Miley Cyrus: Role Model Ruined?

When 15 year old, Miley Cyrus showed up topless and coyly wrapped in what appears to be a satin bedsheet in the June issue of Vanity Fair, controversy broke out and opinions multiplied. It wasn’t so much about what was showing or whether or not the Annie Leibovitz photo could be considered art. But rather, it was the mature spirit of the photograph juxtaposed with the immature fan-base the tween icon who worships her every move. Disney, the parent company of the billion dollar Hannah Montana franchise aimed at tweens is reeling, Miley voiced embarrassment and apologies, and her spokesperson claimed manipulation. But the ones who are extremely concerned are the parents of young girls who look up to Miley as a role model.

Given that young girls like to dress up and act like their favorite stars, parents should be on alert. Developmentally speaking, tweens experiment. They’re trying on different identities and figuring out which ones feel right. In working out who they are, they copy those who they admire. So when teen singer, Avril Lavigne, wore a sleeveless T-shirt with a tie, girls showed up to school the next day having raided their Dad’s closet. Given Miley’s recent misjudgment (or perhaps the misstep of her parents, publicist, photographer, or host magazine?), no parent should be surprised if today’s tweens drop their favorite outfits and show up to playtime loosely wrapped in their Beauty and the Beast bedsheets as their best friend takes their best shot.

Where did all the role models go?

What makes up a tween/teen role model has changed dramatically over the last several decades. Kids used to look to public figures like Dr. Martin Luther King, President John F. Kennedy, or the squeaky clean Brady Bunch and Partridge Family for their inspiration. Then media took over. Everyone starlet seems to be growing up too soon, tying one on, or taking something off. Parents are contending with the likes of Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, and Eminem. The latter, who even quips in his lyrics;

I came to the club drunk with a fake ID
Don’t you wanna grow up to be just like me!
I’ve been with 10 women who got HIV
Now don’t you wanna grow up to be just like me!
I got genital warts and it burns when I pee
Don’t you wanna grow up to be just like me!

Teens and tweens are saturated with a large does of media garbage. The average American child spends 4-4 ½ hours a day exposed to TV, radio, video games, or the Internet. That means they’re spending the equivalent of a good part time job with questionable mentors.

Why it’s hard to trust:

We loved Lindsay Lohan as a freckle-faced charmer in Parent Trap. Britney Speaks was adorable in the Mickey Mouse Club. Barry Bonds had every boy’s heart in his hand as he got ready to break Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record. What happened to our kids’ role models? Either drugs, alcohol, DUIs, sex tapes, rehab, jail-time, psych wards, negative peer pressure, exposed body parts or a combination of a bunch of the above.

Parents and tweens are always selecting role models that seem wholesome, pure, and promising. We are seeking out people who exemplify the values we believe are important; respect, self-discipline, gratitude, and other powerful words by which we try to live. But the public is getting burned. It wouldn’t be surprising if parents are becoming suspicious and jaded. I think one parent said it best after a Hillary Duff concert;

“We thought she seemed really nice,” said Debbie Wright of Lexington. Wright had brought her two daughters, ages 9 and 13, to the show and waited for them on a couch in the parents lounge. She added, “Of course, we thought that of Britney Spears.”

When it comes to racy role model, Danica Patrick and her controversial decisions to expose (or overexpose?) herself or Kim Kardashian decides to pose for playboy, we know that, whether we think it’s a good decision or a bad one, and adult made the decision. It may make parents angry, but somehow, it’s different. These adults are allowed to do dumb things.

But tween role models aren’t allowed the same amount of space for slip-ups. Parents and tweens are watching their every move. They’re under 24/7 surveillance. They’re overexposed through TV, magazines, internet, texting, and every other media outlet that tells all. Miley’s Vanity Fair photos might only reveal her back, but parents see a Little Lolita. It may not be warranted. It may not even be fair. But they begin to wonder if it’s only the beginning of a series of bad judgments from the Hannah Montana star. After all, this is what they’ve gotten used to with the celebs who’ve come before her.

We know tweens and teens grow up. Celebrities grow up. But when our kids are copying their favorite star, parents are looking for consistency. Reliability. One hundred percent wholesome character. Anything else and the balance gets knocked around. The children have a few choices with regard to how to internalize the information:

(1) Go with the flow: Copy what their favorite role model is doing for good or bad. “What’s the big deal, Mom? Miley’s doing it…it must be cool, awesome, special, hot, daring…”

(2) Go against the flow: A harder endeavor. Make their role model the anti-role model and say “ta-ta” to their idol who deceived or disappointed them. “I never liked her anyway. Who does that? It’s so stupid, gross, dumb, raunchy…”

(3) Go into denial: Say it didn’t happen or it didn’t happen that way and keep on going in the same direction they always went, not changing a thing. “She was forced, tricked, pressured…she’d never do that if she knew what was really going on. Adults can be so disgusting. “The best of both worlds…oooohh, ooooohhh!”

