A frantic mother of a 15 year old daughter of a local suburban neighborhood tells her therapist that her daughter has quit the cheerleading squad, no longer dreams of college and becoming a lawyer, and her childhood friends have been replaced with friends she has never met. Her daughter has been isolating, reading all the latest celebrity gossip magazines, and becoming more rebellious at home. Clearly her daughter is pulling away which can be one of the hallmarks of addiction, depression, or an adolescent 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 teenagers are being struck with called “Celebrity Addiction.” One third of Americans are being struck with this phenomenon which is linked to depression, anxiety, body-image problems, and addiction.
In no way is this author comparing the ravages of substance abuse to celebrity worship, but rather it looks at today’s teenagers with a different set of eyes. According to recent studies, many teenagers today believe that emulating the lifestyle of their favorite celebrity 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 shift in the way teenagers perceive success. In fact, research reveal teenagers would rather surround themselves with celebrities or become one, rather than becoming a more intelligent human being. In addition, it is showing that having these fantasy relationships with a celebrity stimulates the production of opiods, chemicals in our brain, that make us feel better. It is no wonder we are raising a generation of adolescents, for example, who would rather become a famous actress like Paris Hilton rather than a presidential nominee like Hillary Clinton.
This type of value system was seen in the Grammy’s this year. You have to wonder what it means when musician Amy Whitehouse is singing “No, No, No” refusing to go to rehab to deal with a drug addiction becomes a huge Grammy winner. More recently she was in the news with reports she has the first stages of emphysema? What does this tell our teenagers? Teens are now not only mimicking the clothes, jewelry, and cosmetics celebrities use, but now see addiction as glamorous. Joanne Barron, National Outreach Director for Insight treatment center for adolescents says, “Unfortunately too often what we see or hear about celebrities has to do with a lifestyle of excess—smoking, drinking or drug use, constant parties and sexually acting out.”
This is not necessarily new in popular culture. Many musicians and actors have died tragic deaths from addiction and many more will die in the continuing drug epidemic. Musician, Janis Joplin, glamorized drugs in the 1960’s dying at 27 of a drug overdose. And what about Timothy Leary and his famous quote, “Turn on, Tune In, Drop out.” Last year we viewed a barrage of specials portraying the very disturbing life of Anna Nicole Smith. Her life was viewed more times than true news worthy stories.
Adolescence is often a time of soul searching and finding an identity. It can also be a very vulnerable and impressionable time. However, today’s identity formation has crossed the line. Teen idolization is even turning into a medical issue. Teens are undergoing surgery to have lips like Angelina Jolie and carving dimples in their chins to look like John Travolta. Has the media gone too far? “Whether we like it or not, celebrities are role models for teens. For many years we have seen the influence of pop culture on our youth. Ever since television and movies became main stream in America, teens have 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 there has been an epidemic of teenagers that believe they are entitled to become famous and will become famous during the course of their lives. Teens believe becoming famous is a cure all for all of life’s challenges. Our society is in midst of raising a generation of narcissists whose only sense of self is around entitlement and becoming famous. Healthy relationships will be replaced with illusory celebrity relationships that lack intimacy and real connections to others and teens will continue to seek temporary relief from substance abuse and celebrity worship to ward off the pain that normal adolescence brings.
Of course, there are numerous causes of addiction such as trauma, a genetic predisposition, peer pressure, or a divorce or significant loss in a loved one’s family. One of the other difficulties many adolescents face today besides addiction is eating disorders. Television, Hollywood, magazines, and the internet portray slender women much more often than the majority of women with normal body types. They then develop distorted images of what a body should be based on by what the celebrities portray. “Once these idolized perceptions are accepted as truth, thought distortions may develop, which can lead adolescent girls into self destructive behaviors such as eating disorders, self-injurious behaviors, excessive exercising and other destructive behaviors,” reports Buck Runyan, the COO 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 amongst teens? Having self-esteem is one of the buzz words of this century. Lack of self-esteem can increase the odds that your teen will look for numbing out methods to suppress their discomfort, pain, frustration, and pain during this time. When a child is comfortable in their own skin, they can reach inward for well being and strength rather than becoming reliant on outside sources to dull their senses. Having an open dialogue with your teen without judgment or criticism, allows your teen to feel more comfortable sharing issues such as 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 look for validation somewhere else joining groups or gangs where drugs and alcohol is the norm.
Another solution to this growing epidemic might be getting to know our neighbors more closely to feel part of a community rather than having to look outside our neighborhoods for a sense of belonging. Creating deeper bonds within our own circles might alleviate the need to search outside for validation. If your teen does, however, show signs such as isolation, eating habit changes, depression, excessive sleep, or new acting out behavior, seek the professional help you need. This could be signs of an addiction or eating disorder and a professional can assess if there is truly a serious problem erupting. Celebrity addiction is not nearly as dangerous as a drug or alcohol addiction; however, it is another way your teen may be avoiding what is really going on in their life. Celebrity addiction can prevent or delay your teen from forming his or her own identity and instead emulate a false self of one of their favorite idols never developing a true core self. We all want to be loved for who we are and not by who we wish we could be.
Sherry Gaba, is a Licensed Psychotherapist and Life Coach in Agoura Hills. She specializes in addictions and eating disorders for adults and adolescents, as well as divorce and single parenting issues. She also facilitates a women’s recovery group and newly divorced/single parenting group. She can be reached at 818-756-3338. Her web site is www.sgabatherapy.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.