In 2010 the story of a group of upper-middle class teen burglars hit the news. Assigned the name the Bling Ring by the media, the group of predominately 18 and 19 year olds were accused of stealing millions from Hollywood’s young elite including Paris Hilton, Orlando Bloom, and Lindsey Lohan. As detailed in the Sofia Coppola movie The Bling Ring, and in the book by the Vanity Fair writer Nancy Jo Sales whose original 2010 article “The Suspects Wear Louboutins” was the impetus for the project, it is perhaps the brash, bold nonchalant attitude of the perpetrators regarding these crimes that is most disturbing. The common bonds among the crewmembers included drug use, an emulation for the Hollywood lifestyle, clubbing and a lack of real life direction.
It is however the similarities that reflect the lives of typical teens that is perhaps the most disturbing. These teens were concerned about their appearance, focused on their peer group, and enamored with the Hollywood stars and a successful lifestyle. Are we raising tweens who could easily become the Bling Ring? Was the attitude of entitlement these kids seemed to possess an anomaly or a part of common culture?
We live in a ‘give me’ society. We are surrounded by goods and services that marketers try to convince us we must have. We live in an era where financial times have gotten tough but the rich just keep getting richer. Fame and fortune can be attained with the right look, and often an outrageous attitude-enter Snookie, Paris Hilton, and Lindsey Lohan. The rest of the world lives from paycheck to pay check. Cash and carry is virtually a thing of the past. The power of a credit card ensures that almost anyone can have access to what they covet.
In an attempt to tap new fruitful markets, the producers of goods and services have turned to our tweens. Television shows, clothing lines, and even whole stores (e.g. Justice) targeting tweens have cropped up over a short decade. Tween targeted bands and performers such as One Direction and Justin Bieber have become powerful, profitable merchandising brands. Walk into any Target or Walmart and you are sure to see the gleaming smiles of these young performers staring at you on blankets, t-shirts, backpacks, etc.
America’s favorite babysitter-Television is capturing the attention of our tweens in shows that depict tweens and young teens living large, living the life. Disney and Nickelodeon have paved the way for this type of programming. It is no coincidence that reality shows dominate the nighttime market. Family shows such as the X-Factor, America’s Got Talent and of course American Idol, suggests that anyone can attain fame, fortune and notoriety.
This is the world in which we are raising today’s tweens.
It is easy to dissect the actions of the teens that became the Bling Ring. The majority of them had difficulty learning in school. Research reflects that learning problems are correlated with anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. Permissive parenting (aka the cool parents) is the parenting style most associated with juvenile delinquency. The combination of the two could indeed be concerning. The result could be a kid suffering from low self-esteem who may feel hopeless and helpless, a kid looking for a way to fit in and feel happy and hopeful. Add the excitement of attaining the life; partying in clubs, self-medicating with drugs; a touch of adolescent egocentrism and the illusion that bad things happen to other people; and well you may just have the recipe for disaster; or at least a sense of entitlement that you deserve what others seem to have so much of. The fact that you might get caught dissolves after you pull it off a few times. The rationalization that what you are doing is not wrong comes easier and easier especially when you fail to get caught. It is easy to justify these acts when the people from whom you are stealing have so much. There is a disconnect from the fact that you are invading someone’s privacy, intruding on the one space in which a person may feel safe, sheltered from the reality of the outside world that comes with the price of fame.
How do we ensure that our tweens won’t become lawless egocentric teens? It sounds preposterous to even have to think this way. Is the line so firm however, that difficult for your average teen to cross?
The answer to that question is hazy at best, the solution to the quandary perhaps seemingly more clear. We set firm boundaries and limits. We teach by example. We monitor and discipline; a somewhat simple solution. In a world however, in which we are all striving to keep up, it is not so easy to attain. Our children are our most precious resource. They are in fact our future. We live in a universe that has become so much smaller and accessible. As a parent it is difficult to monitor all the outlets all the time.
One thing is thankfully clear. Research indicates that talking with our children about concerns, communicating regularly with them in combination with monitoring their actions, does work. Recent statistics on Internet safety for example speak of success. According to netsmartz.org an Internet safety watchdog organization, the numbers of kids making inappropriate contacts with strangers via the Internet has decreased dramatically over the last decade.
The Bling Ring story should be perceived as a cautionary tale perhaps. A warning that we should be talking to our tweens, monitoring what they do, what they watch, what they wear, who they emulate. Stories such as this one provide great learning material. Communication and discussion are the best way to keep on top of our tweens. It is not all about what we say; it is also about how we say it. Lessons taught only through lecturing are less likely to be internalized. Interactive discussions that involve not only listening to the thoughts and opinions of our tweens, but also hearing what they have to say can make a difference. As parents we are often quick to shut our kids down when they start to voice an opinion, a point of view with which we disagree. When our children feel heard, they also feel empowered.
The tale of the Bling Ring teens may seem far-fetched and unbelievable, especially when we catch a quick glimpse of our own innocent, carefree tweens. While we want to raise our kids to believe that anything is possible, that hard work equals success and happiness, we need to make sure we do not reinforce the idea that everything in life is there for the taking. Life is a series of checks and balances. The Bling Ring teens represent a clear example of what happens when the scale tips too far on one side.