So what’s doing to happen with girl-next door, wonder-girl, Smiley Miley? We have to wait and see how she handles it. Nobody’s perfect. Sometimes it’s not the mistake but how the celebrity deals with that mistake that provides the greatest lesson to teens and tweens.


Dr. Robyn was on Dr. Drew’s national radio show at 3:35 EST/12:35 PST today to talk about the Miley Cyrus situation; click here to listen to the interview


You can help too–Stay tuned tomorrow for 8 tips to help parents cope with controversial role models!

50 Responses

  1. I don’t think she’s innocent at all we need to stop putting these Disney stars on pedestals… look at Jamie-Lynn.

  2. I think all of this happened because her dad is a washed up country star and she’s his meal ticket. Nothing sells better than a controversy and they’ve certainly succeeded in this one. This will probably be one of the biggest selling issues of Vanity Fair. I think Billy Ray sees this as a way to push her in the direction of an adult star so that her career doesn’t fizzle like so many child stars.

  3. what was miley thinking? what were her parents(and she is a minor-they had to sign off on these photos) thinking? dollars signs clouding their vision? isn’t there a responsible adult anywhere in miley-world? in today’s world, where we have seen the over-exposure of the hiltons, the spears, the lohans, we have to hope that someone has the guts and know-how to right the good ship miley before it too becomes something we try to avoid our tweens emulating. so disappointing for all of us who try so hard to direct the focus of our kids to positive role models. thought we had a winner in miley-hannah…hope we still do.

  4. […] I could go on and on about this, but Dr. Robyn, our resident child development specialist, has done the hard work for me. To read her insights into this, click here. […]

  5. I usually don’t pay a lot of attention to this type of news. But this one really hit home. Not only am I a client of yours, I am also a parent of a young girl.

    I want her to grow up looking up to role models who will inspire her to be the best she can be. I am not sure that Miley Cyrus is the kind of role model I am thinking of. Dr. Robyn however… Now there is a role model!!!

  6. I’m a mother of a Tween girl, and every time the media reports something new about a child icon – I gulp wondering how do I explain this to my daughter? I sort of resent having to explain these more adult like issues before I would like to. I remember when Brittney changed her “look” to sexy – my daughter was young enough that she lost interest in her. Now Annie Liebowitz wants Mylie to be “all growed up”. And what girl would turn down the idea of being viewed as older and beautiful! Besides, with an artist coaching and suggesting artistic pictures….I’m sure it would have been hard to say, “No, world famous photographer, I refuse! Make me look plain and like a little kid!” Annie would be a hard person to say “no” to in the first place – I assume. I never had the honor! I once saw, on TV, the Queen of England almost acquiesce to Annie’s wishes for her to take off her crown. But the Queen, being the Queen of England, looked at her like, “Are you kidding me?” And she did not.

    I wish the idea of growing up wasn’t so tied to the idea of looking sexy. It’s hard to keep explaining these issues like teen pregnancy, and substance abuse to my daughter etc….before I would like to explain it – or before she can really understand it.

    On the other hand, we have to remember these stars are kids living out their childhood in front of everyone to judge every step. And for some reason, we expect – because of “who” they are – they should not only know better, but always do better. We almost consider them as our own special icon – as if every step they make is just for our children and our family. I like to remember they are all human and they make mistakes…. and so do we. Although, I like to pretend I’m practically perfect…it helps me ego!

  7. Oh my gosh, I completely agree. I was so upset when I saw those pictures. It was like, “Whoa. That’s depressing.” I don’t want to say it, but I think my role model has turned into a…well, you know. I’ll just say…one of THEM. The worst part was that I practically worshipped her. Now I feel stupid, especially since I was her biggest fan in the entire universe.

  8. As I understand it, “it was the father that left the girl with the photographer” and it appears, that he is the one who let the child down. Why wasn’t he there to say “NO?” He claims that Annie Libowitz is a person that no one can effectively say no to.


    He should have stepped up to the plate and protected his kid.

