Ricky Schroder was my first. I adored his side-swept bangs, blue eyes and extensive sweater collection.
Jerry O’Connell came next. The Fat Kid in Stand By Me had matured into a bona-fide teen dream on the show My Secret Identity. I broke into a cold pre-adolescent sweat at the sight of his disarming grin.
Then I discovered Monkees re-runs and my 12-year-old self decided that no one in the history of time had ever loved anyone as fervently as I loved Davy Jones.
Now, when I see teen girls buying jewelry, nail polish and beach towels imprinted in the likeness of Justin Bieber, I try not to roll my eyes. Remembering the intensity of my own adolescent celebrity crushes, I realize that this is just their innocent way of being close to him.
Although it seems like he’s been around forever, it wasn’t always about Bieber. A glistening army of dreamboats have preceded him. From David Cassidy to Johnny Depp, there’s always a celebrity hunk-of-the-moment that teen girls swoon and scream and weep over.
“Every generation has this phenomena,” explains Dr. Pamela Paris, a clinical psychologist based in Toronto. She recalls her own girlhood crushes on Paul McCartney, hockey player Ken Dryden and that ever-popular Monkee, Davy Jones.
Dr. Paris says that while people of all ages can fall for the Robert Pattinsons of the world, the demographic most susceptible to hysterical teen idol crushes are adolescent girls ranging in age from 9 to 12.
“There is a burgeoning or emerging sexuality (at that age),” she says. “Hormones are kicking in a little bit. And there’s an awareness of boys that begins to develop. They start to become attracted to the opposite sex.”
But why do young girls generally fall for celebrities instead of the cute little cross-eyed boy at the back of the classroom?
“It’s a safe relationship,” explains Dr. Paris. “There’s no threat.”
The distance between the young girl and the object of her affections could be argued to increase the object’s appeal. This is not a boy who will reject her. This is not a boy who will dump her when he decides that he likes another girl better.
“It’s an outlet to explore that first innocent physical/sexual attraction or physical response to the opposite sex,” she says. “It’s safe. I mean, think about it: it’s the perfect boyfriend.”
Dr. Paris says that peer pressure is also a factor in teen idol crushes.
“It allows acceptance into a peer group,” she says. “If we all like Justin Bieber, then we form a unit.”
If you have ever been a witness to a group of young teens getting together to watch Justin Bieber videos or going to his concert, you’d likely notice that they lose their minds significantly more in a pack than if they were alone.
“If you get a group of tweens together who are all a little bit hormonally charged, you can be sure that you’ll get this kind of hysteria,” explains Dr. Paris, calling this phenomenon emotional contagion. ” It’s like any kind of group phenomenon where you have emotionality”¦you scream, I scream, we all scream.”
But is this kind of hysterical crush healthy? Dr. Paris says that there is a two-part answer for that.
“For the majority of people, this is just innocent, healthy infatuation. But in a small number of cases, it can cross over into obsession. The difference is being unable to stop the thoughts from coming. You’re so focused on it that it’s interfering with daily activities. And in very extreme cases, we have stalker phenomenon.”
Teen crushes fade away, but they are important in that they can lay the emotional groundwork for healthy, adult relationships.
(Jerry O’Connell can totally still call me, though.)
Sexy Typewriter blogs about her dating failures – online and otherwise – at Sexytypewriter.com.