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The birds and the Biebs: How to discuss the rumours with your kids

Pop sensation Justin Bieber performs during his My World Tour concert at Foro Sol in Mexico City, Saturday Oct. 1, 2011.

Marco Ugarte/Marco Ugarte/AP

When Laura Kraemer's young daughter turned six – too old for Raffi and too young for Lady Gaga, the Calgary resident reached for the sugary pop tunes of Justin Bieber. The Canadian crooner's image has been squeaky clean. His lyrics are innocent enough. His songs are catchy.

But on Wednesday, upon hearing that the teenage star is facing a paternity suit, Ms. Kraemer braced herself for a potentially uncomfortable parenting moment: How would she speak with her now seven-year-old daughter and eight- and five-year-old sons about the news?

"It's an unseemly thing to have to deal with," she says.

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The lawsuit against Mr. Bieber has put some parents in the tricky situation of having to address issues of teenage sex and paternity allegations with fans who may be too young to fully understand the particulars. Mr. Bieber, 17, who has a huge following of preadolescents, is reportedly accused of impregnating a fan during a brief backstage encounter at a Los Angeles concert.

According to celebrity news site , Mariah Yeater, 20, has filed a lawsuit against the singer, demanding that he take a paternity test to confirm he is the father of her three-month-old baby boy.

A representative for Mr. Bieber denied the allegation, telling, "It's sad that someone would fabricate malicious, defamatory and demonstrably false claims."

Instead of ignoring the buzz, parents should view the situation as a springboard for important conversations with their children, no matter what age, says Alyson Schafer, a Toronto-based psychotherapist and parenting expert. Parents, for instance, may open up discussions about justice, the concept of being innocent until proven guilty, and about the pitfalls of fame and sex.

"Parents are just very nervous about talking about this kind of stuff. But the truth is, something like this is an opportunity to have the conversation," Ms. Schafer says.

It's okay for parents to feel nervous, she adds. "But there's nothing worse than looking nervous and not saying it."

Ms. Schafer suggests parents be upfront about their discomfort and ask their children to bear with them. Some may find it hard to make eye contact during difficult conversations, so chatting while driving or lying together in a bed, staring at the ceiling, may help, she says.

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The key is to speak to children at their level, and be alert to cues about how much they want to know.

"They may innocently just want to know what sex means," she says. "If you answered, 'That's how you make babies,' that might be the end of it for them."

Beverley Cathcart-Ross, a certified parent educator and founder of the Parenting Network in Toronto, says the biggest mistake parents make in these situations is talking too much instead of listening. If children don't bring it up themselves, parents should initiate the conversation by asking their children whether they have heard the news about Mr. Bieber and, if so, how they feel about it, instead of giving their own judgments of the case.

They may also ask their children more specific questions. How do they think Mr. Bieber should be treated? If the accusations prove true, how would they feel? What would they expect?

In all of this, it's important to teach children not to be judgmental, to teach them about ethics and responsibilities, and to understand that even megastars are not infallible, Ms. Cathcart-Ross says. Ultimately, parents should assure kids that they can be comfortable expressing themselves.

Ms. Schafer adds that while an initial conversation about Mr. Bieber's lawsuit might be the first time some parents bring up certain tricky subjects, it shouldn't be their last.

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"With each conversation, the level of information gets deeper. So in a sense, this could be the conversation where Mom actually said the word 'sex,'" she says. As long as children see that their parents seem okay with discussing such topics, she adds, they'll be more inclined to think, "Maybe I could ask her something else and not see her go into an apoplectic fit.'"

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About the Author

Wency Leung is a general assignment reporter for the Life section. Before joining The Globe in early 2010, she has worked as a reporter in Vancouver, Prague, and Phnom Penh. More

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