How to Talk to Kids about Celebrity Culture, Influence & Imperfections

This podcast is about celebrities and the impact they have on our children through social media, movies, TV shows and more. How do celebrities get such a hold on people? Why does what they do and say influence what our children do, say and believe? Dr. Robyn Silverman interviews Dr. Cooper Lawrence to understand celebrity culture and how we can help our kids understand it’s profound influence on those who follow particular famous stars.

Guest Expert: Cooper Lawrence, PhD

Celebrity culture has a profound influence on lots of us. On the one hand, there are many people who listen to celebrities talk about medication, climate change, politics, religion, vaccines and life choices in the same way- or in a more captivated way- than they would listen to the top experts in those fields. On the other hand, even if you aren’t one to be as swayed by the $3500 knife-set touted by Gwyneth Paltrow or the best way to solve a natural disaster by Brad Pitt, their influence is everywhere. Celebrities have the ear of politicians who help make the laws and the masses who help make a movement. So, what about the celebrity impact on young people? How can celebrities influence boys and girls in the way they think about global affairs, national politics, outer beauty and…themselves?

Cooper Lawrence is a multiple Gracie Award-winning radio personality currently hosting the nationally syndicated Cooper and Anthony Radio Show. She’s the author of seven books. Her latest is called Celebritocracy: The Misguided Agenda of Celebrity Politics in a Postmodern Democracy and it’s available now. Cooper has a Ph.D. in developmental psychology and her work is in how celebrity culture impacts development.

Important Messages:

  • Celebrity: Who are they and how is your child accessing them? We used to buy a magazine or listen to our favorite celebrity on late night TV. Now, social media! It seems like the celebrity is speaking right to you. This creates a bond. Easier to do what she says and what she does. This can be problematic when the celebrity is making bad choices or dealing with troubling issues.
  • Think about it this way- if this was happening outside- someone just walked over to your child, grabbed them by the arm, and said, “I want you to buy this product and here’s this cool thing I’m doing, you’d be like, hey buddy, get away from my kid!”
  • You need to be aware of your child’s social media not just in terms of who their friends are but also who they’re non-friends are. Lots of research that shows we know more people in our fake world than we do in our real world.
  • Children under the age of 7 have trouble separating what’s on TV and what’s in real life. High levels of anxiety- when children don’t know what’s real and what’s not real, what affects them or not. A celebrity talking directly to your child- that’s really them- so it feels that it applies directly to our child.
  • In-group and out-group bias- us vs them. Betrayal when a celebrity does something against our values or what we expected as we often think of our favorite celebrity as part of our group.
  • For example, Jennifer Aniston. In-group- influences you – you feel like “I’m her, she’s me” or “we’d be besties.” So when she and Brad started to have problems and Brad went with Angelina Jolie, we turned on Angelina as “she took my friend’s husband away.” She was a “them.” Personalized. Team Angie/ Team Jennifer.
  • Tati Westbrook- now if we get swept in with the drama online, it’s not just being swept in by the celebrity, but also the products they endorse.
  • Girls tend to snap back or work it out. Boys are different. Sports figures are more like super heroes than celebrities. If they are spending all this time learning about the statistics related to a particular sports hero, they must be important to your child. Lance Armstrong- when you find out he was doping the whole time, it can be hard on a child. They’ve been betrayed.
  • When your child hears something negative about their favorite celebrity- don’t dismiss it. Listen.
  • Illusion of intimacy. When we feel that the person we are putting up on a pedestal is someone we know well. It’s an illusion. Have a conversation about this. “You can’t be into hero worship. Just because you are on this side, doesn’t mean that person is perfect. This is the problem we’ve gotten into politically. Everybody is flawed. Go back in history and let them know of the greatness and the flaws. You will find sometime in your life that you will also screw up somehow, and you know what? It’s okay. You can survive the screw-up. It’s not about avoiding the screw-up. Be ready for it.” A D on a test, a friend misreads a cue- hopefully on that small of a scale. Get older, consequences happen and are worse. “I know mommy and daddy seem perfect, but we make mistakes. I once forgot to call my Aunt on her birthday. I once got a D on a test.” Keep it age-appropriate.
  • What is it about the celebrity that you like?
  • “People screw up. Your favorite celebrity screws up. Mommy and Daddy screw up. You’ll screw up too. It’s part of being human. You just have to find a strategy to come back from it.”
  • Celebrities who turn their lives around- they do it publicly while we may do it privately. We can see their success and root them on.
  • Role-modeling positive relationship with celebrity culture
  • Tom Cruise talking about post-partum depression- you assume he knows what he talks about- thinking “better listen” because “he must know something.”
  • Sometimes celebrities are just people with a wacky idea who happens to have a bigger megaphone. And people believe them!
  • (1) Celebrity has access and person hears the issue for the first time through that celebrity.
  • (2) Celebrity has skin in game. They have personal experience with a medical issue- and they put it out that they have the solution (i.e. Jenny McCarthy) even though the medical community disagrees.
  • (3) Celebrity has a platform and can sell both the problem and the solution (Gwyneth Paltrow). She trots out experts and appears to have access to the info. None have MDs. But if you think about it, if she has the actual solution, wouldn’t she be partnering with the top experts in the world to get the life-saving information and solution out to the world? We need to help our kids understand that celebrities, in many cases, are here to make money.
  • Messages sent about body image-> educate your child. Show websites that reveal celebrities who have photoshopped their photo to make them look thinner, better, buffer, etc. See Chloe Kardashian- face tune and other apps to change how she looked in a photo. You have to provide the counterargument.
  • Influencer on YouTube- decided to show her real self. Show real people. Adele. Rebel Williams. Lena Dunham.
  • It’s not about being skinny or fat- be authentic to who you are. Be the healthiest version of you. Show images of celebrities that show the real and the fake.
  • If kids are only shown one thing, they don’t know the other side of it. Kids are going to consuming this information like crazy. They need the perspective of the other side. Kids don’t like to be duped- so give them the info! Arm them. This shows a high level of caring- and demonstrates how you feel about your kids.
  • IG: If you are posting something you are being paid for, you must put a hashtag #ad, etc.
  • Script- “Why is he asking you to buy this juice?…It sounds like an endorsement. Do you know what that means? This is the behind-the-scenes of what’s really happening.
  • Celebrities- using platform for something helpful. Let’s highlight that. (1) John Stewart: September 11th victim fund. Advocacy. People were owed money that they weren’t getting. Non-partisan. (2) Bob Barker. Spay or neuter your pet. (3) Kim Kardashian- hypocrite and advocate. Work on criminal justice reform. Doesn’t serve her. Why do this? She cares about criminal justice reform. She’s been instrumental in freeing people who should not be in prison or not be in prison as long as there have been. Helped get “First Step Act” get passed (job, home after prison) amazing stuff for someone who got famous from a sex tape.
  • Celebrities have an opportunity to influence- “if you are in a position where you have the ear of others, what do you really want to say? What do you want to be remembered for?”
  • “Also, people are into hero worship. But let’s remember, people are imperfect. People you love can disappoint you. You can love certain things about certain people, and not like certain things about the same people. (Story-> Kim Kardashian and the Armenian debacle).
  • The most important message or messages that we need to send to young people when it comes to celebrities is”that they are flawed and not perfect and most of them don’t deserve your love and attention more than the people in your real life.”
  • It’s really important to know how celebrities are communicating with your child.Treat these people the same way you would social media messages from the people in their school- they are only showing you bits and pieces from their best day.
  • It’s not real- it’s ‘celebrity real,’ Meaning, it’s highly crafted by marketing teams etc.
  • Anxiety can be fed when we see so many pictures of people living what looks like- their best life- where they are always happy. When your best friend posts the photo of her best day but not the day when she was depressed, you start to wonder, “why am I not always happy?”
  • Celebrities have glam squads and marketing teams. Demi Lovato- put a photo of her butt up on IG that she said is “big”, it’s “celebrity big.” Still crafted. 