  9. I don’t think Miley should have done what she did but i am still her number 1 fan because we all make mistakes and have to learn from them and all these people that say that she is not the role model of thier life any more and then turn around and say i use to be her biggest fan ever well thats is a lie because if they were really her number 1 fan then they would stick with her even when she makes a mistake…. i’m going to stay with you Miley because we all have to go though temtations and sometimes we give in and i know thats what she did…. but i still think of her as a role model of my life…. Miley- you are in my thoughts and prayers… Still (and always we be) your number one fan~ Katrina

  10. The doctor made the suggestion that kids used to have role models like Dr. King. One did not have to pay scalper’s ticket prices to see Dr. King or to emulate his statements. When I was a girl I had some literary heroes and some real-life heroes and my interst in tehm did not require me to buy a top with their picture on it. Parents have let this happen by not being parents and focusing on the bucks. the Cyrus family also is focusing on the bucks and while this girl (who seems tp be emulating Lyndsy Lohan aping Marilyn Monrow who , we must remember, had an unhappy life with a bad end) may wind up with consolatory money she will look back on this and feel exploited. Do we want to exploit our own daughters by giving them these tarted up children as role models? the economy isn’t that great right now – let it be a good example to say “no”. Forget how “cute” these tartlets are when they are being merchandised as such – it is all advertising. Keep your money in your pocket and hang onto your kids

  11. I asked my 11 year old daughter what was the difference between Miley Syrus and Hannah Montana and she said they each sing different types of songs. I don’t get why Miley or her dad would want to add another “side” to her personality. My daughter watches Hannah Montana, but I don’t let her read the “hype” surrounding Miley Syrus. Also, my daughter would not be interested in Vanity Fair. I think Billy Ray Sirus wanted the Vanity Fair readership for himself and used his daughter to get himself some copy.

    At 11, my daughter views Syrus as a Disney character. When Jamie Lynn Spears became pregnant and left Zoe 101, my daughter wondered who would be the next Zoe?
    I’m surprised at some of the posts on other blogs that label parents “right-wing morality police” if they objected to this photo. As a parent, I control the “media feed” in my house– I can turn off the TV and computer when I want to.

    As a child I had all kinds of role models: my parents, my music teacher, etc, as well as a few Tiger Beat crushes like David Cassidy and The Fonz. (I’m 44!) I never knew that David Cassidy used drugs, but back then the agents tried to hide the more unsavory details of a star’s life. Anything goes now, it seems, and it’s really up to me to wade through it all with my family.


  12. Thank you, PJ, very well said. You do control the media feed that goes into your household. As many of you pointed out, parents need to be in control; Miley’s included.

    What we sometimes wonder about, is what information is seeping in when your not around– at school, at the park, or at your child’s extracurricular activities. In this case, parents need to be ready to talk if their child is broaching some uncomfortable topics.

    Your point about Zoe 101 is a great one and goes along with the theory I expressed on the Dr. Drew show today;

    When families of tweens or teens adopt someone like Miley, they are adopting what they believe to be, or want to be, a stagnant, unchanging symbol, Miley might represent a symbol of fun, innocence, or joy for many tweens.

    Sometimes tweens grow out of these role models or symbols and other times, the symbol morphs and it’s left for the tween to wonder what’s going to happen next. They still need that symbol– so they get a replacement (as your child was saying with regard to Zoe 101). However, some tweens might get angry about the change and others might still chase the dream that everything will go back to being the same– since that is what is comfortable for them.

    People wonder why the Miley situation can be jarring for a young girl. They ask, is it really such a big deal? For some, no. But for others, yes. We have to understand that for young girls who look up to Miley, they are relying on Miley to stay the same UNTIL THE TWEENS ARE READY FOR THE CHANGE. That’s not reality, of course. Life waits for no one.

    As parents, it’s up to us to help teens refrain from putting all their eggs in one basket. We must find other role models for our daughters and sons who are more consistent and are less likely to get swept up into a media storm. The best role model might be right in our community or staring back at us when we look in the mirror.

    Thanks for the great note, PJ– and to all of you. You have made some amazing points so far today and yesterday. What a great group!

    Dr. Robyn

  13. Miley doesn’t need people sticking by her and insulting her biggest fan, Katrina. What she needs is someone to tell her, “STOP IT! YOU’RE THROWING EVERYTHING AWAY!” She does not need people who say, “Who cares, it’s just a temptation.” She needs people to believe in her and want her to get through this. I believe she can get through it, and when she does, I’ll be more than happy to regain my place as her number one fan. However, Katrina, if she does anything like this again, you are welcome to take my place, because I don’t want to look up to people who let me down again and again.

  14. Hey Katrina, sorry about the note I just posted…I read your comment and it pissed me off cuz basically you were saying that I wasn’t her biggest fan, and you were. It made me really mad, because I’ve been her biggest fan for three years, ever since I saw the first episode of Hannah Montana. So it really dissapointed me when I saw the Vanity Fair pics. Sorry if my note offended you. Sometimes I get a little carried away. I just read it and I was like, “That was kinda harsh…”
    But I meant what I said throughout everything else. I really do think she needs a wake-up call. And I really do think that if she does something bad again, I’m done with her.

