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So many of us follow our favorite celebrities on social media hoping to get small glimpses of their private lives. But have you ever wondered, where’s the line between fandom and obsession? Tweens and teens are especially vulnerable to developing parasocial relationships with celebrities they love online. Because of their fame, celebs can influence followers in some of the worst ways. To prevent your child from being negatively influenced by others online and to create a strong digital foundation, check out our Screen Safety Essentials Course. Today’s GKIS article covers what online parasocial relationships are and how to prevent their negative influence on kids and teens. 

What is a ‘Parasocial’ Relationship? 

A parasocial relationship is a one-way relationship with a person of higher status who you know intimately but who hardly knows you at all.[1] Social media is the perfect vehicle to develop parasocial relationships. Younger tweens and teens are especially susceptible due to a powerful social drive fed by adolescent identity formation. Not only are teens looking for mentorship, but they also easily form an attachment to idealized versions of their favorite celebs.[2] 

Social media features that readily fuel parasocial relationships include the attraction of stylized and beautifully edited posts, branding relationships between celebrities, produced dramas between celebrities designed to bring in more followers, fan comments and forums, and even the ability to send private messages. Studies show that adolescents that have a weaker sense of self-identity often participate in celebrity worship as they are more easily influenced by others.[2] 

‘Stan Culture’ 

Fans aim to achieve closer relations with their favorite celebs through various consumption activities.[1] Twitter is the social media site with the largest number of users who participate in celebrity worship, which is also known as a stan. A Stan is an overzealous or obsessive fan of a particular celebrity. Primarily a term used to define a fan of a particular musical artist, there are Stans for just about any popular current artist you can think of. Stan culture on Twitter consists of individuals sharing fanmade videos and pictures and consuming as much of the artist’s content as possible. 

There is also a dark side to Twitter’s Stan culture. Arguments between Stans of different celebrities frequently appear in comment sections, which eventually turn into cases of cyberbullying. Studies have found that intense celebrity worship can be linked to tendencies toward addiction and stalking behaviors.[3] What seems like innocent fan engagement could potentially lead to something more negative and even illegal. 

Defending Harmful Messages 

Well-known celebs have the freedom to post whatever they want on the Internet, just like the rest of us. Although they aren’t obligated to maintain a certain image, sometimes they promote harmful ideologies that influence fans who’ve developed parasocial relationships with them. 

The most recent example is rapper Kanye West, who has been at the forefront of recent celeb controversy. In October 2022, Kanye made some anti-Semitic remarks based on conspiracy theories and harmful stereotypes in interviews and Instagram posts. This resulted in groups of people in Los Angeles standing with signs over freeways saying harmful anti-Semitic things shortly after the comments circulated on the Internet. One of the signs said that Kanye was “right” about what he said about Jewish individuals. Amongst the backlash that he received, there were die-hard fans that stood their ground and continued to defend his actions. This led some fans to adopt his conspiracy theories and ideals at worst and turn a blind eye to such ignorance at best.

Impressionable Teens and Tweens

Other celebrities have also promoted problematic ideas with the support of fans who adore them. This is a problem primarily for young tweens and teens due to their lack of real-world experiences and their evolving views of the world around them. Being negatively influenced by celebrities online can have serious risks. 

How to Discourage Parasocial Relationships 

There is a difference between being a fan of someone’s work and developing an obsessive parasocial relationship with them online. Having conversations with your kids about the importance of navigating the Internet safely is a good place to start. Our Connected Family Course can help with that. It includes the tools necessary to monitor and promote healthy screen engagement while still maintaining a positive environment at home. 

Young teens and tweens who are still learning about the world could be exposed to ignorant comments from their favorite celebrities and could potentially become influenced by them. In the worst case, teens become radicalized in their thinking without their parents even knowing. To prevent your tweens and teens from engaging in ignorant and harmful content online, check out our Social Media Readiness Course. Our course provides you and your child with the knowledge necessary to safely browse the Internet and avoid ignorant and harmful content, as well as how to make healthy digital decisions. 

Learning the ways of the Internet doesn’t have to be a daunting task. Dr. Bennett’s book Screen Time in the Mean Time is another great tool for parents to use to become more knowledgeable about the unpredictable online realm. This book can further prepare you for establishing a safe environment for your tweens and teens to express their love for their favorite celebrities/artists online. 

Thanks to CSUCI intern Tracy Pizano for researching the risks of forming parasocial relationships and for co-authoring this article. 

I’m the mom psychologist who will help you GetKidsInternetSafe. 

Onward to More Awesome Parenting, 

Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty

        Works Cited 

[1] Derbaix, M., & Korchia, M. (2019). Individual celebration of pop music icons: A study of music fans’ relationships with their object of fandom and associated practices. Journal of Consumer Behaviour, 18(2), 109–119. https://doi-org.ezproxy.csuci.edu/10.1002/cb.1751 

[2] Ang, C.-S., & Chan, N.-N. (2018). Adolescents’ views on celebrity worship: A qualitative study. Current Psychology: A Journal for Diverse Perspectives on Diverse Psychological Issues, 37(1), 139–148. https://doi-org.ezproxy.csuci.edu/10.1007/s12144-016-9497-0 

[3] Sansone, R. A., & Sansone, L. A. (2014). ‘I’m your number one fan’—A clinical look at celebrity worship. Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience, 11(1–2), 39–43. 


        Photo Credits 

[1] https://stock.adobe.com/search?k=celebrity&asset_id=357310019 

[2] https://depositphotos.com/127192718/stock-photo-blond-teenage-girl-texting-on.html 


Tracy Pizano
Tracy Pizano