Fame, Fortune, and Miley Cyrus – What is a Parent’s Responsibility?

To the Editor:
I’m a father of four boys…young men. We play football and watch sports. We blast through woods on mountain bikes and skis. We are not experts on the Hannah Montana show or Miley Cyrus, the actress who plays her. However, I still could not avoid seeing her rise in popularity as a Disney youth teen star. Her dad seemed pretty cool and humble on Dancing with the Stars and it seemed she’d be a good role model for the young girls who watched her show, listened to her music, and even threw Hannah Montana-themed birthday parties. Her present attempt to transform from a child star to a grown up performer seems to be taking on a sadly familiar script (at any age, much less age 16) as she switches to revealing clothing and posing in sexual positions in top magazines such as Vanity Fair and Elle.. She made news most recently at the Teen Choice Awards (TCA) where she appeared in a short revealing outfit, which Kat Giantis of MSN termed a “homage to Pretty Woman,” and performed with the help of a metal pole.

While reading the headlines on this recent performance, my first thought was “Where is her father and why is he allowing her to compromise herself for fame and fortune?” Sadly, I learned he was right by her side. As Giantis observed, in this MTV/Victoria Secret era, it is not unusual for teen girls to try and leave the house in an outfit similar to the one Miley wore to the TCA. However, their parents typically march them back upstairs and make them change. Instead, Miley’s father (singer and entertainer Billy Ray Cyrus) and mother accompanied her to the awards, outfit and all. In response to her suggestive performance, Billy Ray Cyrus responded that she is a performer and he wants to give his kids the freedom to “make the art they want to make and make it in their own voice.”

Fame and stardom get a lot of attention these days, but are they the denominator of a life well lived? Do they obscure the bigger picture of a secure identity, solid character, and loyal relationships? Is Miley’s sexual journey the natural next step in fame, or is fame and success compromising healthy parenting by parents willing to lower the standards for what they’ll allow their children to wear and how they’ll allow them to act? Have we gotten to the point where it is so important to make and sell and be popular, that we revert to the easiest selling point-sex-at the sake of our daughter’s modesty, and very likely the relationship heartaches that come with promoting sensuality before and outside of the protection, loyalty, and intimacy of marriage?

Miley is 16. She is almost an adult and a businesswoman in her own right. She has hit songs, a successful television show, and has started a new fashion line. However, at 16 is she old enough to understand the consequences of her dress and actions both to herself, the thousands of preteen girls who look to her as an example, and boys who look on her as an attraction, not a person?

In her recent article for the New York Daily News, “Why Miley Cyrus is Stripping Down as She Grows Up,” Wendy Shalit, author of “A Return to Modesty and Girls Gone Mild”, addresses Miley’s coverage in the August edition of Elle Magazine. The article explains why Miley is not a kid anymore. The pictures show her wearing revealing clothing and posing in sexually suggestive positions. Shalit cites Elle editor, Robbie Myers, who felt that Miley’s willingness to pose this way shows she is portraying a more mature persona. It is empowering her as she “takes the wheel” and becomes an adult. Shalit challenges this false notion of empowerment as Miley has already “taken the wheel” through her professional success. Should embracing sexuality best represent growing up, or as Shalit notes, should Miley rebel from Hollywood’s norms by embracing her personhood and guarding and respecting her body and her self worth?

Shalit has it right. As a performer himself, Miley’s father should know the time in the spotlight is fleeting, but character…that can shine forever. What is a better investment? Should he be most concerned with her finding her own voice, or should he teach her to protect her reputation and not sacrifice a solid character for fame and fortune? Looking in the mirror, however, are we parents allowing our kids to develop their “own” voice by dressing inappropriately and acting in a way that will also mar their character? It can sneak up on you, can’t it?

Parents, are we instilling in our children the importance of a strong moral character? Are we teaching them the value of self worth, honesty, hard work, and self control? Are we teaching them what to look for in role models, performers, and sports heroes? Are we taking the opportunity to make sure our daughters dress and act with inner confidence and external modesty? Are we intentionally and spontaneously teaching our young men how to treat girls, young women, someone’s future wife, respectfully? It sure takes effort to parent according to the bigger picture of building character and giving our kids a start on a life well lived.

Jeff Kemp

As President of Stronger Families, Jeff is passionate about casting a vision for improving family life and fostering a marriage movement in the Northwest and beyond. He played in the NFL, as a quarterback, for eleven years with the Rams, 49ers, Seahawks, and Eagles. Jeff has published articles in The Seattle Times, USA Today, and American Enterprise.

Visit http://www.strongerfamilies.org to take the free 7 Day Love Challenge. You will also find an array of resources to help you in your marriage, parenting, and finances.

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