  15. But, uh…I gotta say…your post was really insulting…

  16. Just another comment on controlling the media – that is easy enough, but you can’t control what kids say to each other at school. They will talk about it, and I want to be some where in the lead to answer questions in the most emotionally healthy way.

    Girls don’t fight about being fans of hers. One of you seems to be more dissappointed and let down than the other. That doesn’t mean either of you like her less – rest assured – you both like her a lot!


  17. Thanks maryrobb64

  18. […] one of the comments said in response to my April 28th Miley article: In today’s world, where we’ve seen the over-exposure of the Hiltons, the Spears, the […]

  19. It don’t matter who you are you should look at her for what she did but for who she is. She said it her self “nobody’s perfect” if you don’t know that song then you shouldn’t be talk about her!

  20. Annie Libowitz is one of the the best I see only beauty in this picture it is art sometimes people need to stop all the bull…… role model????? what really is a role model shame on all the parents for letting their little girls scream and cry over a disney figure and parents who pay hundreds of dollars for tickets to this show . I would worry more about what your little girl is thinking, what are her dreams. shut off the TV , walk away from the tabloids do not buy all the hannah stuff hold your little girls hand and walk with herand talk about what is important to you and your daughter.

  21. Thank-you, Sandi. Annie Leibowitz is indeed talented. There is no dispute there. You are also correct in requesting that parents help their children refocus their energies on what’s really important. We need to ensure that we expose our children to positive “real” role models who are not role models simply because they’re in the public eye, but because of their strength of character, their positive example, and their inspiring message. While those in the public eye certainly can be these inspiring people– we can often find the best role models right there in our communities, among our neighbors, and even within our families. When we provide exposure to such role models, everyone benefits– character is strengthened, and the best can be brought our in ourselves and others.

    Warm regards,
    Dr. Robyn

  22. All I can say is “shame on you Billy Ray!!” You are the parent, she is the child. It’s disgusting. If he had thought past the edge of his nose and his wallet, he would thought about all the child pornography crazed idiots out there with this magazine in the basements and bathrooms all over the world looking at these photos and well…. you get the picture of what else they would be doing!!! My daughter is 15 and I would never have allowed this to happen. It’s not ok to give your daughter that much freedom at that age. She is not fully mature enough to know what the consquences of this will be!! Shame, shame on you Billy Ray!!! One disgusted Mother!

  23. […] pop-stars and celebrities dressed provocatively or […]

  24. […] On the one hand you have the hypersexualization of women and girls in music videos,  magazines, internet games and advertisements,  and on the other hand you have the classics we all used to […]

  25. Can I just say that this is ridiculous? Quit blaming stuff on the stars when PARENTS need to filter what their children see and learn about. I understand that they could see it at school but that isn’t the fault of Miley or Eminem. If parents don’t like his music, don’t allow them to buy it. This also goes for the violent video games. You have to ok it for them if they are under 17 and it’s rated M. if they get one then go to the store and bitch them out. I’m just sick and tired of hearing about everyone being disappointed in all these stars. it’s called freedom of speech for the music first off and they can say whatever they want whether or not parents like it! and i certainly wouldn’t let my child take pictures like miley did but her parents were there and okayed it so therefore, she was doing what the director of the photo shoot said and her parents made her think it was ok. it’s not even that bad of a picture! i think we need to be a little bit more open minded and parents should help filter what their child hears, sees and learns about. you can’t always stop it but that’s life. your children are going to be exposed to MUCH worse than a silly picture of a girl i promise. worry about sex and drugs and drinking and driving instead of wasting your time on this.

  26. […] who are trying to protect their youngsters from seeing too much, considering the recent Miley Cyrus exposure and other young stars who are becoming less predictable and more out of control. Not to […]

  27. […] who are trying to protect their youngsters from seeing too much, considering the recent Miley Cyrus exposure and other young stars who are becoming less predictable and more out of control. Not to […]

  28. She’s a freak period…

  29. […] shoes. And Disney encourages it, as does Barbie with her very fashionable accessories – which Hannah Montana and Ashley Tisdale promote. Most girls’ pants cannot be purchased with a normal waist line – […]

  30. […] celebrities really need to take heed, don’t you think? I mean, look what happened when Miley Cyrus did one ridiculous thing– the world stopped for 3 days! If you take a look at the comment […]

  31. I would just like to say that I am extremely tired of Miley and I think that she is a bad role model for young girls.

