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Snooki and Miley Cyrus: helping teens evaluate pop star behavior

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Amanda Schwab/Starpix/AP

(Read caption) Snooki, seen here at a launch for her new fragrance in 2011, is constantly in celebrity news stories, most recently for her premarital pregnancy. Parents who worry about the impact of pop star behavior on teenagers can help them by discussing and evaluating how their family values relate to what they see in the media.

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Miley Cyrus engaged at age 19. Snooki pregnant before marriage. “Teen Mom” star Amber Portwood headed to jail.

And … who cares?

We’ve been thinking about that question a good bit recently.

With the ever-buzzing Internet, facilitated by handheld smart devices, teens are more likely than ever to catch a steady flow of celebrity news. And much of the time, the messaging behind that news is not exactly what parents would prefer.  (Think Britney, folks.) 

Sure, there’s nothing necessarily wrong with Cyrus’ early engagement, or Snooki’s premarital pregnancy. (We can probably all agree that Ms. Portwood’s jail sentence is too bad.) But there’s a lot of evidence pointing to the challenges associated with these behavior patterns in society at large. Statistically, the younger people are when they get married the more likely those marriages are to end. Statistically, unwed mothers are more likely to have economic troubles.

But does any of that matter? Aren’t teens (and younger children) smart enough to know the difference between celebrity glitz and real life?

The other day I called up child development expert Diane Levin to ask her opinion.

Ms. Levin, a professor at Wheelock College in Boston, has spent her career exploring the impact of media on children.

I asked her whether Miley’s engagement news, to take one example, means that we’ll soon see a rush of teenage marriages.

“It’s not so purely black and white,” she says. “It’s not like the kids see something and they do it.”

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