Celebrity Worship: The New Teen Addiction
A desperate mother of a 15-year-old daughter from a local suburban neighborhood tells her therapist that her daughter has left the cheerleading squad, that she no longer dreams of going to college and becoming a lawyer, and that her childhood friends they have been replaced by friends you never knew. Her daughter has been isolating herself, reading the latest celebrity gossip magazines and becoming more rebellious at home. Clearly her daughter is withdrawing, which may be one of the hallmarks of addiction, depression, or a teenager trying to form an identity. When you think of addiction, you think of drugs, alcohol, or even an eating disorder. What about the newest addiction that teenagers are hitting called “Celebrity Addiction”. One-third of Americans are affected by this phenomenon, which is linked to depression, anxiety, body image issues, and addiction.
In no way does this author compare the ravages of substance abuse to the cult of celebrity, but instead looks at today’s teens with a different set of eyes. According to recent studies, many teenagers today believe that emulating their favorite celebrity’s lifestyle is one of the only ways to form an identity and if they don’t reach the same level of stardom, they will become “nobody.” There is a dramatic change in the way teenagers perceive success. In fact, research reveals that teens would rather surround themselves with or become celebrities than become smarter human beings. Plus, it’s showing that having these fantasy relationships with a celebrity stimulates the production of opiates, chemicals in our brains that make us feel better. It’s no wonder we’re raising a generation of teenagers, for example, who would rather become a famous actress like Paris Hilton than a presidential candidate like Hillary Clinton.
This kind of value system was seen at this year’s Grammys. You have to wonder what it means when the musician Amy Winehouse is singing “No, No, No” and refuses to go to rehab to deal with a drug addiction and becomes a big Grammy winner. More recently, she was in the news with reports that she has the early stages of emphysema. What does this say to our teenagers? It sends the message that it is attractive to be at the throat of a drug addiction and not get help for it. Teenagers now not only imitate the clothing, jewelry, and cosmetics worn by celebrities, they now view addiction as glamorous. Joanne Barron, national director of outreach for Insight teen treatment center, says, “Unfortunately, too often what we see or hear about celebrities has to do with a lifestyle of excessive tobacco, alcohol or drug use, partying constants and sexual behavior”.
This is not necessarily new to popular culture. Many musicians and actors have tragically died from addiction and many more will die in the continuing drug epidemic. The musician, Janis Joplin, extolled drugs in the 1960s and died at the age of 27 of a drug overdose. And what about Timothy Leary and his famous quote, “Turn on, tune in, drop out.” Last year we saw a barrage of specials portraying the haunting life of Anna Nicole Smith. Her life was seen more times than actual newsworthy stories.
Adolescence is often a time of soul searching and searching for an identity. It can also be a very vulnerable and impressionable time. However, today’s identity formation has crossed the line. Teen idolatry is even becoming a medical problem. Teenagers undergo surgery to have lips like Angelina Jolie’s and dimple their chins to look like John Travolta. Has the media gone too far? “Whether we like it or not, celebrities are role models for teenagers. For many years we have seen the influence of pop culture on our youth. Ever since television and movies became mainstream in America, teenagers they’ve tried to emulate the speech, dress and behavior of their favorite celebrities,” says Barron.
Scientists have found a correlation with celebrity worship and depression and anxiety. Which comes first, the proverbial chicken or the egg, or does it matter? Does depression lead to addiction or does addiction lead to depression? The bottom line is that there has been an epidemic of teenagers who believe they have a right to be famous and will be in their lifetime. Perhaps mimicking the drug-addicted behavior of celebrities is the closest thing to being or knowing a celebrity. Teenagers believe that becoming famous is a panacea for all of life’s challenges. Our society is in the midst of breeding a generation of narcissists whose only sense of identity is based on entitlement and fame. Healthy relationships will be replaced by illusory celebrity relationships that lack intimacy and real connections with others, and teens will continue to seek temporary relief from substance abuse and celebrity worship to avoid the pain that normal adolescence brings.
Of course, there are numerous causes of addiction, such as trauma, a genetic predisposition, peer pressure, divorce, or a significant loss in the family of a loved one. One of the other difficulties facing many teenagers today besides addiction is eating disorders. Television, Hollywood, magazines, and the Internet portray thin women far more often than most women with normal body types. They then develop distorted images of what a body should look like based on what celebrities portray. “Once these idolized perceptions are accepted as truth, thought distortions can develop, which can lead adolescent girls to self-destructive behaviors such as disordered eating, self-injurious behavior, excessive exercise, and other destructive behaviors,” reports Buck Runyan, director of operations of the Center for Discovery, an eating disorder program.
How can we prevent our teens from idolizing these tragic figures of fantasy and deception? How can we reduce substance abuse and eating disorders among adolescents? Having self-esteem is one of the buzzwords of this century. Lack of self-esteem can make it more likely that your teen will seek out numbing methods to suppress their discomfort, pain, frustration, and hurt during this time. When a child feels comfortable with himself, he can look for comfort and strength within her instead of relying on outside sources to numb her senses. Having an open dialogue with your teen without judgment or criticism allows him to feel more comfortable sharing topics like substance abuse, peer pressure, and sex with you. They will feel heard and understood, which will allow them to trust you with their deepest demons. Otherwise, they seek validation elsewhere by joining groups or gangs where drugs and alcohol are the norm.
Another solution to this growing epidemic could be to get to know our neighbors more closely so that we feel part of a community rather than having to look outside our neighborhoods for a sense of belonging. Creating deeper ties within our own circles could alleviate the need to look outside for validation. However, if your teen shows signs like withdrawal, changes in eating habits, depression, oversleeping, or new behaviors, seek out the professional help she needs. These could be signs of an addiction or eating disorder, and a professional can assess whether a serious problem is really emerging. Celebrity addiction is not as dangerous as drug or alcohol addiction; however, it is another way your teen may be avoiding what is really going on in her life. Celebrity addiction may prevent or delay your teen from forming her own identity and instead emulate a false self of one of her favorite idols who never develops a true core self. We all want to be loved for who we are and not for who we would like to be.