Chris Brown and Michael Phelps — What Do We Tell Kids?

Posted on February 9, 2009 at 3:42 pm

This has been something of a bad boy week. A-Rod confessed to steroid use. “Dark Knight” star Christian Bale was taped when he erupted into a furious and very profane rage at a technician on his set. A photograph of Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps puffing marijuana at a party was published in England. And assault allegations against pop star Chris Brown have already led to suspension of his ad campaign with Wrigley, though so far no charges have been filed.
This is particularly troubling in the case of Phelps (age 23) and Brown (age 19) because they have been role models for many young fans who may be disappointed and confused. It is a good chance for a family discussion of consequences — reputational and financial — for foolish choices. The Phelps photograph was apparently taken with a cell phone. Parents must make it clear to teenagers that in a world of omnipresent capacity for taking pictures and videos and instantly making them available via the internet, even if the subject is not a celebrity. Even these very young performers have devoted a great deal of time to building careers that rest as much on their reputations for honesty, dedication, and professionalism as on their talent. A momentary bad judgment has put all of that at risk. When our generation was in school, a threat was having some infraction on our “permanent record.” In today’s world, everything goes on the permanent record. Even a photograph removed from Facebook or Myspace lives on forever, to be accessed by potential employers, admissions directors, and friends. This is a good time to talk with them about the choices they make in posting photographs of others as well as those taken of them.
It is also a good time to talk about apologies. Bale said nothing for four days and then impulsively called into a radio station that had been making fun of him. While he apologized unreservedly, he said “I regret it. I ask everybody to sit down and ask themselves if they have ever had a bad day and lost their temper and really regretted it immensely.” That “bad day” reference sounds too much like an excuse; I guarantee the person who was having the bad day in that situation was the technician on the other end of the tirade. A-Rod tried the same “different era” excuse that Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain used to explain his $1.2 million office decorating expenses.
Phelps’ apology was prompt and unequivocal. He is suspended for three months from competing but his endorsement contracts seem to be staying with him. Brown has not yet made a statement. This is a good opportunity to talk to kids about what people do to acknowledge and rectify mistakes and about how loyal friends and fans can still support people even if they’re not perfect. And it is a good opportunity to let them know that however they feel — disappointed or supportive or both — that is legitimate and understandable.

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16 Replies to “Chris Brown and Michael Phelps — What Do We Tell Kids?”

  1. its amazing why Phelps did that.I did not understand what Chris Brown did so if anyone did please contact me

  2. Hey sahak :@) details are still sketchy regarding exactly what happened between chris brown & rihanna, but i suggest you google ‘chris brown assault’ & you’ll get a ton of results … Its so shocking to me cause he looks like the sweetest guy, guess you never can tell though. Im not jumping to any conclusions though, innocent until proven guilty!!!

  3. I don’t think Michael Phelps taking a bong hit is something to apologize about. Are we going to make him apologize every time he has a glass of wine as well?

  4. Breaking the law is something to apologize for. And endorsement contracts can be canceled for any activity that impairs reputation, whether legal or not.

  5. Equating someone smoking pot and someone beating their girlfriend is absurd. The writer of this article is lives in narnia if they really put these two incidents near each other, regardless of ‘explaining to the kids’

  6. Maybe you should tell your kids not to worship celebs, eh maybe. False idols. Grow up America.

  7. I’m not sure what you mean by “equating,” Laura. The other examples that I “put near each other” in the post include a profanity-filled tirade, a million-dollar office redecoration, and the use of steroids, quite a wide range of embarrassing revelations. While the drug use and alleged assault are very different in some ways, both are against the law and both have reputational and financial consequences.

  8. Thanks for the comment, anonymous, but the point I am making is that one of the challenges everyone faces is learning how to determine who is worthy of our respect and that is something parents must talk about with children, who are still in the midst of “growing up.”

  9. well i think they have all made a big mistake.but hey its two different problems and i think with phelps he is just too absurd and with cb i think he should know when to act and when to walk away.well to all kids i think every kid knows rong and right and knows what to learn from role models and what not to.and we all have parents to guide hey let the celebrities do what they know how to do and lets hope they do all the good things.after all they re human.

  10. I am not sure what you mean by that, Someone. Are you saying a role model has to be perfect? If that’s true, there never has been a role model in any time or society.
    I think role models can help show us how to deal with mistakes and setbacks. And I think it is very important for all of us to understand that even the people we look up to most are no closer to perfection than anyone else.
    So, I think that today’s society has a lot of role models.

  11. I think the fundamental problem is the all encompassing way that we (society) desire to view a “role model,” which requires that anyone who would wear this title be perfect in every way — which of course IS (and always has been) impossible… Rather, a more rational idea is to have many role models and look to each for it’s enviable qualities ONLY — resisting the urge to fit any one preson for Jesus’s robe.

  12. I hope that we remember that although these people are public figures, they are human beings who are not perfect, that need to be given the opportunity to say they are sorry and we need to accept their apologies, it’s not as if we ALL have not made terrible mistakes ourselfs, except that our mistakes were not made in the spotlight.When asked what to say to your children, I say, tell them just that, they made a mistake and we need to say a prayer that they come out of this with more awareness and knowledge, so that we forgive them and they can forgive themselves.

  13. Who cares about Michael Phelps? Chris Brown is the bad influence for your kids. What do you tell your kids when you bring out wine and whiskey at a family party? You tell them it’s for adults. Same with Phelps. Chris Brown’s violence is an entirely different thing and shouldn’t be in the same category.

  14. Michael Phelps was not drinking wine or whiskey. He was breaking the law. He may go to jail. So I hope parents tell their kids more than “it’s for adults” when they talk about drugs, Truth and Logic. And I included a range of behavior in the “category” covered by the post, some against the law and some not — all having in common that they provoked or required apology. So I don’t think it’s “an entirely different thing.”

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