Does your child have celebrity worship syndrome?

With months to go until his concert next year, Bieber fever is already infecting teenagers across the UAE. We consider the fine line between normal levels of teen adulation and celebrity worship syndrome.

Justin Bieber poses for fans. AP Photo / NBC, Peter Kramer
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Beliebers across the UAE are in a frenzy of excitement as the Baby, baby, baby, ohhh star is set to perform at 7he Sevens Stadium in Dubai on May 4. "In less than 36 hours the fan-pit tickets [Dh1,000], which allow you to stand near the stage, were sold out. Only those who pre-registered could buy them," says the organiser Thomas Ovesen of Done Events. "I have never seen such overwhelming demand."

If you have a teenager living under your roof, there's a good chance she has spent your hard-earned cash on some concert tickets. In all likelihood you're not a Belieber yourself and probably struggle to see beyond the quiff and ridiculously white teeth. However Clare Smart, a counsellor at LifeWorks Counselling and Development Dubai (, has some idea why teenagers adore the pop phenomenon. "Justin Bieber is a teenager himself and therefore teenagers feel a connection to him, in the songs that he sings, his hairstyle and how he dresses… he represents what many teenagers believe they would like for themselves, such as celebrity friends, the latest clothing trends, exciting travel and high earnings. Teenagers feel that it becomes more within reach for them as he is a similar age."

Perhaps your teenage daughter checks Bieber's Twitter feed before she gets out of bed in the morning and knows all his lyrics by heart. Rest assured, she won't be the only one, and obsessing over popstars certainly isn't a new thing. In most cases, it is just a means for adolescents to distinguish themselves from their parents. According to the experts, there's plenty to be gained from idolising a star.

"It gives teenagers the feeling of being part of a group and a shared experience with other teenagers who have the same interest in a particular celebrity… this gives a sense of belonging," says Smart.

It's easy to be patronising as a parent - after all, we've been there, bought the poster and moved on. Despite this, it's a good idea to talk to your teenager about their idol, find out what they like about them and why. "You could accompany your teenager to a concert or listen along to the latest song in the car with them," suggests Smart. "This shows that you are interested in the things they consider to be important."

Sometimes, however, a normal level of interest slips into an obsession and then it becomes a cause for concern. The term "celebrity worship" was coined by Lynn E McCutcheon and other authors at DeVry University in the US, and celebrity worship syndrome (CWS) is now considered a personality disorder. Researchers have identified three levels of celebrity worship:

- Entertainment-social: a person appreciates a celebrity because of their ability to entertain.

- Intense-personal: a person may feel a special bond with a celebrity or believe that their life is affected by whatever happens to their favourite celebrity.

- Borderline-pathological: a person may experience uncontrollable behaviours and fantasies regarding their favourite celebrity. They feel angry and frustrated if the star does not respond to messages or calls.

If your teenager fits into categories two or three, there could be some underlying problems. John Maltby, a researcher at the University of Leicester in the UK, found evidence to suggest that intense-personal celebrity worship was related to higher levels of depression, anxiety and stress. In practice, this often means teenagers who are overly obsessed with stars have impaired relationships with their parents.

The good news, however, is that there is plenty that parents can do to prevent their teenagers from sliding down the scale of fanatical fandom:

- Encourage your children to become involved with school activities and get involved yourself when it is appropriate.

- Give them plenty of positive feedback about their unique strengths and qualities. Are they good at tennis? Make sure you tell them.

- Give teenagers responsibilities at home or suggest that they find a part-time job after school or volunteer to help others who are less fortunate.

- Encourage alternative interests and socialising with friends - rather than spending all their time online reading about a celebrity.

- Have discussions with your teenager about the difference between a harmless interest in pop-culture figures and an unhealthy fascination with celebrities.

- Most importantly, set a good example for your kids without judging or lecturing. The more teenagers respect their parents, the less likely they are to idolise stars.

Does your child have celebrity worship syndrome?

If your child agrees with the following, she may have low-level CWS:

- My friends and I like to discuss what my favourite celebrity gets up to at the weekend

- I enjoy watching my favourite celebrity on TV

- Reading interviews about my favourite celebrity is a lot of fun

If your child agrees with the following more intense feelings, she may have a moderate case of CWS:

- When something bad happens to my favourite celebrity I feel like it happened to me

- I have a special bond with my celebrity

- I am destined to be with my favourite celebrity

If your child agrees with the following, she may be obsessed, borderline pathological and suffering seriously from CWS:

- My favourite celebrity would come to my immediate rescue if I needed any type of help

- If I were lucky enough to meet my favourite celebrity and they asked me to do something illegal as a favour, I would probably do it

- I have frequent thoughts about my favourite celebrity, even when I don't want to