Opinion

How to talk to kids about Justin Bieber's arrest

With Justin Bieber's arrest, Ian Mendes is faced with the task of explaining the situation to his young daughter.

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Photo: Andrew Evans/PR Photos

Follow along as Ottawa-based sports reporter Ian Mendes writes about the joys of raising daughters, Elissa and Lily, with wife, Sonia. 

By now — unless you are living in a rural Mennonite community — you have probably heard the news that Justin Bieber was arrested today in South Beach.

(For the record, I am married to a Mennonite which gives me total immunity when making jokes about their community).

I was watching the television this morning when the flash came across the bottom of the screen announcing the news of Bieber’s arrest. I immediately flipped over to my Twitter account and saw dozens of posts reporting the same thing. Most people added their own sarcastic comments and jokes, as Bieber has become sort of a social media punchline with some of his recent behaviour.

Our nine-year-old daughter walked into the room and I debated quickly changing the channel. But I figured I would show her the news because it was likely going to be the main topic of discussion amongst the kids at school. Maybe it was the journalist inside of me, but I wanted her to be armed with some credible information before she headed off to school.

Upon reading the information at the bottom of the screen, she actually jumped up with excitement and said, “Woo-hoo! I hate Justin Bieber. This is great!”

My initial reaction was to laugh out loud, because having a nine-year-old daughter who has zero interest in Justin Bieber makes me feel like I won some sort of parenting lottery.

But I quickly scolded her, telling her it wasn’t right to take joy in the misfortune of others. I thought of teaching her about the meaning of schadenfreude — but figured it might be a concept better explained by the German side of our family.

While I am fortunate to have a nine-year-old daughter who does not worship Justin Bieber, I am quite aware of the other young girls who idolize the pop star. We have friends whose kids have had Bieber birthday parties and, as a result, our kids have come home with Bieber-related loot bags. We still have a Bieber swirly straw somewhere in our kitchen, although I try and push it to the back of the drawer every time I see it.

Read more: How to talk to your tween about their celebrity idol >

Lots of our daughter’s friends listen to his music and have watched the Never Say Never movie repeatedly.

So the question is how should parents deliver this news?

When the Rob Ford scandal broke a few months ago, a lot of parents debated if they should talk to their kids about the whole situation. And because it didn’t involve a pop star, it was possible to shield the kids from the news to some extent. Even though everybody was talking about Rob Ford, you could brush him aside as a political figure who kids didn’t need to concern themselves with.

But the Bieber controversy will be impossible to ignore for the kids who are his biggest fans. I can guarantee this will be a major topic of discussion at the schools today and tomorrow.

Kids will be asking what a DUI means. They will have questions about drag racing, smoking pot and possibly prescription drugs. And, unfortunately, this likely means parents will have to answer some of these uncomfortable questions.

As a parent, I figure we should be honest with our kids and tell them the truth in these situations. Maybe this is the perfect opportunity to inform them that celebrities aren’t perfect and that everybody makes mistakes — even people who seem to have all the money and fame in the world. It’s probably a good time to tell them about the dangers of drugs and alcohol as well.

If I had a daughter who had a Justin Bieber poster in her bedroom, I wouldn’t force her to take it down after hearing about the news today.

But I would hope that she looks at it a little differently from now on.