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Madonna and Angelina Jolie are role models for children... for good and bad


Former wild child: Angelina Jolie

Former wild child: Angelina Jolie

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Former wild child: Angelina Jolie

Can celebrities be good role models? Should they have to be? Former wild child stars – like the now mature and reflective Angelina Jolie and Madonna – have raised awareness of important issues; Jolie by choosing to talk about her preventative double mastectomy and Madonna by adopting two children from Malawi.

But while these grown-up celebrities are now 'doing good', the younger stars are finding it more difficult.

You can't help feeling sorry for all those young celebrities who found fame on the Disney Channel. It seems unfair to expect stars to tailor their work to a young audience for their entire careers.

Making a difference as role models is something they can do because they have the privilege and power to, but it's not something that should be required or expected of them.

Let's not forget, Angelina Jolie, now Special Envoy of UN High Commissioner for Refugees, was once a completely wild child who took heroin and self-harmed.

We are no strangers to wild rock stars turning into pillars of society (look at Bob Geldof and Bono). They have campaigned tirelessly for Africa and, in spite of relentless criticism, haven't given up and continue to push for change.

Some people seem to like nothing better than to disparage them. We should be proud of the work they have achieved and the differences they have made to hunger and the spread of Aids in Africa.

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For those who criticise them for partnering with certain politicians of dubious integrity (George W Bush for one), Bono explained: "Either I work with George Bush, or that woman dies of Aids and takes her children with her."

Singers and actors got into their professions because they wanted to sing and act. They didn't sign up to be role models. I'm sure their large bank balances help to ease this discomfort, but for the younger stars, it must be difficult.

Look at Britney Spears, who had a nervous breakdown filmed live on air. The media hounded her daily as she spiralled out of control.

They seemed to forget, or just not give a damn, that she had two small babies at home, who will grow up and watch this sad period in their mother's life played out online.

For those celebrities who wish to use their fame for good use there are certainly plenty of opportunities and they can make a difference. People who are famous wield a lot of power. And with power comes the ability to change people, events and history.

Many celebrities have used this power to good use – to combat bullying, to encourage young people to vote, to raise money after natural disasters, to stop domestic violence and to help the hungry, the poor and the oppressed.

But the burden of 'having' to be a role model can lay heavily on the shoulders of young stars. Unfortunately, they can't hide from it.

Recent estimates suggest that young people are spending about 50 hours a week on some kind of screen time – surfing the web, downloading videos, on Facebook and following their favourite celebrities on Twitter. Katy Perry has more than 53 million Twitter followers, Justin Bieber has more than 52 million and Britney Spears more than 37 million.

So, whether we like it or not, celebrities can influence our young people and the way they behave. It is up to parents to try to sway our children in the direction of the 'safer' and more worthy role models.

But, then again, what teenager listens to their parents?

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