Are Hollywood's Bad Girls a Bad Influence on Teens?

ByABC News via logo

Dec. 12, 2006 — -- On Monday, Hollywood's "It" girl Nicole Richie was arrested on charges of driving under the influence.

It's just the latest in a string of scandals and potentially deadly behavior by celebrities whose every move is watched by kids.

So what kind of lessons are they learning?

Young celebrities influence the way teenagers, girls especially, dress, eat, and see the world, according to child experts.

"Every parent worries that [their] kid is going to want to be like this idol that they have plastered all over their room," said "Good Morning America" parenting contributor Ann Pleshette Murphy.

Police say Richie was arrested alone in her car driving the wrong way on a California highway at 4 a.m. to the alarm of onlookers.

At 5 feet 1 inches and just 85 pounds, she failed a field sobriety test. Police say she admitted to smoking pot and taking the prescription painkiller Vicodin.

With recent polls showing that so-called bad girls are the envy of school hallways, news of Richie's arrest spread fast.

"She got arrested this morning, I think," one girl told ABC News. "It was all over the Internet."

Like most American teenagers, the girls who talked to ABC News already seemed to know every detail about the latest celebrity girl gone bad.

They agreed that the celebrities were teenagers' role models today, but that what they were saying to teens wasn't good.

This all has some parents concerned.

"It's so outrageous," Toni Ann Rinaldo, a mother, told ABC News. "You just hope as a parent they're going to take what you say and do the right thing."

Richie is following in the high-heeled footsteps of other fallen teen queens.

Lindsay Lohan has been scolded by Hollywood co-stars for partying too hard and working too little. Paris Hilton was arrested on a DUI charge in September. And, of course, Britney Spears has been leaving two kids at home to celebrate her newfound freedom.

So with all that glitz and glamour to compete with, what are parents to do?

"Whenever anything happens in the news that becomes what we call a 'teachable moment,' we really need to take advantage of it," Murphy said. "It becomes an opportunity to really share your values with your kids."

Most research finds that drug and alcohol use among kids from eighth grade to 12th grades has fallen from 10 percent to 25 percent, from the peak usage years of the mid-1990s.

Pregnancy, a high risk for teenage girls, has also declined overall.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in 2005 that the teenage birthrate was the lowest in 65 years of record-keeping and marked a 35-percent drop since 1991.

However, it appears that the long, steady decline in teen smoking has come to a standstill, worrying health officials.

A report released by the CDC in June found that around one in four teens said they smoked, the first time that the percentage of teen smokers had actually risen.

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