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.