Tween crushes on celebrities are still rampant today, running the gamut from musicians to actors to models to athletes.
Richmond Hill, Ont., mom Kathryn Howell knows this all too well. Her 10-year-old daughter, Kailey, has had boy band crushes since the tender age of five. The current objects of her affection include Cody Simpson, Justin Bieber and R5 band member Riker Lynch. “Kailey is devoted to them all beyond belief,” says Kathryn. She purchases magazines, hangs posters in her room, and even created an Instagram account dedicated to R5. To convince her parents to let her see her crushes in concert or at events, Kailey begs, saves money, writes proposals and even turns on the tears. She recently lucked out with the chance to meet her favourite band on the set of a morning show, and “proposed” to Riker with a poster she made him.
What’s happening here? Psychotherapist and parenting expert Alyson Schafer – who can remember jumping on her bed high enough to kiss her David Cassidy and Bobby Sherman posters – explains that sexuality is budding for kids this age, as they begin to be drawn to people in a different way. While this may include their peers, it’s even more likely to include a star who’s packaged and marketed to appeal to tweens.
Though this type of “relationship” may be safer and easier, since it seems to be one-way, Alyson points out that these kids truly believe they are “interacting” with their crush, and showing love by leaving messages on websites, using social media and purchasing tickets and merchandise.
“There’s no way to go around this phase, only through it,” says Alyson, suggesting that parents need to embrace their child’s reality. “I wouldn’t be ‘hyping it’,” she says, “but as parents, we want to validate our kids’ experience and not negate it in their minds, as they may really believe this is their first true love.” She points out that these crushes can also be a springboard for rich discussions about how celebrities are marketed – with stylists and airbrushing – as well as the invasion of privacy that comes with stardom.
While the word “obsession” is often used to negatively describe this type of crush, experts believe that it’s best to allow it to run its course, with no need to intervene unless it’s interfering with your child’s commitments (homework, chores) or has completely replaced real world socialization.
Alyson also reminds parents that validating your child’s feelings doesn’t take precedence over the way you typically parent. “If you’re living within a budget and your family cannot afford concert tickets, I would not be getting the triple mortgage on the house just to do it. Don’t worry that you’re going to devastate your child or that they won’t love you if you don’t. As well, if a concert is too late at night or the content is too adult, use your own judgment and set appropriate limits for your kids.”
For her part, Kathryn isn’t worried. “Back in the day I was in love with Jon Knight from New Kids on the Block, so I get it,” she says. She acknowledges that social media makes things different for this generation, but limits Kailey to Instagram for now and feels her daughter is respectful of the boundaries. “In the end I feel as long as she’s happy and it’s a healthy crush, then I’m okay with it.”
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, April 2014.