(This is part one of two parts)
A frantic mother tells her therapist that her 15-year-old daughter has quit the cheerleading squad, no longer dreams of going to college to become a lawyer, and has replaced her childhood friends with friends Mom has never met. Her daughter has been isolating, reading the latest celebrity gossip magazines, and becoming more rebellious at home. Clearly her daughter is pulling away, which can be a hallmark of addiction or depression - or simply an adolescent trying to form an identity.
When you think of addiction, you think of drugs, alcohol, or even an eating disorder. The newest addiction teenagers are facing is called "celebrity addiction." One-third of Americans are dealing 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. Rather, I look at today's teenagers with a different set of eyes.
According to studies, many teenagers believe that emulating the lifestyle of a favorite celebrity is one of the few ways to form an identity; if one doesn't reach the same level of stardom, she will be a worthless nobody. This demonstrates a dramatic shift in the way teenagers perceive success. Research reveals that teenagers would rather surround themselves with celebrities - or become one - than become a more intelligent human being whose life will benefit the world around them. We are raising a generation of adolescents who would rather become Kim Kardashian than a human rights activist.
This type of value system drives the entourage that idolizes Charlie Sheen. You have to wonder what it means when Sheen claims to be above surrender to the disease of addiction, and then more than 74,000 people apply to be his social media intern. Recently Sheen has started booking a national speaking tour to spread his message. What does this tell our teenagers? Is Sheen spreading the message that a person doesn't have to abide by rules of modern society? Are teens going to believe that they can be the nation's highest-paid TV actor, say outlandish things via all media, get fired, and lose access to their children... and yet still garner enough attention to stay in the headlines? Teens not only mimic their favorite celebrities by copying their hairstyles and fashions; they are inclined to mimic their addictions as well. Addictions are viewed as glamorous, and celebrity addicts are viewed as getting everything they want while indulging in self-destructive behaviors. This is a dangerous mindset to copy.
Unfortunately, we too often see or hear about celebrity excess: smoking, drinking or drug use, constant parties, and sexually acting out. Simply put, teenagers are witness to celebrity addicts that appear to be above the law and invincible. This mindset leads teenagers to assume that there will be no consequences for their negative behaviors, because they see celebrities get away with such behaviors. This mindset is not new to our society.
Many musicians and actors have died tragic deaths from addiction; it's a pattern that continues due to today's increasing drug epidemic. Musicians Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison glamorized the use of drugs and alcohol during the 1960s. More recently, Michael Jackson, an icon for decades, died due to drug addiction. His death was seen in the headlines more than news stories about serious events occuring throughout the world.
Teenagers have been basing their behavior on celebrity behavior for a long time. 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 approach to identity formation has crossed the line. Teen idolization is becoming a medical issue. Teens are undergoing surgery at younger ages and at alarming rates. It is not unusual for a teen to have a first plastic surgery augmentation around age 16. The desire to replicate Angelina Jolie's pouty lips and Kim Kardashian's backside shows how the physical attributes of celebrities pressure teens to want to change. This desire to look different creates self-esteem issues that will affect teens for their entire lives.