Guest post contributed by Stacey Ross of San Diego Bargain Mama.
How to Tweek the Twerk Talk with Teens
Chances are, that if you are like me, you will just never look at the foam finger the same again! For some, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth, and for others, a chuckle to get through the day. Parents are funny that way, since certain controversial topics hit us differently. Miley Cyrus’s sexually-charged performance during the 2013 MTV Music Awards, in which she sang and performed with Robin Thicke, have brought on reactions that range anywhere from accusing Miley’s behavior to defending her methods of “organically” portraying her transition to adulthood as an artist. Any way you slice it, she has done a great job of stripping from our minds any notion that she is trying to portray a celebrity that families would embrace as their kids’ role model.
And for the young audience who caught a glimpse or more?
The mom and former teen counselor in me is at best pleased that the event paved the way towards conversing about the role that pop culture plays in our daily lives and how we, as parents and educators, are most effective in either avoiding or discussing the Twerk topic with our tweens, teens, and young adults — and the extent we wish to shield them from some of the influences that our showbiz world both reflects and projects.
Miley says we all have given this way more thought than she has, and that does not surprise me, as we as parents are the ones having to raise well-adjusted kids and give them the type childhood that she openly shares she regrets not having experienced. However, someone has to give it some thought, right? Entertainers, regardless of the range of work they put out there, are not to be relied upon to look after the best interest of even the age level they market to!
In a Facebook discussion regarding the matter, an online colleague shared that she does not think that Thicke had any responsibility to look after Miley’s reputation, and I replied that he does no more than she does in looking out for her original fans. Nope, the burden lies on parents to put into perspective the “relationship” our kids have with their pop star celebrities, regardless of how inspirational they are at the time.
It requires us, as parents, to be a little more on our toes (I have already assigned myself to be the Twerk Patrol for my kid’s upcoming tween-age dance). So, the question at hand that I wish to pose is:
What should we say to our kids and how should we react?
Initiating this prickly topic with young people (age-appropriate, of course!) in a neutral way is an ideal approach that leads them into a rich engagement vs. the impact that our beginning with an angry or preachy approach would accomplish. I suggest sharing something like this:
“Miley is appearing to portray a very strong rebellious nature lately and seems to be no longer trying to be a role model for the young people that grew up as her fans. Or is she? What are your thoughts?”
This approach allows us to hear from our kids what is on their minds before we as parents open the floodgates. I suggest listening to kids first-of-all, then if appropriate, throw in a few questions and see if we don’t hear some things that don’t make us proud to be their parents! Their responses will be quite telling, and then we as parents can help gauge where they are and reflect how much we can bite our tongues and be good listeners (a toughie for some).
The following are a variety of probing (book club-style) questions that I suggest posing to older kids if and when the conversation warrants:
- Do you find twerking appropriate for your age group or any age group? When might ever it be an appropriate art form?
- What type of message do you get when you see images of the past MTV Awards?
- Do you read the lyrics to songs that you listen to and consider how it can impact or influence young adults? Have you read the lyrics to Miley and Thicke’s top hits? What do you think about them?
- Do you see double standards in the industry? If it had been Madonna with Justin Beiber rubbing on her and using the foam finger to make equivalent suggestive gestures would that set a different tone or message? Why?
- Do the messages you see and hear in pop culture, in your opinion, disproportionately appear to degrade women, minorities, etc. or do you just consider certain things good or poor choices? Give examples.
- Do you find the content that you saw appropriate for any audience? Why or why not?
I find that conversations run so much deeper when we can feel out the core values of young people without having to impose our opinions (at least initially). Once we hear our kids out, without piping in with our reactions and judgments, we can then determine how we are going to have the greatest impact and how we are going to respond to their thoughts and/or wisdom.
Sometimes we just need to walk through tough topics by having kids reflect on things without our constant direction, and when the time comes to piggy-back on their pearls of wisdom, we might just find that they will have done the work for us. At least some of it!
Stacey Ross is an online consultant, social media enthusiast, freelancer and owner of SanDiegoBargainMama.com. A former teacher and middle school counselor, she is now a mom of two who researches and freelances about lifestyle topics involving family and well-being.