Little Girls Lost – No Fairy Tale For Disney Princesses

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Demi Lovato in concert, Image: CC by karina y via Flickr

As the mother of a tween I know more than I ever wanted to about every Disney Channel and Nickelodeon teen star on the planet. I know who’s been in what movie or TV show, if they have a new album, what their unique fashion style is, if they’ve highlighted their hair recently, and of course, who is dating whom in the Hollywood social scene of young stars.

Demi Lovato happens to be one of my daughter’s favorites. As a brown-eyed brunette like Demi, my daughter directly identified with her realistic yet adorable physical image, but also her spunky, creative, and friendly attitude. Where other Disney stars’ personas seem to revolve around snappy comebacks and snark, most of Demi’s characters projected a team player attitude, set off by good humor and humility.

Tweens everywhere cheered for Demi when she announced she was dating Joe Jonas at the beginning of 2010, and they were devastated with her when the young relationship fell apart. I remember my daughter remarking at the time that she “knew it wouldn’t last.”

Indeed Joe Jonas has, in a relatively short amount of time, developed quite the reputation for himself as a breaker of young women’s hearts. Taylor Swift had rather choice things to say about the way in which she found out that they were over. Rumors of his breakup with Demi suggest a young man who has trouble ending relationships as smoothly as he’s entered them. (Don’t we all?)

Certainly his decision to invite his new girlfriend, Ashley Greene (Alice in the Twilight Movies) on tour with his brothers and Demi Lovato seems ill advised. If the new flame’s presence on the tour contributed to Demi’s breakdown, and subsequent decision to seek treatment for emotional and physical issues, we can’t know for sure. But I suspect, it certainly didn’t help. What adult could handle such a sticky situation perfectly? Let alone a young woman who’s been working, supporting her family, and in the public eye since the age of seven?

None of us can know the truth of what really goes on in the lives of these young people. I remind my daughter of that every time we sit down to discuss the latest sordid personal tragedy of a young Hollywood star. Unfortunately in the past few years, we’ve had quite a few of these conversations. Between Lindsay’s troubles, Britney’s meltdown, her younger sister Jamie Lynn’s pregnancy, Vanessa Hudgens‘ nude photo scandal and others, I’m getting rather sick of having these conversations. I’m not the type to forbid my daughter from television or media access.

I’m not offended or overly concerned about my daughter’s knowledge of these situations. In fact they’ve led to many healthy and informative discussions. Rather I’m sick of having these conversations because I’m scared for these young women. My heart breaks for them. And I’m sick of the silence and the lack of responsibility on the part of the companies and individuals profiting from these talented young people.

I realize that it’s easy to sit here in front of my computer and comment on a situation that I’m no part of, and have no real information about. But I’m going to do it anyway. Because there are some absolute truths in the world. Raising children is hard. Raising creative, artistic children can be especially challenging. You must temper your pride at their achievements and their passion to perform with realistic expectations. Greed and vanity have no place in parenting.

If I were to let her, my daughter — a natural performer since the age of two — would be on the next plane to Hollywood in two seconds. She’d show up bright-eyed and shiny at the Disney offices ready to try out as the next Disney star. I will never allow it. Why? Because she deserves a childhood. She does not need to bear the burden of such extreme failures and successes at such a young age. It is not her job to support our family; it is ours, her parents. It is not her job to raise herself. It is our job, the adults who run her life, to guide her on the path to healthy adulthood.

These children, like Demi and Lindsay and the rest, are being failed by the parents and the adults who run their lives.

According to reports, Demi Lovato went for treatment in part due to an addiction to cutting herself. Two years ago she showed up in several highly publicized photographs with cut marks on her arms. At the time her publicist said the marks were from Silly Bandz. What a load of baloney. Any parent of a tween girl who wears those bracelets knows they leave no such marks on you.

My daughter asked me how on earth anyone could not have noticed these cut marks on Demi’s arm, and not be horrified and deeply concerned. How indeed! Clearly this situation has been going on for sometime. And clearly for whatever reason, the adults around Demi Lovato have let her down. Part of that team is her employer. And as much as they might want to deflect blame on the parents, the agents, the publicists, they still have a responsibility to this young woman. They have a responsibility to all the young people they work with, and to all the young people to which their product is marketed.

Can these networks that that have worked so hard to promote the idea of tweens and teens as just younger, hipper versions of adults, actually take some responsibility for the situation they’ve created? I think they can. And I think they can make it better. If they want to.

This won’t be a popular opinion in the accounting offices of major children’s networks, but here’s a thought: why not cut back on the programming some? Does every young star have to be in a dozen movies, a TV show, cut an album, go on tour, and record regular promo spots for these networks? Not to mention all while being hounded by the media. How about putting some real focus on the mental health of these kids. Can we establish an independent evaluation system to monitor their emotional well being? Can we make it a federal crime for paparazzi or media outlets to invade the privacy of a minor?

And here’s another thing. Can we have a little transparency with our audience? Let me tell you, my daughter and her friends know all about the latest rumors and scandals, and they wonder why Disney doesn’t do something about it. They aren’t looking to Disney to punish anyone, but rather to step up, in a real way, and take an active role as the guiding star of good, and yes, morality, that Disney has put itself in the position to be. It’s a role that they embrace when it serves them, but shrink away from when the reality of child stardom gets a bit too dark and becomes a potential liability.

Disney has come out and said they support Demi and her decision. That’s great. Good for them for saying they support a young woman’s decision to seek help to stop cutting herself. How about a little more? I’d love to see Disney actually confront these issues in a series of specials on their channel. I’d let my daughter tune in to a program that talked about why high school girls shouldn’t take nude photos of themselves and email them to their boyfriends. I’d love to see them talk about the real pressures of working as a child star, and address the rumors of bullying and grudges between the cast members. I’d like to see them talk about body issues, anorexia and bulimia. I’d love to see them explain what cutting is, and why you shouldn’t do it, and why if you do, you should seek help.

But maybe Disney thinks these issues are too heavy, too intense, too grown up, for their demographic to deal with. If that’s the case then I say to Disney – Yeah, exactly.

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