Reflections

About the Justin Thing

When I heard on the news this morning that Justin Bieber had been arrested, I was glad.

I know that sounds terrible, but let me explain. In our culture, we are constantly elevating young people to ridiculous star statuses, putting them in positions for which their youth and inexperience leave them unprepared. Our own children grow up looking to these celebrity young people as sort of demigods. Idols. Role models.

And that has become normal. That’s not the way it should be. Children should be looking up to adults – not other children. But we place young people on pedestals simply because they have a talent or a gift….and we turn that gift into a curse by expecting more from them than we could reasonably expect from even ourselves. We place them under a microscope, criticizing every flaw…every misstep….every bad choice, while we remain at a safe distance in our living rooms, watching their every move while making poor decisions infinite times ourselves.

We reason, “Well, I’m not in the spotlight. They are. They should be more mindful about the way they act. They know people are watching. They chose that life.”

And while to some extent that may be true, we are the ones – with our insatiable desire to worship something – who have made celebrity status what it is.

We have turned role model into idol.
We have turned admiration into worship.
We have turned high standards into unattainable goals of perfection.
And it has to stop.

Every time we click our tongues disapprovingly at a young person in the news who has made a poor choice, we are condemning them for simply being human. That’s all they ever were, but we forget that behind that curtained stage….outside the bursts of flashbulbs…away from the red carpets and magazine spreads, they are mere children just trying to find their place in the world.

And meanwhile, back in our living rooms and grocery checkout lines? Our children are watching them. Our kids see it all, and they see as we set celebrities up for failure.

Because the Mileys and Lindsays and Katies and Justins of the celebrity world make poor choices. They do. They are young people. They aren’t that different from your child who mouthed off to you before school this morning, or who shoved the neighbors’ child in anger yesterday, or who refused to finish their homework last night. But we think they are different. We expect more from them because they’re famous. But let us not forget: we, largely, made them that way. We constructed the pedestals, and we hoisted them up onto those pedestals bit by bit. Kids who started out just like any of ours are suddenly supposed to be different. Infallible. Wise beyond their years.

And so often, we see their poor choices – like promiscuous behavior and drinking and use of drugs, which we made possible for them by placing them in those types of situations – go unpunished in the limelight. The pedestal gets even higher when they mess up, because then the magazines pay even more attention. There are even more images of late-night/early-morning drunken returns to hotel rooms. There are more interviews with slurred speech. There are more cameras following them to catch their stupor and cocky disrespect of rules.

And our kids see it all.

But when someone like Justin Bieber is arrested, I see it as an opportunity. Because that baby face that is plastered all over so many young girls’ bedroom walls? He has a mug shot now. He has a record. He is in trouble, just like our own kids would be if they made the same mistakes. He is taken into custody and words like “underage drinking” and “probation” and “indictment” begin being thrown around where just days earlier, no wrong could be done.

And thankfully, our kids see it all.

I want my daughter to see celebrities held accountable for their actions. I want her to see poor choices receive punishment and correction. I want her to know that because it happened to him – even to Justin, or whoever – it will also happen to her if she goes down that path one day.

It’s not helpful for us, the adults, to stand around saying what huge mistakes young celebrities are making. Our kids won’t pay attention to that. Our words and disapproval of scantily clad young women and vulgar language and overuse of alcohol won’t travel far into the conscience of our children. It has an influence, yes, but I think ultimately, witnessing consequences goes further than our words ever could.

Am I glad that Justin is in trouble? Absolutely not. I’m sad for him. I’m sad he made a mistake that landed him in this situation. I’m sad that our culture’s limitless appetite for celebrity made the fancy car and alcohol more readily available to him. I’m sad for his parents and family. I am. I don’t want us to condemn Justin or any other young celebrity for his mistakes. I don’t want to boycott him or forbid our kids from listening to him (not because of this, anyway). We need to model grace and pray for him. Despite any evidence to the contrary, we are still the mature adults here. I’m not glad he’s in trouble.no.

But I am thankful that someone who is larger than life, so to speak, is being held to the same standards as we would be. I’m thankful that we can see the rules applied across the board. (That is, of course, assuming his expensive attorney doesn’t pull strings to get him off the hook.)

And if we, in the checkout line, should see Justin’s mug shot on the front of a magazine, I will point it out to my daughter and use it as a teachable moment. That’s what this is, or should be, for all of us.

Let us learn from our own mistakes.
Let us accept the consequences of our actions.
And let us not condemn anyone else for their own poor choices.

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