Is your child a Belieber, a Swiftie, or a Katy-Cat?
Kids admiring celebrities is nothing new, and it’s not unusual for kids — especially teens — to take fandom to the level of obsession. But is there a point at which your child’s Justin Bieber obsession should give you concern?
Here’s how to distinguish whether your kid’s fascination with fame could be over the top.
There’s no diagnosis for celebrity obsession, and in most cases, your child or teen’s fascination with the latest hero is completely normal.
“It’s normal to admire people, and every child has this to some degree,” explains Dr. Timothy Legg, N.P.P., board-certified family psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. “Celebrities are successful and bigger than life, and children don’t always understand that it’s cinematic.”
Even young children are likely to become obsessed with a superhero or cartoon character, but for teens, hero worship of a singer or movie star is almost a rite of passage.
As a parent, it might be easy to think your child’s admiration is bordering on unhealthy obsession, especially if you dislike their favorite celebrity. But in most cases, what strikes you as extreme behavior is probably normal.
“Dressing like a celebrity and changing your hairstyle to look like a celebrity is a normal part of trying on different identities and figuring out who you are,” says Dr. Legg. Those behaviors aren’t anything to worry about.
Ditto for joining fan clubs, memorizing trivia, and spending a lot of time thinking about and talking about the celebrity. It’s only if your kid’s interest in the celebrity starts to interfere with daily life that there might be cause for concern.
Although it’s normal for your child to spend a lot of time thinking about their hero, there is a limit.
For celebrity obsession to be considered pathological, it needs to meet the criteria of an obsessive-compulsive disorder.
“The question is how pervasive it is,” says Dr. Legg. “Is it interfering with the child’s ability to carry out essential daily functions?” As a parent, if you’re concerned about your child’s fascination, be honest about your assessment of how it’s affecting your child’s life.
If your teen refuses to do chores and slouches off to watch a Justin Bieber video instead, Justin Bieber probably isn’t to blame. Even if your child has decided to quit activities that used to interest her because she’d rather spend time talking with her friends about her favorite celebrity, that isn’t necessarily a reason to worry. It’s normal for adolescents to have quickly shifting interests, so losing one interest to replace it with another isn’t pathological.
However, if your child is so obsessed with a celebrity that it’s taking over all their activities, it might be time to talk with a doctor.
“If the child’s schoolwork is slipping and they’re giving up all their friends to sit in their room all day transfixed to the computer screen watching concerts, you should contact a professional for evaluation,” believes Dr. Legg. That doesn’t mean you need to worry if your child spent last Saturday watching the live marathon of a concert — only if behavior like that is consistent and regular.
And, of course, if your child talks about severe depression or mentions suicidal thoughts related to a celebrity, then it’s time to contact a professional immediately. If your child seems to truly believe that their hero knows them personally or insists that their love is returned, that could be an indication that she’s having trouble distinguishing between fantasy and reality.
Even if your child’s behavior falls within the range of normal admiration, you might have some concerns based not on the level of your child’s obsession, but on the type of person your child has chosen to admire.
But “parents are always going to hate the behaviors of celebrities,” says Dr. Legg. Just because your child is listening to music about drive-by shootings doesn’t mean their obsession with the rap artist is unhealthy. “Parents should ask what the reason is for it,” says Dr. Legg. “Discuss your concerns with your kids, but in a nonthreatening way.”
Most of the time, your teen will look at you with disgust and assure you they would never consider imitating the behavior in the music they’re listening to — they know that it’s art, not life.
If your preteen or younger child is fascinated by an antisocial hero, there’s still no need to jump to a diagnosis, but it’s a good idea to be even more proactive with your communication. Young kids might have a harder time distinguishing what’s true and what’s imaginary, so talk with your child to find out what his thoughts are about the music.
Most of the time, your child’s obsession with a celebrity is nothing to worry about. In fact, it can be a great tool for you as a parent. “Use it to your advantage,” recommends Dr. Legg. “Parents shouldn’t immediately react negatively, because you can use this as a negotiation tool.”
Just try suggesting that your child could earn concert tickets with extra chores or good grades, and you’ll be amazed at how fast your teen can get laundry done.