  32. Thanks for coming by, Pat. I think many people are eager for some new role models for our young people! What kinds of characteristics are you hoping our girls will adopt?

    Dr. Robyn

  33. […] Between those in charge on Wall Street and those in charge in Washington, our adults are more like anti- role models than positive ones.  We’ve been busy pointing fingers at our teen starlets and the bad […]

  34. […] and are often crushed when things don’t go as expected. The world seemed to stop cold when Miley Cyrus posed for Vanity Fair in April. She was the real life Disney princess—the everydaughter—the […]

  35. Miley honey know that your photos are “ a little different but “ you and a very smart girl knows what you do, and what seems at least, I very adimiro you, and I loved the video that you imitated the Selena and demi Lovato! much made me laugh … but a day can be sure that you will know I am a fa his, not the number one, because Clearly the family are your number one big hug, I’m from Brazil

  36. […] and then they show you that, no, they’re just as young as their age tells you they are.  Miley, for instance, was on the Ellen Degeneres show, giggles like a…well, school girl when asked […]

  37. […] role models for our daughters.  Parents are continually frustrated by the celebrities out there. Miley Cyrus. Lindsay Lohan. Selma Blair.  Ali Lohan. Yes, some are just being young, carefree and “teenagery” […]

  38. […] role models for our daughters.  Parents are continually frustrated by the celebrities out there. Miley Cyrus. Lindsay Lohan. Selma Blair.  Ali Lohan. Yes, some are just being young, carefree and “teenagery” while others […]

  39. […] good and bad.  I always get refocused on the girls who look to Jessica Simpson and other celebs (Miley Cyrus, the Lohan girls, PussyCat Dolls) for inspiration.  What goes on in the minds of girls when they […]

  40. […] “streetwalker,” and a Lindsey Lohan Look-a-like.  Was she being stripped down like Miley Cyrus? There was worry that she could compromise body image, threaten her ability to empower our powerful […]

  41. […] help but wonder if Dora was becoming the new Diva– the new Bratz, or the new Lindsey Lohan or Miley Cyrus Look-a-like. There was worry that she could compromise body image, threaten her ability to empower […]

  42. I think it is a beautiful picture, not at all lacking in taste.

  43. Ok Miley Cyrus maybe a little too young to understand this but being a celebrity is not all about money,fame, fashion and getting your hair done whenever you want.
    If you want to be a celebrity you should try to be perfect, i know it sounds crazy but that’s the cost of being a celeb. She KNOWS that young girls look up to her and i still consider those pics a little too provocative(even i’m 15 and make sure that i’m all covered up in public). Therefore posing for them is a BIG MISTAKE.
    Someone said parents should control what their kids should see and hear but that would seem impossible with the media at every inch of this world. It really is time parents start paying more attention to whom they consider their role model. I mean my parents don’t even know who miley is and if they did they’ll ban me from the net.

    I look up to girls that are ‘tough’ and not too girly and not afraid to be themselves like the old avril lavigne. Yes she has changed and i used to loathe her for being a party animal but her music esp. complicated, when you’re gone, slipped away and innocence had a big impact on my musical interests. She has real talent and her lyrics are just amazing with the exception of girlfriend of course!

    It’s important for parents (of girls esp) to start acting when they’re young and innocent. First of all parents are a child’s primary influence and i personally think that controlling the type of toys would really help.
    Though crazy it might seem girls shouldn’t be adorned with so many teddy bears, dolls, pink stuffed animals. This makes their personality ‘too girly’ and this is what makes them think it’s ok to look up to britney, miley(hate her!), lindsay lohan and you name it……..

    As a baby my parents never adorned me with more than about 20 toys. They bought me very few dolls (only about 4) and more towards animals. As a result today at 15, i hate pink, i don’t like the conventional boyfriend gossip, i don’t act like dadda’s lil princess. Instead i’ve taught myself to look more towards reality….like world issues (my dad encouraged me at a very young age to watch news) and no this doesn’t mean forcing cnn down kids’ throats, i mean let them step outside of confinement and look at what they’re surrounded with………..let them sympathize with the poor, needy . This will automatically have a big impact on their personality and in no time their taste of music will change from pussy cat dolls to u2.

    I know this may sound nerdy but nerdy is better than…….you-know-what…….

  44. […] thing or two?  Here is one teen perspective from a 15 year old girl– still stinging from the Miley Cyrus debacle (radio interview here) last year along with other overexposed celebs. Ok Miley Cyrus and all […]

  45. […] On the one hand you have the hypersexualization of women and girls in music videos, magazines, internet games and advertisements, and on the other hand you have the classics we all used to […]

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