Hardik Pandya’s Debacle: How Celebrity Influence Can Harm Our Teens

Hardik Pandya’s recent comments on women can be termed irresponsible and insensitive. In this age of celebrity role models, how can we ensure our teens don't fall prey to such unhealthy influences?

By Ashwin Lobo

Hardik Pandya’s Debacle: How Celebrity Influence Can Harm Our Teens

Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul are usually in the news for their exploits on the cricket pitch. However, this time, they are making headlines for all the wrong reasons.

During a chat show aired on a television channel, Hardik Pandya made some insensitive and controversial comments about women. 

The distasteful remarks did not go unnoticed. While the Committee of Administrators at the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) issued him a show cause notice, Twitterati too were unforgiving in their criticism.

Although Pandya has since apologised, the question that remains unanswered is, "Is there a teen somewhere who has been so impressed by the cricketer that he is planning to follow in his idol's footsteps?"

It’s no secret that many children look up to celebrities, especially young sportsmen like Hardik Pandya, for inspiration. So, celebrities need to be careful about what they say or do in public. And, when they aren’t, teens who 'follow' them on social media, are influenced by them. In time, such vulnerable youngsters can develop unhealthy attitudes or worse, have skewed perceptions about the opposite gender.

Hence, we caught up with Arundhati Swamy, a child psychologist and Head, Parent Engagement Programmes, ParentCircle, to understand why teens look up to celebrities as role models. She also threw light on what parents can do to prevent their teens from being negatively influenced by celebrity behaviour.

Why are teens particularly susceptible to such influences? Why are they more likely to engage in risky behaviour?

All children are susceptible to influence. They observe the actions of those around them, draw inferences from these observations and decide whether they should act in a similar manner. The influences children receive from outside could be both positive and negative in nature. Teens, in particular, are trying to discover themselves and shape their identities. They seek out a lot of different experiences to see what works for them. Teens who are unsure of themselves, have low self-esteem and poor decision-making abilities may be particularly susceptible to negative influences. They may want to belong to the 'In-crowd', be perceived as popular and gain attention. A desire to stand out could also influence teens to engage in a lot of novelty-seeking behaviour. Novelty-seeking is a process where teens want to experience something new and exciting. They are also pushing their limits and trying to see what works and what doesn’t.

As parents, we need to understand that risk-seeking behaviour is a natural part of teen development. At the same time, we need to guide teens so that they do not put themselves in harm's way.

Why do teens often choose celebrities as role models?

In our culture, we tend to put celebrities on a pedestal and hero-worship them. These factors influence children to look at celebrities as role models. Of course, celebrities can also be positive role models, but a lot depends on how the media, which is powerful and influential, portrays them. Teens view celebrities as successful individuals and want to be like them.

Unfortunately, nowadays, the media tries to exploit shock value to gain attention. They give undue publicity to controversial or scandalous stories related to celebrities. Teens can’t help but pay attention. Celebrities from the fields of science, academia or performing arts rarely get media publicity. It is mainly cricketers or film stars who appear in the news.

What are the negative effects of teens viewing celebrities as role models?

Teens lack the skills to discern whether celebrities are engaging in appropriate behaviour and so, can get carried away. Hence, when celebrities engage in behaviour that goes against certain cultural values or social norms, teens are likely to copy them. They are unable to stop, question and really understand the implications of celebrities behaving in a certain manner. Sometimes, they don’t even realise that they can have a different opinion.

How should parents talk to their teens about celebrity influences?

It could be unwise for parents to pass judgement about celebrity behaviour and simply dismiss it as nonsensical. The current controversy surrounding Hardik Pandya could be a great opportunity for parents and teens to begin talking. However, parents should first ask their teens to express their thoughts. This will encourage the youngsters to think more deeply. Parents should listen to what their teens say without making comments and then, voice their own opinion. Parents could also ask their children to seek out others' perspectives. By developing their own opinion and after listening to others including their peers, teens can assimilate all the information, look at the situation more objectively and make better choices. Having such discussions over any matter forces teens to think. This is far more effective than parents simply enforcing their opinions.

Celebrities may influence teens to indulge in unsafe sex or develop unhealthy habits like smoking. How can parents talk to their teens about such taboo topics?

In the controversy involving Hardik Pandya, he said many things that could influence teens' attitude towards women. For a family that has never felt comfortable speaking about such issues, this incident could prove a great conversation opener. It’s important for parents to talk to their teens about these issues because celebrities have a powerful influence on youngsters. Parents need to have discussions with their teens about the way celebrities behave and also, remind them that the lives celebrities lead are very different from their own. And that copying celebrities may not be practical.

The ubiquity of media today — including social networking sites and platforms — means that we will be unable to shield our teens from the influence of celebrities. What we can do, however, is engage in healthy conversations with them and help them develop sound and balanced opinions of their own.

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