Since Sage Spehar turned 7, she has been a huge Belieber. She even had a Justin Bieber birthday party. It wasn't to celebrate her birthday -- it was to honor his. "She invited eight friends over for cake, games, videos, and crafts," says her mom, Sophia Neuschulz Spehar, of Montclair, New Jersey. The Biebster himself was even in attendance -- in the form of a life-size cardboard cutout!
Although your kid probably isn't hosting celebrity bashes, chances are she's gaga for Justin, Taylor Swift, Victoria Justice, One Direction, or another megastar or group. "Children this age are searching for role models, and it's common for them to idolize celebrities," says Katherine Lamparyk, Psy.D., a pediatric psychologist at Cleveland Clinic Children's. Bring your stargazing pre-tween back to Earth with these expert tips.
Don't assume that your child likes her idol because of looks, money, or fame. "Ask her about what she admires in the star," says John Duffy, Psy.D., a psychologist and author of The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens. You may be surprised. Neuschulz Spehar was. "Sage's father and I recently divorced, and she doesn't have any close friends who have gone through a divorce," she says. "Sage told me that the fact that she knows Justin lived through his parents' split makes her feel better about her life in a way and contributes to her sense of connection to him."
When children have positive self-esteem, they follow their own authority and rely on their choices rather than the influence of celebs, athletes, or peers, says Gail Gross, Ph.D., a parenting expert in Houston. You can help your child develop a sense of self by helping him find his particular talents. Also, a compliment from Mom or Dad goes a long way, so offer genuine praise for the skills and characteristics your child exhibits. Help him take pride in his actions; it will boost his self-esteem and he won't worry as much about being cool.
Thanks to websites, YouTube, and social media, it's easier than ever for kids to keep up with the latest celeb happenings. (Remember when you only had that monthly teen magazine and MTV to be in the know?) Cut back on your kid's electronic time to focus on the real rock stars -- people who quietly make a difference in the world or the lives of others, such as firefighters, police officers, doctors, nurses, and teachers. You can even include your child's friends and family in the star-studded lineup, says Dr. Duffy. Ask what she likes about her friends and what makes those friends special to her. The idea: Help her see that people all around her have a positive impact on others, and they don't have to sell out concerts or star in a popular TV series.
It's possible to be accepting of your child's admiration without allowing it to go overboard. "Supporting her interest in celebrities is a matter of balance," says Dr. Duffy. It's okay to give her an occasional celebrity-related gift or let her use her own money when she wants posters, T-shirts, or perhaps even concert tickets, but don't indulge every request. Not only will trying to do so cost you a lot of money, it could help send your child's fondness for the star into the unhealthy category.
How do you tell when things are headed in that direction? Dr. Lamparyk says you need to address the situation right away if your child talks about the celebrity as though they have a personal relationship, she wants to do everything the star does and is losing her own identity, or she begins to make frequent comparisons of her weight and appearance to her idol's. As long as your child's superstar fascination doesn't cross those lines, though, experts say it's okay not to make a big deal about it. This phase will pass in a couple of years, and when your child becomes old enough to drive and date, you'll long for her days of Bieber fever.
Originally published in the June 2014 issue of Parents magazine.