06/06/2013 03:02 pm ET Updated Aug 06, 2013

Amanda Bynes: A Teaching Moment for Our Teens

I talk to teens all the time and I am well aware that they, like many adults, follow the celebrity gossip. This is especially the case when the celebrities that they admire are going through hard times. Consider Amanda Bynes, the 29-year-old former child star and actress. Sadly, she has been behaving out of character lately. In recent weeks we have seen bizarre tweets that appear to be insulting and possibly racist in nature. She has even accused the police of handling her inappropriately. She has been reported to have thrown drug paraphernalia out the window. In her case it was a bong. She has been photographed wearing a wig and with odd cheek piercings which has drastically altered her image and certainly not in a positive and healthy appearing manner.

I am very sad about what Amanda Bynes is going through. She may have mental health issues or substance abuse issues or both. She is not unlike many other celebrities who take an emotional tumble as they get into their twenties. Perhaps she didn't have much of a childhood and/or adolescence and is now trying to recapture these years but is doing so with too much money and a lack of guidance. Whatever the case may be I hope that she gets the help that she needs because it is painful watching her suffer.

Ironically, a celebrity's problems may provide us with talking and teaching moments while we are raising our teens. You see, teens are more likely to talk about sensitive topics like alcohol, depression and self-image if they are referring to someone other than themselves. In the case of Amanda Bynes I am quite sure that most of your teens are familiar with her. Ask your teens what they think is going on with her. Teens love when you ask their opinions. As they start to answer listen and don't interrupt the dialogue. If you interrupt too quickly I can guarantee you that they will run out of the room and the conversation will be over. If they suggest that Amanda may be dealing with drug problems then go ahead and ask them how they feel about substance use. If they steer instead toward depression or mental health issues ask them what makes them think this. You will learn a lot about how your teens think about these two loaded issues -- substance use and mental health.

There is a lot more that you can talk about here. Ask them how they feel about Amanda's recent tweets, particularly those in which she insults Rihanna and writes that Rihanna is not pretty enough to keep a man. What do they think about tweeting and social media in general? This is a fantastic way to get a conversation about electronic communication going. You can also open up a dialogue about impression management and appearance. Ask them what they think of Rihanna's new look. You will get a lot further than if you ask them about their best friend's piercings. Parents all know how sensitive teens are about their friends. Criticize their friend's appearance and you may be in some seriously hot water.

We all wish Amanda Bynes good health and a good life. This does not,however, mean that we can't talk about her current difficulties in an attempt to dialogue with our teens.

Good luck to Amanda and to parents of teens in all stages of their adolescence.