Bieber's troubles strike note with parents

Media outlets around the world have been captivated by Canadian pop star Justin Bieber's latest tussle with the law, but a much wider audience finds itself engrossed by the singer's struggles with himself.

Bieber's increasingly erratic public behaviour, escalating bouts of temper and brazen use of both legal and illegal substances are an all-too familiar narrative for parents who have watched their own teenaged offspring travel down the same treacherous path.

Parents say the issues at the core of most celebrity struggles can resonate in even the most everyday circumstances.

Hollie Pollard watches Bieber's travails with a mixture of sadness and empathy. The pop star's public struggles remind her forcibly of the years she spent trying to bring her 16-year-old daughter back from the brink of a crippling mental health crisis.

Her child never touched the substances or mixed with the stars that have figured in Bieber's story. But her personality disorder and uncontrollable anger caused turmoil all the same.

"I feel for them and I feel for their parents," Pollard said in a telephone interview from Toronto. "We recognize the challenges for that person, and we recognize that the likelihood of getting help is pretty slim unless somebody steps in."

For many troubled teens, the only ones on hand to offer the necessary support are the parents themselves, Pollard said.

Dr. Marshall Korenblum, Chief Psychiatrist at Toronto's Hincks-Dellcrest Centre for Children and Families, said rebellion is a normal part of growing up for teenagers of all walks of life.

A healthy skepticism towards rules and authority, he said, helps teens establish their own identity and ought to be nurtured within reason.

Gordon Hay, executive director of teen treatment facility Venture Academy, said he's seen a rise in such dangerous behaviour in the 13 years since the residential program has been open.

The antics of youthful celebrities such as Bieber or Britney Spears, he said, have gone a long way towards skewing perceptions of what's acceptable behaviour.

Substance abuse and self-harm in particular, he said, have increased markedly since the school's inception. Fully half of all applicants report cutting themselves now compared to just one or two applicants a year when the program launched, he said.

"Those types of behaviours are almost moving towards being acceptable," he said. "It seems like the message often is that some of those behaviours are being classified as normal. Just because they are on the increase, for example suicidal thoughts, self-harm . . . does not negate the seriousness of that behaviour."

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