- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 7, 2007

I honestly thought my fifth-grader hadn’t heard about the naked photos. I certainly didn’t mention them to her, and she never came to me to ask about them. After a couple of weeks, I believed — much to my relief — that the “photo incident” had passed, drifting over Amy’s head, where it couldn’t spoil her innocent perception of reality.

I should have known better.

Fifth-graders talk, after all, and the news of nude photos of Vanessa Hudgens, star of Disney’s “High School Musical” (I and II) ran rampantly across the playground and through the lunchroom, apparently within days of the media reports back in early September.

This is why I am surprised to discover nearly a month later that Amy knows all about Vanessa’s “lapse in judgment” (the phrase Disney coined to describe her actions). Here’s how I find out:

Amy: “Boys don’t get celebrity crushes, do they?”

Me: “I don’t know about that. Your brother seems to think Vanessa Hudgens is pretty. Though I don’t know if he has a crush on her, exactly.”

Amy: “Well, that was before the ‘photo incident.’ ” She makes quotation marks in the air with her fingers. “Now that he knows about it, maybe he won’t think too highly of her.”

At about this point, I can feel my eyes darting around my van as I drive home from school, thoughts bouncing through my mind such as: “How does she know about the ‘photo incident’? What does she know about the ‘photo incident’? Why is there always a stinking ‘photo incident’? ”

Of course, when a parent is confronted with the realization that her nearly 10-year-old child can casually discuss the revelation of nude photos on the Internet of one of her favorite child stars, you can’t just let the moment slide without comment.

Or can you? I consider this strategy but decide it’s the coward’s way out. There’s nothing to do but dive into the murky waters of unseemly celebrity behavior.

“Well, this is probably something we should talk about,” I say. But here’s the parenting quandary: Do I use this teachable moment to address the moral issue of nude modeling? Do I delve into the religious concept of the body as a temple of the Lord? Do I highlight the irrevocable damage to one’s reputation when compromising photos float through cyberspace, displaying private parts and intimate moments?

There’s no time to formulate a lesson plan, per se, so I pipe up with a knee-jerk, pragmatic consideration:

“In case I’ve never mentioned this, if you’re ever in the altogether and there’s a camera around, the only picture you should let someone take is one of your bare behind running in the other direction.”

“Mo-there,” Amy says. “Like I would ever get undressed in a room where someone was taking pictures.” Thankfully she can’t imagine a scenario in which nude photos are the result of “modeling.” Vanessa’s “incident” apparently hasn’t spoiled Amy entirely.

But still. Somehow the whole “High School Musical” phenomenon has been spoiled for me. What previously seemed like a wholesome, innocuous TV musical just reminds me that Hollywood makes buckets o’ money by playing pretend for the cameras.

Clearly, Vanessa was just pretending to be a sweet yet principled high schooler, getting the lead in the spring drama production and landing a summer job at a country club. In real life, she’s a bit more … um … worldly.

My teachable moment comes and goes, and just as well. I’m left with that stunned, sad feeling we get when we’re faced — once again — with moral corruption so commonplace that a fifth-grader isn’t particularly shocked to learn that a favorite celebrity has posed in the buff.

I’m not sure whether to shake my head at the “photo incident” or my daughter’s casual awareness that it happened in the first place.

Either way, my head’s shaking; that’s for sure.

Columnist Marybeth Hicks, a wife of 20 years and mother of four children, lives in the Midwest. She is the author of “The Perfect World Inside My Minivan One Mom’s Journey Through the Streets of Suburbia,” a compilation of her columns. She uses her column to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families nationwide. Visit her Web site (www.marybethhicks.com) or send e-mail to marybeth. hicks@comcast.net.

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