Celebrity crushes are normal infatuations for young fans
Whenever Olga Watkins' daughter, Ella, and her friends hear the name Justin Bieber, the swooning tweens exclaim, "Ooh, Justin Bieber!"
Ella, 8, even stopped her mom at a movie theater, so that Watkins could take a picture of Ella kissing a life-size image of Bieber on the cheek. Ella talks about him all the time, and loves to get magazines and photos featuring her teen idol. She used to be just as into the Jonas Brothers, but as infatuated Ella tells it, the heartthrob trio -- at least among her circle of friends -- has fallen in the shadow of Bieber.
"They've been around for a long time, and girls want something new," says Ella, of Highland Park. Bieber is "cuter than all the Jonas Brothers. That's why girls like him."
Tween-age and young teen girls not only tend to become passionate fans of adolescent and young adult idols like Bieber, but also can become obsessive. Posters of the heartthrobs paper the fans' walls, and their faces and music occupies the girls' thoughts. Think of Bieber and the Jonas Brothers, Jesse McCartney from recent years -- and, further back in history, heroes like Johnny Depp, Elvis Presley, Frankie Avalon and David Cassidy.
Chances are, parents needn't be concerned about these celebrity crushes. According to John Carosso, a Greensburg child psychologist, "99.9 percent of the time, it amounts to nothing" -- unless the obsession goes to extremes and interferes with a child's happiness and academic work.
"By and large, it's a normal, typical thing," Carosso says. "For the first time in their life, they have these feelings toward the opposite sex, and this is a safe way of expressing those feelings. Later, they meet real people that they can be in a relationship with."
Dr. Jon Pletcher, an adolescent medicine specialist at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, agrees. A teen idol obsession is often short-lived, and not harmful.
"It's mostly harmless; having an infatuation with a teen idol is very common," Pletcher says. The crushes are "a very normal, natural and formative thing."
Teen idol crushes are part of the process that later leads to forming real-life relationships, Pletcher says.
"They're having a kind of intimate relationship with a safe partner -- someone who's never going to touch them," he says.
If tween obsessions with a celebrity continue for several years, even after a child's peers have mostly outgrown the crushes, it can be a problem, Pletcher says. Parents also should be concerned if kids become emotionally distressed if they don't receive a personal response to their fan mail, says Pletcher, who once saw a patient who wanted to run away from home to meet a celebrity.
While today's adults remember their puppy-love celebrity crushes happening around age 11 or 12 at the youngest, these days, things seem to happen at a younger and younger age, Carosso says; however, parents should encourage the innocence of childhood for as long as possible.
"They're definitely more savvy about this than I was at that age," says Watkins, 40. She has observed her daughter and peers lose interest in idols pretty quickly, and move on to someone else.
The image of a teen idol can be melodramatic, and make the guy out to be better than he is in real life, Watkins says. And they all seem to be alike, in many ways.
"I do think some of them have some talent, but I think many of them do not," Watkins says. She and Ella -- along with Ella's friend and her mom -- are attending Bieber's Monday concert in Pittsburgh.
"Some of them are cardboard cutouts," Watkins says. "There's sort of a celebrity factory that keeps churning these kids out."
Adrienne Sempr-Capaccio, 55, of West Deer, reminisces with a smile about her teen idol: Bobby Sherman, a heartthrob actor who enchanted young girls in the '60s and early '70s. Sempr-Capaccio still has many of her well-worn "Tiger Beat" teen magazines featuring Sherman on the cover. Several years ago, her longtime dream came true: She attended a Sherman concert, and went backstage to meet him. Sherman autographed Sempr-Capaccio's lunchbox, and he was a very nice person, she says.
"I always call him my first love," Sempr-Capaccio says about Sherman. He was a good role model, too, she says.
"He was a wholesome guy; it was just wholesome values," she says. "It was just someone who I could look up to.
"I was obsessed with him, but my parents didn't mind it," Sempr-Capaccio says. Although she did, at times, drive them crazy.
Dazzlers through the decades
Justin Bieber is the current heartthrob, but remember these guys?
• Elvis Presley, the king of rock 'n' roll who made girls swoon
• Michael Landon played Cartwright brother Little Joe on "Bonanza"
• Davy Jones earned his fan following on "The Monkees."
• Bobby Sherman, known for his role on "Here Come the Brides"
• David Cassidy, who played Keith Partridge on "The Partridge Family"
• Barry Williams wowed girls as Greg Brady in "The Brady Bunch."
• Donny Osmond earned many swooning female fans when he starred with his sister in "The Donny & Marie Show."
• Michael J. Fox, whose fame came for his portrayal of Alex Keaton in "Family Ties."
• Scott Baio, of "Happy Days," "Joanie Loves Chachi," and "Charles in Charge"
• Johnny Depp, long before his Jack Sparrow and Willy Wonka days, got his start on "21 Jump Street"
• Kirk Cameron won girls over with his boyish charm on "Growing Pains," where he played Mike Seaver.
• Jason Priestley played the cool California dreamboat Brandon in "Beverly Hills, 90210."
• Ashton Kutcher got his acting start in "That '70s Show."
• Jesse McCartney, a pop singing star who also acted in "Summerland" and "Greek"
• Jonas Brothers, the siblings who sing and starred in "Camp Rock" and "Jonas L.A."