In defence of Justin Bieber and other child celebrities

Justin Bieber

I’ve been pretty unimpressed with the rather ugly responses to Justin Bieber’s misdemeanours over the last few days. Sure, some of the reactions have been comical, like this YouTube video, and RuPaul’s tweet of his rather beautifully made-up mugshot (I’ve just been told it’s transphobic — no offence intended).

But a 100,000-signature petition to have him deported from the US, for doing something that a good many, if not most, teenage boys do, seems pretty mean-spirited and exaggerated to me. Particularly as Americans have, until now, been happy to claim him as their own (I didn’t even know he was Canadian until this hit the news).

The blatant exploitation of child celebrities by the music, film and television industry has never sat well with me. Michael Jackson is a classic example of what happens when children are exposed to the crazy hype of modern entertainment from too early an age.

If it were within my influence, I’d lobby for it to be illegal for kids under 18 to be signed by record labels and Hollywood studios. Perhaps that’s an over-reaction in the other direction, but it seems that there are plenty opportunities on social media for kids to self-promote from their bedrooms, rather than being shoved in the public eye by money-making media moguls.

Even in NZ yesterday, the media seemed to be getting back at Lorde, for her tweets about their behaviour on her post-Grammy arrival, by broadcasting explicit details of her sickness that made her 20 minutes late for her concert on Wednesday night.

Let’s have a bit of compassion and generosity with these kids. No other 19-year-old boy would be deported for speeding on drugs and alcohol at 4am. I’m not condoning Justin’s behaviour and I know he’s considered a role model for kids. But he didn’t set out to be the model teenager — that’s a by-product of his fame, which was engineered by adults.

So, as adults, we need to take responsibility for the direct and indirect consequences if we’re going to profit from putting kids prematurely in the limelight. We need to protect them, mentor them and, above all, forgive them.

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About Philip Patston

I develop capacity in individuals, teams, organisations and communities in the areas of leadership, diversity, complexity and change. I'm available to work with you now.

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