Disney stars and teen idols haven't been shy to talk about their faith. The wildly popular singer Justin Bieber was the latest young celebrity to profess Christianity and a relationship with Jesus.
But with many of these stars taking a public fall or making some wrong choices, teens and tweens need to be guarded so as not to follow in the footsteps of their favorite celebrity.
In order for youths who admire and idolize stars to stay grounded in their faith, Bob Waliszewski, director of Media and Culture for Focus on the Family, says youth pastors and parents have to work together to teach their own children how to be holy.
"I think it's very important for holiness to be taught again among young people," he commented to The Christian Post. "It's fallen out of disfavor. The pendulum is swung a little too far; grace today is too cheap. Repentance and living a holy life is not stressed nearly enough as it should be."
Still, Waliszewski pointed out that young people should be aware that everyone has their downfalls, especially in Hollywood.
"I think it's important for parents to teach their children that any human being is just that, a human being," he stressed. "There are even Christian leaders that have fallen very publicly. When it comes to Christians in the media, it's even harder to live out their faith. For young people in the media to be able to put their foot down, that's really tough."
Popular Disney star Demi Lovato, who has identified as a Christian, checked into a treatment center earlier this week. She bailed on an international concert tour with The Jonas Brothers to seek help for "emotional and physical issues."
Lovato, 18, is most famous for her wholesome image as Sonny Munroe in "Sonny with a Chance" on the Disney Channel. A spokeswoman said her seeking treatment has nothing to do with substance abuse and noted that the young actress and singer struggled with eating disorders and cutting.
Another teen idol Miley Cyrus, well-known for her role in Disney's "Hannah Montana," has been open about her faith. In 2009, the pop singer said on "The Rachel Ray Show" that she's never been closer to the Lord since meeting him. "He's really made me read my Bible. He's made me actually read the stories in the Bible – not the quick little verses – that not only help me, but show you how to help other people," she said.
But Cyrus, who was raised Christian, has drawn lots of controversy over the years as she grew out of her Disney image. She got lots of heat in 2008 – when she was 15 years old – after her semi-naked shoot in Vanity Fair magazine and also later in 2009 for her pole dancing performance at the Teen Choice Awards. Her newest music videos have also been deemed by parents as too racy. Cyrus, who is now 17, was most recently reportedly seen in Madrid, Spain, drinking alcohol. The legal age for alcohol consumption in Spain is 18.
For some teens, such behavior in Hollywood is nothing surprising.
Pop culture analyst and Christian author Connie Neal led a youth Bible study group this week and asked for their input on teen idols. They said they expect any teen idol to become corrupt and see it as predictable. They also pointed out that any committed Christian should not have an idol before God and that the person idolizing another person is sure to be disappointed. "Duh!" they told Neal.
Neal noted that some things are just a part of growing up but added that youths who have the right influences around them are less likely to fall into the teen idolizing craze.
"Every generation of teens has had their stars and idols who are emulated. I remember when a few of the girls in my youth group in the early '80s were dressing like Madonna during her 'Desperately Seeking Susan' phase," she said. "The degree to which this happens involves the amount of exposure to media, which parents should have some say in guiding, but also how secure the teen is becoming within themselves. A teen who has been discovering their own unique talents and who feels competent and admired for some skill or ability they have developed, or who is secure in family and a positive peer group are far less susceptible to going 'gaga' – pardon the pun – over the latest teen idol."
Neal's teen Bible study group stressed that it is each individual's responsibility to maintain his or her religious beliefs. They cited James 1:27: "Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: ... to keep oneself from being polluted by the world."