Unless you truly tune crazy celebrity news out of your household, by now you've probably heard something about saccharine tween age pop icon Justin Bieber's quip about Anne Frank after his visit to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam excursion during his ongoing European tour.
It all starts with his comment in the Anne Frank House guest book, which he presumably signed upon leaving the exhibit: "Anne was a great girl. Hopefully she would have been a belieber."
Most people with an even passing awareness of 20th century history seemed to be appalled by his callous remarks at one of the 'sacred' (if you will) site of the Holocaust. It would seem that the heaviness and the weight of the Anne Frank House was not given the respect and awareness it deserved. Bieber's response in the guest book would likely embarrass (hopefully) most parents. No one wants to be the one who brought up such a shallow self-serving child.
The Anne Frank House spokespeople are not complaining; they seem to be happy that a famous teen visited the house bringing more exposure to Anne Frank worldwide, regardless of Bieber's lack of tact.
But there are two ways to go with this sort of attitude as a parent.
We can, as a culture of parents, collectively sigh and shake our heads at the narcissism of a privileged 19-year-old who is so used to living in a self-centered world that he cannot leave that world for a moment to empathize and acknowledge the Holocaust in more reverent and respectful tones.
Or we can look at it the way the Anne Frank House organization is looking at it — an opportunity to teach who she was and what her legacy has been. The blogosphere seems to be answering the second way as much as the first. Astonishingly, The Diary of Anne Frank is not the required reading it once was in schools across the nation. In a strange way, Bieber actually made other shallow teens, too mired in their own world, aware of Anne Frank for the first time. For that, we might be grateful?
But there is one of those wince-inducing teachable moments here for our own children and for us too. Perhaps in our rush and haste to preserve childhood and to make it a place of safety, guardrails and sanitizer everywhere, we've erred in not teaching them about the world. Do our children know that we've been fighting two wars since they've been born? Unless they come from military families, it is doubtful that they have a frame of reference for world geography and why we as a country are where we are today. Not teaching children about the past and past history leads directly to insensitive comments and a general cluelessness for which we are often too well known for overseas.
What can you do as a parent to somehow rectify the situation? How do we raise aware children that don't learn their first history lessons from Justin Bieber soundbytes about himself? Three simple steps can help scrub the Bieber right out of your children.
1. Invest Time in Real News
Listen to NPR in the car. Talk about world events. Make it personal and enlist grandparents. Make sure your kids realize that Lindsey Lohan going to rehab is not news. The bombing of the Boston Marathon is news.
2. Read History With Your Children
Books like The Diary of Anne Frank and Farewell to Manzanar used to be staples in public education. Just because they aren't doesn't mean you have to settle for less. Go to your local library and see what the age appropriate history offerings are.
3. Cultivate Empathy and Humility
An inflated sense of self worth is not going to do children any good when they have to get their first jobs or apply to colleges. Quit inflating their egos. Show them how lucky they are rather than how entitled they should be. Consider having them join UNICEF or Amnesty International or other organizations where they will learn about children less fortunate than they are so that they learn to appreciate their place of privilege.
Oh, and parents? There's way better music for your kids to listen to.