Alphabet Kids

Finding your way through psychiatric labels for kids.

Lady Gaga and her 10 million Facebook friends: celebrity worship syndrome

Lady Gaga's 10 million Facebook friends aren't really her friends.

It's not so bad for a kid to be called a "Little Monster" nowadays. At least if you're a Lady Gaga fan, that is. Little Monster is Gaga's term of endearment for her rabid, growing cult of young fans. In fact, on Facebook, she just surpassed the 10 million mark, the highest number of fans for a living person. Barack Obama is in a race for second, and Oprah isn't too far behind.

But it's kid power that is generating this phenomenon.

Fandom is a group activity, and one that young people, who often feel like outsiders, can relate to. Your daughter might not play soccer with the other girls or your son might shy away from hanging out with his classmates, but when it comes to a professional athlete or musical artist who the child can relate to, a teen can find solace in numbers.

Add to this the element that celebrities are often being perceived as rebels, breakers of rules or outcasts, and because of that outsider-who-made-it image, they can easily become the object of affection to a pretty passionate fanbase.

Lady Gaga is an idol for kids who feel like they're on the fringe. She appears to not care what anybody thinks, and that's an important message for her fans who most likely care what everybody thinks about them, It's a great release to cheer her on, and then feel emboldened enough to wear that dress with bubbles and feathers to school.

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A Celebrity Worship Scale was developed by a group of American and U.K. psychologists to rate the level of celebrity idolatry, ranging from reading and learning about a celebrity to watching and listening to a favorite celeb to more problematic escalation like talking as if the celebrity has a real relationship with you. For young people on the edge of mental health, being a fan might be dangerous for both the child and celebrity.

Studies have shown that the more depressed or stressed-out a young person is, the more likely they will form a strong attachment to a celebrity. British studies have shown that adolescent girls' body image is shaped by the celebrity she chooses to idolize, almost always an impossible ideal. Most of the time it's a healthy rite of passage.

But then there's obsession.

I recently wrote an article about Kristen Stewart, the shy, young actress who stars in the Twilight film series who just revealed that she was afraid of being assassinated, because of rabid fans who might take her character more seriously than they should, or be angry out of misplaced jealousy because she kissed the wrong guy in a film, or dates the object of some fan's unhealthy obsession.

James Chapman, in the 2003 Daily Mail article "Do You Worship the Celebs?" coined the phrase Celebrity Worship Syndrome (CWS, another in the list of Alphabet Disorders). As with most behaviors, CWS is only a concern if it impacts the person so negatively that she cannot function. Collecting every picture possible of Lady Gaga (or Justin Bieber or Adam Lambert) provides youngsters with a creative outlet. Almost everyone has had a fan crush on an artist growing up. (Hey, I have a 40-year-old macho friend who will follow Dave Matthews anywhere around the world.) Loving to talk to your fellow fans and attending concerts with people with whom you have common interests is perfectly fine. It's a social event.

It becomes problematic when the child starts relating too closely to the artist: "If someone insults Lady Gaga, they have insulted me," or "Lady Gaga might have 10 million fans but I'm her favorite." Red flags.

Parents should be on the lookout for kids who are prone to obsessive fantasy about their idol. A 13-year-old girl pretending she is going to be Mrs. Justin Bieber, is not as problematic as a teen who has mapped out how to break into Lady Gaga's house because he believes the superstar is secretly in love with him.

It is healthy for teens to flock toward a celebrity, and to even be slightly obsessed. When that slight obsession turns into a borderline-pathological dissaciation, then it's time to be concerned.

For various reasons, you might not want your child hanging a poster of Lady Gaga in her machine gun bra over her bed, but don't forget that it wasn't too long ago that you were dancing around in your underwear-as-outerwear under the poster of Madonna with her cone bra.

As for joing Gaga's Facebook page, knowing that you belong to a group of 10 million who share your interests can be very comforting. As long as you can share.

Alphabet Kids: A Guide to Developmental, Neurobiological and Psychological Disorders for Parents and Professionals

 

Robbie Woliver is a journalist and editor. He is the author of the book Alphabet Kids.

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