Culture Challenge of the Week: Growing up with Miley?
Miley Cyrus, who became famous as the wholesome TV character "Hannah Montana," is growing up. So what's the fuss?
At least that's pop star Justin Timberlake's take on Miley's sexually explicit dance routine during the recent MTV Video Music Awards show. "I like Miley. I like her a lot. I think, you know, she's young. She's letting everyone know that she's growing up."
This from the guy whose "growing up" included ripping off the front of Janet Jackson's camisole/bra to reveal her bare boob to millions watching the Super Bowl 2004 halftime show. To those who drive popular culture, does "growing up" (aka, becoming more mature) really mean being naked or simulating sex in front of the world? Evidently so.
In the music world of MTV and all the other branches of industry that make money from it, that kind of behavior also passes for "just entertainment." But parents whose daughters idolized the young star as Hannah were heartbroken. Moms and dads are seeking someone — anyone — in the entertainment world to hold up as role models for their daughters. As Miley stripped down on stage to a nude, skin-tight bikini and endlessly used her hands and other objects to direct attention toward her crotch, she, once again, reminded parents of the selfishness and greed that drives much of the entertainment industry: "It's all about making a buck, our children and their futures be damned."
Miley's new image is purposeful. Her own mother was stage-side to show her support, and her manager declared afterward, "It could not have gone better."
Also, Miley's performance was not much different from what the music industry's stars, Lady Gaga and Madonna, do on a regular basis.
That is what makes Miley's crass, sexualized routine so sad: "Growing up," at least for today's youths, is being defined by "role models" as sexual exhibitionism and sexualized behavior. Without parental guidance, many youths are adopting the trend.
The trouble is, dressing that way, behaving that way, doesn't work so well in real life.
On the daily stage of life, teenage girls sext their boyfriends because, well, that's what sexy grown-ups do, right? Sixteen-year-old girls, "comfortable with their bodies" and feeling sophisticated, wear short shorts with their bottoms hanging out and cleavage-baring tops to school in the name of "personal style." Sexed classes tell youths to have sex when they are "ready" (instead of when they are married), marking sexual behavior as a "coming of age" thing instead of a deep personal expression of love and lifetime commitment. Our children learn instead that "growing up" means, "You have the right to remind us that you have sex, and that you like it."
So Miley is all grown up. She's also incredibly "successful" and making millions of dollars off of her irresponsible behavior. Miley's just another desperate "star," so caught up in her obsession with self, that she is willing to use our sons and daughters to line her pockets and further corrode American culture. Her tawdry sexual display was the talk of Twitter and the morning shows, and her new "brand" is garnering tons of attention around the world and a lot of cash.
How to save your family: Define 'maturity' and 'success'
Parents, don't let your children grow up to be Miley.
I know, you're probably not worried that your daughter's lip-syncing will bring the talent scouts knocking. But you should be worried that your sons and daughters will be vulnerable to the "Miley messages" about maturity and success.
Maturity doesn't mean the ability to do "adult" things; it's a reflection of becoming an adult "on the inside." Maturity requires the long-term view and prioritizes according to life's enduring realities. It depends on character traits that form the authentic foundation for adulthood: responsibility, respect, kindness, deliberation, prudence, honor and self-discipline.
What Miley doesn't realize is that "growing up" is not a function of age or exposure to adult things. Maturity is something acquired along the way, as we build character and orient our lives toward the things that last. That's why it's equally important that our children understand what real success looks like.
Success is not money, power, status — or having millions of fans. Success means living a good life, in light of eternal realities, and being the "best" at what God calls us to be as we strive to love God and people above all else.
•Rebecca Hagelin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.