Never mind if kids are celebrity-obsessed. In most cases, it' a passing phase, says SHEFALI TRIPATHI MEHTA

A group of teenage girls were at a pizza outlet, admiring a film star's picture and teasing their friend who was his `fan.' The girl wanted to take the picture home but was scared of her parents, who were growing increasingly `intolerant' of her obsession with him. So she slipped it into her bag and decided to hide it from them — the beginning of the end of the `openness' that a child shares with its parents. The chasm grows and while the parents agonise over their apparent lack of control, the child grows aloof and defiant. Does this describe your situation?

Think objectively

Confused parents unable to see the issue objectively, continue to do more harm. Their angry words instigate the child to retaliate. Their need to suppress the behaviour and the inability to do so leads them to feel sorry for themselves and envy other seemingly `normal' kids. They openly compare the child with his/her friends. It is time to think logically. Is your teenager's celebrity obsession really bad? In most cases, it's a passing phase. Think back. That cousin or classmate of yours who used to carry a Hema Malini photo in his wallet, is he still doing so? Children outgrow these obsessions. Of course, there are cases involving kids who take drastic steps like running away from home to meet their star or imitating them to dangerous limits and that's the kind of behaviour parents have to keep in check not through shouting matches but by open communication. So if your teen wants to treat her friends on her favourite film star's birthday, don't try to control her by scolding her because it will only lead her to do it without your knowledge the next time. It could be an attention-seeking behaviour. Children point to her in the school corridors and say, `She's a John Abraham fan'. She loves the attention and the recognition. She wants to take it to the next level by openly doing things that her parents if they came to know would be embarrassed about. It clearly shows the child's need to draw attention to herself. Understand the child and help him/her to excel in something that would highlight their inherent potential — sports, dramatics, dance or academics. If the interest in the celebrity is `intense', there might be an emotional problem with the child such as insecurity or dependence. Suppressing any emotional need will lead to some other emotional problem and before you know it, you might be confronted with graver problems. Teenagers are very vulnerable to `image' issues. Talk to them about how hollow the concept of an external image is. They are under tremendous pressure to look cool and trendy. There's no harm in that but the line has to be drawn. How far would their trendy dress and hairstyle take them? Wouldn't they rather be loved and respected as compassionate, well-educated and socially responsible citizens?

Don't skirt the issue

Treat the child as an adult and reason out why certain things are acceptable and others not. Give them examples of how they can get into trouble or cause harm to others by blindly imitating their idols. A teenage girl who wants to dress like a pop star can make a fool of herself, a little older and she can invite trouble as she's not yet equipped to handle all external situations. A young boy may want to ride a bike like his star, endangering his own life and that of others. Ask the child what he or she likes in the celebrity idol? Do your homework and highlight the good qualities. It needn't be a clinical question-answer session which makes the child defiant. Casually mention the celebrity's admirable traits, such as the way the celebrity conducts himself with a lot of respect towards others and their views, involves in charities or social issues, or the indomitable spirit he displays. Also, the fact that the celebrity got where he/she is with hard work, focus and persistence needs to be emphasised. Help the child see the inspiring qualities worth emulating. Emphasise how the child too can be a `celebrity' in his/her own area of interest. Positive role modelsChildren at this age seek role models. Are there conversations in the family regarding positive role models for them? Do you highlight the achievements and contribution of our national heroes? Did you ever discuss the daredevilry of Kiran Bedi, the humble background from which President Kalam rose to where he is today or the family values and unyielding respect for his parents that Big B displays? The child must understand that even though she wears a Sania Mirza nose-pin, she will not be able to achieve Sania Mirza's status unless she too strives like her in the area of her interest and aptitude. Growing children are attracted to the glitter and glamour that reaches them through their growing external interactions. It is for parents to help the child be grounded in desirable values so that the child is able to see the worth of things — good or bad.