Now that January is here, the usual holiday cheer is beginning to fade, and winter is in full-swing (fellow Mid-westerners, I’m with you), we can start looking ahead at yet another wonderful time of the year… *drumroll please*…. award season!
Truth be told, I love award season. As the new year continues to make it’s grand entrance and resolutions undoubtedly slip through our fingers, it’s refreshing to recognize artists and actors alike for their talent and dedication to their craft throughout the previous year. Not to mention, award shows/red carpets are basically where GIFs are born.
Whether or not your teen tunes in to these award shows, they are more than likely a part of the audience that observes or engages in the massive conversation online — through tabloids or social media. One woman who is sure to be a front-runner of much of this recognition is Zendaya; former Disney Channel star turned award-winning actress.
You May Have Seen Her
Although Zendaya first appeared on the Hollywood scene through Disney Channel, her acting career has been anything but typical of a childhood star. Even before she bid her Disney Channel career farewell (at least for the time being), Zendaya was pursuing larger projects that would gracefully carry her from her Disney reputation to a critically acclaimed and admired actress. Along the way, she’s remained mature while also being an outspoken advocate for herself and others against bullying. As a star in box-office hits like “The Greatest Showman” and “Spiderman: Homecoming” under her belt, Zendaya is well on her way to becoming a well-known actress — if she isn’t already.
It’s not just movies, though. Most recently, Zendaya starred in the brand new HBO series, “Euphoria,” that has just been renewed for another season thanks to its considerable popularity. It has definitely been the most controversial of Zendaya’s projects, but it’s likely on your teen’s radar.
The series as a whole, which was produced by Drake, has been praised for pushing the boundaries of the narrative surrounding teenage life. Its plot is described as following “a group of high-school students as they navigate drugs, sex, identity, trauma, social media, love, and friendship.” As valuable as this conversation is, the show fails to uphold the dignity of the characters and it’s viewers by featuring scenes with extremely graphic sexual content, drug abuse, and neglect to promote examples of healthy, virtuous relationships. Although many people have applauded the show for showing what they consider to be an “authentic teenage experience,” it’s extremely vital for teens to know that this life has greater experiences to offer than what they see on TV shows such as this.
On and Off the Screen
One of the most admirable things about Zendaya, to teens and adults alike, is her dedication to pursuing a life outside her comfort zone. She recognizes her gifts and talents and uses them to bring joy to others while courageously stepping into projects and places that challenge her (and her fans). Most importantly, she is not afraid to approach difficult topics and frequently does so through a lens of vulnerability; affirming her audience that they’re not alone when they struggle with things such as bullying, mental illness, sexuality, etc.
On and off the screen, she has brought to light the presence of these realities of teenage life. She has openly shared with fans her own struggle with anxiety — as a child and throughout her adult life — and consistently affirmed the importance of advocating for yourself and speaking up when you need help. She has prudently handled situations in which other celebrities have made negative, false, and racist comments about her and her work and has spoken up against bullying in multiple capacities. Her awareness and willingness to be a role model for teens — even from a young age — has been apparent and admired.
However, the roles she plays on TV haven’t always reflected these same sentiments. Euphoria, for example, shows the ups and downs of teenage life but presents them on a destructive path of alcohol and drug abuse and over-sexualization. The acknowledgment of these realities in teen culture is essential, but it’s critical that these conversations point them to true fulfillment; not towards a sinful path that is destined to leave them empty. Your son or daughter deserves to know their true identity and worth, which surpasses the fleeting affirmations often found in teen culture.
The Whole Story
Zendaya’s fierce boldness and the caliber of her creativity is a good starting point to this dialogue with your teen, but it’s not the end of the conversation. In order for teens to seek and know the truth, they have to believe that they are not just wanted and affirmed, but that they are good and their lives should orient themselves towards goodness, Himself. Saint John Paul II said, “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures; we are the sum of the Father’s love for us.”
Teens are looking at Zendaya — who has plenty of great advice to offer — but, they aren’t always hearing the whole story. This award season, as society celebrates the stories we’ve seen on the screen or heard on the radio, consider asking your teen about their story. How do they define it: by the things of this world or the Father’s eternal love? The conversation has already started, but it’s our responsibility to listen and respond in truth.