Embark Behavioral Health
September 29, 2021
Throughout adolescence, your child will go through the process of developing their identity. “It is a natural time of life to be looking for a place to belong,” says Jeana Thomsen, executive director at New Haven Residential Treatment Center.
Sometimes, they may look to others to inspire their identity and inform the place where they feel they belong, and they may feel they found that in a celebrity, influencer, movie star, rapper, or another notable figure. They may look up to celebrities to help them determine their own values, goals, beliefs, style, and more.
Thomsen explains why young adults may be drawn to those that are famous and in the public eye:
“Often celebrities have large followings, and teenagers feel part of something.”
By being a fan of a celebrity or well-known figure, your teen may feel like they’re a part of a community and may establish connections with other fans. In theory, this could fuel a deeper influence on your teen, as the more connected they feel, the more that celebrity may affect the development of their own identity.
How Can Kids Be Fans, But Not Lose Themselves?
One way to help teenagers be fans without losing themselves is to encourage them to have other activities that they are engaged in outside of social media and fandom. Thomsen explains:
“If they’re busy with other things, they feel good about activities they are engaged in, and they feel successful in other endeavors, they will be less likely to need the belonging and validation from liking or imitating a celebrity.”
She also recommends supporting healthy, real-life relationships with family and friends to negate some of social media’s effects on teens. If they’re engaged with others, they’ll be more likely to have a balanced view of celebrities.
Are Celebrities Good Role Models?
“Yes and no,” Thomsen responds. She says that some celebrities can be positive role models, especially as more and more celebrity mental health advocates and activists for critical issues have been using their platform to create awareness, foster acceptance, and encourage action. Thomsen expands:
“Some celebrities have causes that are important to them that can be healthy for teenagers.”
She points to examples of body positivity and conservationism. Celebrity mental health advocates and those who have gone through recovery like Selena Gomez, Ariana Grande, Colton Haynes, and Michael Phelps are also helping break the stigma around prioritizing their mental health and seeking treatment. Recently, the Olympics and other notable competitions have brought the issue of competitive and student-athlete mental health to the forefront.
What other celebrities are good role models? Those famous for taking a stand, such as Greta Thunberg, David Hogg, Malala Yousafzai, and Xiuhtezcatl Roske-Martinez (also known as X), can also have a positive influence on teens by encouraging them to organize around the issues they care about that have social and person value.
However, some can be bad celebrity role models. “Other times, celebrities are open about using substances and showcase that on social media which can influence teenagers in an unhealthy way,” Thomsen says. Examples of bad role models include influencers like Ricegum, Jake Paul and Logan Paul who have bullied young people, posted offensive content, and faced sexual assault allegations.
The Influence of Celebrities
Whether celebrities are good or bad role models, they can influence your teen’s identity, values, attitudes, and behaviors. Celebrities that flaunt their status may influence young people to value superficial things like brand names and their image. Influencers and celebs who share photoshopped or unrealistic images could affect your teen’s self-esteem and distort the perception of their self-image, leading to body dysmorphia and eating disorders in teens.
Other ways that celebrities can influence your teen could include:
- Normalizing behaviors like drinking, smoking, the use of other substances, or drug abuse
- Promoting violent or criminal behavior like vandalism, fighting, or driving under the influence
- Modeling poor decisions around relationships or sex
They can also be a good example, influencing young adults in the following ways:
- Promoting dedication to hard work
- Modeling how to positively handle situations when they make mistakes
- Talking openly about mental health issues
The good news is that you can help your teen understand the difference between the positive behaviors, values, and attitudes of those who influence them and the negative ones.
How to Help Your Kid Discern the Useful from the Damaging
If you want to help guide your teen in understanding the influence these figures may have over their life, behavior, attitudes, values and other aspects of life and identity, you need to have a strong connection first. This means focusing on trust, empathy, reciprocity, vulnerability, and healthy intimacy between parents and teens. Thomsen explains:
“Teens are more willing to listen to someone that they know loves them. Once they know this, it becomes easier to have conversations about this with them.”
With an established connection, she suggests saying something to the effect of ‘I’ve noticed you paying a lot of attention to [insert celebrity]. Tell me what you like about them.’ Once you’ve asked the question, actively listen to their response.
“This works a lot better than saying, ‘I’m concerned about the people you are following on social media,’” Thomsen says. You still might have concerns, but you need to seek understanding before lecturing or trying to change their mind.
Staying Plugged into Who Your Teen Is Following
Are celebrities good role models for your teen? They may be celebrity mental health advocates or influential activists for important issues, or they may be promoting drug or substance use, an unrealistic body image, or materialistic standards. The only way you’ll know is if you understand who’s influencing your teen.
“Parents should have access to their children’s phones,” Thomsen advocates. She recognizes that every family will handle this differently:
“Some parents manage the passwords on their children’s phones so that they can log in anytime and check things. Other parents require that they can follow their children on social media. Many parents hold parental controls that don’t allow their children to download apps without permission, which helps parents keep an eye on what is going on.”
While setting boundaries around cell phone usage is a critical step, your relationship with your teen is just as important. “Staying connected and keeping the lines of communication open are essential,” Thomsen says.