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Dr. Drew Pinsky wants to save your kids from celebrity culture

So have you been enjoying Babble‘s FameCrawler lately? Well, Dr. Drew Pinsky and his colleague, Dr. S. Mark Young, say you might want to rethink how much you giggle about Britney’s missteps or fawn over Brangelina’s brood.

Dr. Drew is an addiction specialist, the longtime host of the radio call-in show Loveline and co-star of the VH1 hit Celebrity Rehab. Dr. Young has written five other books and is a professor of sports and entertainment business in California. Their new book, The Mirror Effect: How Celebrity Narcissism is Seducing America, talks about our fascination with celebrities, why they do what they do and what it means for the rest of us.

The Mirror Effect means mirroring back celebrities’ narcissism and running the risk of bringing their dangerous sexual behavior, drug use and emotional instability into our own lives. The book is filled with equal measure of celebrity tidbits (which celebs have sex tapes, for exaple) and Psych 101. In one very entertaining chapter, the doctors discuss the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, a standard psych screening test which they’ve given to hundreds of celebrities [and which you can take here]. Fascinatingly, the celebs with the highest scores were the ones with the least amount of apparent talent (reality TV stars). If you read the book, you can take the test too. A score of 40 is the most narcissistic. Certain un-named Babble writers scored 12 – higher than the modest Frankie Muniz (10) but far lower than Robin Quivers (34).

Babble spoke to the good doctors Drew and Mark about the changing perception of celebrities, the hidden narcissism in all of us, and what parents can do to save their kids from the cult of Miley Cyrus. – Jennifer V. Hughes

Babble has an entire blog devoted to celebrity parents. What do you think about the obsession with celebrity moms and dads, what they are wearing and doing and thinking and saying?

Drew: That’s what the book is about — how unhealthy that obsession is and how devoid of the realistic human experience the entire discussion is. When people wonder why celebrities make the choices they do, you have to talk about it in terms of their pathology, their childhood experiences, the more serious issues they are struggling with. The conversation about celebrities is so superficial and it only involves our own narcissism as consumers.

It seems like this obsession with celebrity parents is a pretty new thing — what’s up with that?

Drew: The majority of the population that is reading this material is now of parenting age.

What effect do you think that has on the average mom wearing dirty yoga pants who is surfing the web with her baby in her lap, assuming looks nothing like Angelina Jolie?

Drew: It evokes envy and envy is different from jealousy. Jealousy is, “They have it and I want it.” Envy is, “They have something and I don’t have it therefore that diminishes me so I must tear them down.” That’s why we gossip about them as opposed to having a conversation about what motivates their choices.

Mark: I think basically what we see is that often the people who follow this stuff have the most narcissistic tendencies. They’re following what they crave and they are creating the next generation of narcissists without even knowing it.

In some ways it’s easy to see how a culture of celebrity can hurt teenagers. I mean, who wants their daughter emulating Paris Hilton? But does it also affect younger kids — like preschoolers and grade-schoolers?

Mark: If you look at the obsession with someone like Miley Cyrus, you can see it. I have a four-year-old daughter and all the kids in her daycare basically know Miley Cyrus and they wear T-shirts with her face on them and they watch the Disney Channel. So this tendency toward worshiping celebrities starts at a very young age.

But isn’t that just a case where parents should say: “You’re four. You’re not watching Miley Cyrus”?

Mark: I think to some extent this is what we’re talking about: parents setting clear boundaries with their children, letting children be children and not allowing them to grow up too quickly and experience things they don’t really understand. They like the idea of glitz and glamour, but they don’t understand it.

When it comes to an obsession with celebrities, are things really different now from the days when I had my Duran Duran poster and Tiger Beat magazine?

Drew: There is always a tendency for adolescents to create bigger-than-life obsessions in which to bask, but the magnitude of the celebrity obsessions is changing. The pathology in celebrities is much worse and our conversation about them is much more mean-spirited and destructive, when it should be the exact opposite. We should be thinking about why they do what they do and not gloating over their suffering.

Mark: For the first time, young people are saying they want to be famous – they are seeking fame as the primary motivation in their lives. Our research shows there is a relationship between those kids who seek fame for fame’s sake and early childhood trauma.

So are you saying I shouldn’t be looking at pictures of Angelina Jolie on my computer anymore?

Drew: When you are looking at someone with a history of heroin addiction who has added lots of children to her life, you should try to figure out what is going on.

I have to ask, isn’t there something ironic or perhaps hypocritical about your book? You’re decrying the culture of celebrity worship and saying how harmful it can be and yet you’ve made your career off Loveline and Celebrity Rehab?

“For the first time, young people are seeking fame as the primary motivation in their lives.” Drew: We’re decrying our relationship with it, we’re not taking the opportunity to look at the behavior and talk to our kids. Celebrity Rehab is pulling back the curtain and showing the painful experiences that create the behavior rather than just looking at celebrities. You see the human being and what is going on.

What can parents do to diminish the effects of a celebrity culture on our kids?

Drew: It’s like anything else in the media – you have to be a savvy consumer. Like when kids are bombarded by sexual materials, you sit and watch and you ask questions, throw up open-ended questions like “What do you think they are feeling?” rather than “Aren’t they awful?”, which doesn’t accomplish anything.

Mark: You need to maintain your authority as a parent. Set up clear boundaries of what is acceptable behavior. It’s also about not over-sharing your experiences – don’t go into all the gory details of your life experiences, because sometimes that is unwarranted.

Drew: It also is a license to your child to pick up where you left off.

Mark: Let your children fail at some things. What we found is that narcissistic parents often won’t let their kids fail because it opens deep emotional feelings they had as a child. It’s important when a child fails to step in and engage in a teachable moment. The third thing is to let kids be kids. Don’t overexpose them to inappropriate material. And finally, if your child is really enamored of fame seeking – that’s something to think about and have a discussion about why they feel that way. Obviously fame is not bad, but you should achieve something to have fame.

As a psych minor I loved your chapter where you talk about giving the NPI to celebrities on Loveline. What is your Narcissistic Personality Index score?

Mark: [Laughing] Drew?

Drew: What was I? Sixteen?

Mark: Yes, you were a 16. I was an 18.

Were you surprised?

Mark: A little bit, but when you break things down I tend to score higher on [aspects of the NPI that measure] authority, superiority and self-sufficiency. It could be my role as a professional. If I scored high on vanity or exhibitionism or exploitation, then I would be really concerned.

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