Three Steps For Supporting Teens When Their Heroes Go Wrong

Fandom is a significant part of many teens’ lives. Connecting with other people who share a passion for a particular TV series, book series, movie franchise, musician, or sports figure can be a great way for teens to build meaningful relationships and celebrate the things they love. But every hero is still human, and if your teen follows their hero closely they might discover that they’ve said or done hurtful and disappointing things. Learning that our favorite humans are problematic is an important part of becoming a mature fan and consumer. But that doesn’t make it an easy experience to go through.

What can you do to support your teen when their hero gets caught saying or doing something bad?

Here are three simple ways to help your teen cope with learning tough truths about their hero or something they love.

Acknowledge That Sometimes, Truth Hurts

Assure your teen that their feelings are valid. It’s okay for them to feel angry, sad, or betrayed by their hero. Take some time to talk through the upsetting information they learned about their hero’s beliefs or actions. Discuss the values that you and your teen want to stand by. You can empower your teen by teaching them about individuals or organizations that support people who might be hurt by the actions of their hero. And if they’re motivated, you teach them how get involved with that work.

Your teen might worry they’ve done something bad by admiring their hero or loving the thing they made in the first place. Make it clear to them that they aren’t responsible for the things their heroes say or do. Someone who admires the talent of an athlete, musician, or writer doesn’t have to extend that admiration to anything else about them. Encourage your teen to be open about where they stand on what their hero said or did. Remind them that they have your support to stick up for themselves if someone tries to accuse them of causing the harm that their hero did.

Find Out What They Want to Hold Onto

Talk with your teen about what really matters to them about the thing they love. Did the lyrics to a song speak to them? Did a character’s experiences remind them of their own life? Maybe it was the community around the thing they loved that was most important, like the fact that they could count on people being there to talk about an athlete’s accomplishments after the game every week. Remind your teen that many of the things that we all value about our favorite shows, books, and sports teams are things that are still there or still true no matter what an actor, author, musician, or athlete does on their own.

If the community they found through the thing they loved mattered most to your teen, encourage them to stay in touch with the friends they made. Let them know that it’s okay to listen to that song, that their favorite character can still be an inspiration to them, and that mementos from the day they saw their hero in person can still be some of their most prized possessions.

Help Them Let Go of What They Don’t

Of course, if your teen doesn’t want to hold on to their hero or the thing they loved, that’s okay, too. Help them pack up things that they don’t want to see anymore if they don’t want to do it alone. Offer to put the things aside for a while until they decide whether they want to get rid of them for good. Check in with your teen about how they’re feeling after some time has passed. Be ready to support them as they continue to process their emotions.

Explore New Things to Love

Work with your teen to discover other things and people to love and admire. Libraries and websites like Goodreads are great sources for reading lists inspired by popular book series. Music streaming sites are full of songs and artists to discover based on the things your teen already likes. Fan-created media like stories and podcasts can be a great way to keep community ties alive while stepping away from the source material and creator. Fan groups for many sports teams are active in their hometown and beyond, hosting meetups and running volunteer groups where fans can get together and do some good.

It can be tough for teens to learn a hard truth about something or someone they love. By affirming their feelings, helping them identify what made them love it in the first place, and working with them to find ways to keep loving it or to find something new, you give them tools to manage their response to upsetting revelations of any kind that might happen later on. And by guiding them through the process of recognizing their hero’s flaws while still appreciating what they made or achieved, you teach them to be realistic and patient with the flaws, failings, and contradictions everyone has.