhood. Children should be encouraged to play, learn, grow and enjoy being children.
Parenting is a high-stress job these days. If you read enough articles and books, you can spend your days questioning every parenting decision you've ever made. And the stress level of kids isn't far behind.
The pressure to succeed in parenting trickles down to kids, thereby creating families in pursuit of perfection at the expense of overall happiness. It's time to stop parenting the kids we hope to have at some point in the future and start parenting the children sitting in our laps right this very moment.
Maybe you are raising the next big tennis star or a future politician, but maybe not. Why not let your child explore her own world today and save the future for, well, the future?
When we dial back the stress levels in our homes, we give our children the gift of childhood and the ability to develop at a pace that best suits them. That sets them up for future success.
Before you start overreacting because your child wants to play on three different soccer teams at any given moment, consider this: It is the job of the parent to teach the child how to find balance in life. Sure, you might have a little David Beckham on your hands, but that doesn't mean that he can't find joy in other activities. Even soccer players enjoy a little downtime away from the field, after all.
One of the unfortunate casualties of our success-hungry culture is that many people tend to follow a linear focus and don't know how to slow down, shift gears or cope without that one thing as the central focus. That kind of internal pressure combined with poor coping strategies leads to stress and anxiety and puts people at risk for depression.
When we help children find balance in their lives and teach them how to cope with the ups and downs that life has to offer, we pave the way for a happy future.