Notable Quotables:

  • It used to be, when we were interested in a celebrity, we bought a magazine that they did an interview in or we watched them on David Letterman. Now, the celebrities are talking directly to your child through social media. The celebrity is talking right to you so you kind of feel like you know her. Because you feel like you know her, it gives you more of a bond to her. That bond means you are more likely to do what she does and do what she says.”
  • “You have to make sure that you are not just interested in your child’s social media in terms of who their friends are but also who their non-friends are. So much research shows that we know more people in the fake world than we do in the real world. [Researchers] find that kids know a lot more about the celebrities than they do about the girl who sits behind them in math class!”
  • “Make sure that the ‘fake friends’ in the ‘fake world’ [of social media] who are having an impact on your child, are also on your radar.”
  • When a celebrity scandal is unearthed, there is a betrayal of public trust as the person’s dysfunction is revealed.”
  • “We have to tell our kids; ‘People screw up. Your favorite celebrity screws up. Mommy and Daddy screw up. You’ll screw up too. It’s part of being human. You just have to find a strategy to come back from it.’”
  • Sometimes a celebrity is just a person with a wacky idea who happens to have a bigger megaphone.
  • “When a celebrity is asking you to buy something or do something, stop and say to yourself; ‘why? Why are they asking? Are they asking because they truly love this product, this show or this movie? Are they being paid? Are they in the movie? Understanding the why behind it is very important. Why is a celebrity asking us to buy, do, see or be anything?”
  • The most important message or messages that we need to send to young people when it comes to celebrities is…that they are flawed and not perfect and most of them don’t deserve your love and attention more than the people in your real life.