Justin Bieber seems to go anywhere and do whatever he wants. Is he growing up too fast?
—TaraG, Florida, via the Answer B!tch inbox
At first your question seemed a bit hysterical. Yes, the 16-year-old kid got into an R-rated screening of Kick-Ass recently. But for every story like that, we seem to get seven or eight sepia-tinged down-home tales about how "grounded" Justin Bieber is because of his omnipresent mom.
Then I started digging, and interviewing actual child psychologists who work with kid stars. The result?
Put it this way: Bieber fans, stop reading, right now...
Let's start with what we've seen out of Camp Bieber recently.
First, for what it's worth, the kid clearly has an attitude. We saw him ordering around adults during what was supposed to be a tongue-in-cheek, cutesy "principal for a day" visit to a California school.
Bieber also copped attitude with reporters during the Kids' Choice Awards. And he also doesn't seem to take much flack from his mother, Pattie Mallette, when he misbehaves.
Here's an excerpt from a profile in the New York Times:
He does not like to listen to his mother. Eager for preconcert downtime, Justin leaped out of the van and charged through the hotel lobby.
Ms. Mallette chased after him. "Justin needs to stop or he's losing that phone," she said, addressing her son, herself and his bodyguard, Kenny Hamilton. "He won't listen to me! Don't let him on the elevator, Kenny, unless he gets off that phone."
But Justin was done with the poised, humble good boy. Staring fixedly at his phone, he ignored her. The elevator doors closed, leaving mother, son and bodyguard to the privacy of their own glare-off.
Then came that sort of creepy SNL sketch with Tina Fey, where Fey plays a teacher who has a crush on Bieber and wants to "give him a bath."
None of that comes anywhere close to the stories we learned about, say, Michael Jackson, who, at 9 years old, was performing in strip clubs. (One biography indicates that a relative purchased the services of two prostitutes for a horrified Michael when he was 15.)
Still, child psychologists say, put all of these Bieber anecdotes together, and they just may paint a picture of a kid who is anything but grounded and well adjusted.
For one, says Sherry Gaba, a psychotherapist who has counseled child stars, the fact that Bieber's bodyguard seems to answer to Justin, and not Pattie, is a breach of responsibility commonly seen in camps of child stars.
The flunkies take orders from the kids, not the kids' parents, and the result is an entitled person who may suffer serious psychological setbacks down the road, including self-destructive behavior.
"No child should be in charge," says Gaba. "They need a parent, versus 'people'" who work for them, Gaba says.
It may sound typical that the teenage Bieber should rebel against his parents—most teens do—but it's the lack of consequence that's telling here, Gaba says. It may be tougher to discipline a child star who is contractually obligated to appear before thousands of adoring fans, but it still has to be done if a kid is to really be the "grounded" person a publicity team says he is.
"There has to be a consequence" for misbehavior, Gaba says, "in some other area of the child's life; maybe their parents say no to that next job. Whatever it is, there have to be consequences to their behaviors or it's just not going to work."
And as cute as Bieber can be, do you really think his mom is taking away his limo driver if he sasses her?