How do celebrities influence kids?

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With Britney Spears in the news lately — for everything from shaving her head to losing custody of her kids — along with her little sister Jamie Lynn, Nickelodeon's "Zoey 101" star, for being pregnant at 16, you can't help but wonder, how do kids who idolize these people respond to their troublemaking behavior?

A report in the May 21, 2006 issue of USA Weekend revealed that 60 percent of teens wanted to get a tattoo or piercing in the same place a celebrity has one. Half of them agreed that their peers smoke or drink because they see their idols doing it and 77 percent think that after a star loses weight, teenagers are likely to do the same. Thirteen percent of teens in the survey admitted to dieting to make them look more like a celebrity.

"Kids look up to celebrities, and when they see them doing bad things, kids think it's okay," said Alyssa Garcia-LaFavor of Sheboygan Falls Middle School.

Kids who remember idolizing the sweet, innocent Lindsey Lohan from her younger roles in "The Parent Trap" and "Freaky Friday" might get the idea that drugs and drinking and driving is fine to do, since Lohan got into two car accidents, was arrested twice and went to rehab two different times. However, out of all of that, she only had to serve 84 minutes in jail.

The loose punishments celebrities receive might be telling kids that if they get involved with drugs or drinking, the consequences won't be that bad.

On the other hand, Paris Hilton was sentenced to 45 days for a probation violation, involving her alcohol-related driving offense. After she was released though, she said she'd do more charity work. And she has been keeping her word, being spotted at a charity event for children with spinal cord injuries, according to PEOPLE magazine.

The USA Weekend report also stated that 52 percent of teens feel that celebrities use fundraisers as a way of self-promotion. We saw right through that, Paris.

Vanessa Hudgens, 19, a "High School Musical" star had some dirty laundry aired with nude photos of her being made public, when they were supposedly intended for her boyfriend Zac Efron's eyes only.

Celebrities that get in trouble are also an eye opener to some kids on what not to do with their lives.

"I feel bad for them because they decided to make that choice and hope they get help," said Nicole Bartel, of Sheboygan Falls Middle School.

"I think they should grow up and get a life," said Garcia-LaFavor.

Hollywood's not all bad.

Stars like Miley Cyrus, 15, (aka Hannah Montana) are making a major splash in the world of kids for their amazing talents and parents like them because they're someone kids can look up to.

Bartels said she idolizes Miley Cyrus, "because she doesn't get involved with the bad crowd and get in trouble. She's a good influence on kids."

She recently got a taste of what not to do as a star though.

A picture of her and another girl at a sleepover, where it looked like they were kissing (although they were actually exchanging a piece of candy), was leaked and Cyrus received some negative press for it.

But she handled it like a positive celebrity, saying that it was just a picture of two girls goofing off at a sleepover. Kudos to her.

Garcia-LaFavor named the Jonas Brothers, Carrie Underwood and Oprah as people she admires. She likes Oprah because "she helps kids out around the world and opened a school in Africa for girls."

The Disney Channel has helped shape other teen's positive careers, such as the Jonas Brothers, Zac Efron (although Vanessa might not be a great influence on him) and Ashley Tisdale.

"I'm happy Zac Efron and Hannah Montana are positive influences for kids," said Lynn Rousse, owner of Surprises, a shop that sells life-size cutouts of celebrities. "Our best seller is Zac Efron; a lot of girls had him in their bedroom for Christmas," she added.

"The Jonas Brothers are good influences because they're good singers and their music isn't trashy. Some of it is Christian which is good," said Garcia-LaFavor.

Goes to show that you can have great music, be a good influence and have practically every girl drooling over you.

Celebrities can be good influences on kids if they make the right choices. Today's famous people who have messed up lives still have a chance to turn their life around, like Drew Barrymore, who struggled with alcohol and drug addiction in her later childhood years. At age 14, she turned her life around and today she's made a ton of movies and even started her own production company.

Kids mold themselves around the people they admire and sometimes celebrities might not be the best people to look up to. Celebrities don't always make the best choices, but would you want people knowing about your every move?

by Morgan Kath .An eighth-grader at Sheboygan Falls Middle School.