Adolescents and Parasocial Relationships

Parasocial relationships in adolescents are enhanced by social networks. The characters make their followers part of their lives.
Adolescents and Parasocial Relationships
Maria Fátima Seppi Vinuales

Written and verified by the psychologist Maria Fátima Seppi Vinuales.

Last update: 19 June, 2023

Who hasn’t “loved” a TV character? Have you ever been moved by the story of a real couple? Maybe it has happened to you at some time. The feeling of proximity and knowing certain characters or personalities today is enhanced by mass media and social networks. This is why we want to talk about parasocial relationships, which are very common among teenagers. Keep reading to learn more about it.

What are parasocial relationships in adolescents?

First of all, we can take a brief look at the concept of parasocial relationships to understand their occurrence in adolescence. The term (PSR) was coined by Horton and Wohl in 1956, in the context of a study on the impact of mass media in the home. Through television and radio, people’s daily lives are interrupted or accompanied by news and programs with figures and life stories.

In this way, the audience begins to create a non-reciprocal link, which is precisely what we call parasocial relationships. The person believes they know that public figure, identifies with them, understands how they feel, and admires them.

A teen girl taking a picture of another teen girl for social media.
The fostering of the illusion of closeness and intimacy with a public figure by adolescents, nowadays, is exacerbated by the presence of social networks.

The characteristics of parasocial relationships in adolescents

Some of the defining characteristics of parasocial relationships are the following:

  • Unidirectional relationship: It’s a relationship where there’s no “face-to-face” contact, but rather from the idol to their audience. In other words, even though the figure may address their audience, this doesn’t mean that they know them or that they’re really interested in them. This is what’s known as “co-presence illusion”.
  • Identification: These relationships are to be expected in adolescence, as it’s a stage in which young people are in search of their identity. Therefore, it’s easier for them to feel a certain closeness with those characters with whom they feel more affinity.
  • Omnipresence in social networks: Nowadays, parasocial relationships are enhanced by social networks and the overexposure of many characters. For example, through live videos on Instagram where celebrities show their exercise routines, what they eat, or how they sleep. In addition, these characters often speak directly to their audience or community, which adds even more to that sense of intimacy and trust.

What to watch out for

A priori, a parasocial relationship doesn’t have to represent a danger for teenagers. At that age, we’ve all become fanatical about a character and been interested in knowing details of their life. Some studies even show that there are communities that have a positive effect of support and understanding.

It’s true that, nowadays, there are many teenagers who feel isolated or who don’t manage to have a group of friends. Even during the coronavirus pandemic, that feeling of connection with their idols was a great help. In many cases, these personalities can even be a source of inspiration.

A black teenager sitting on the floor watching TV with a soccer ball under his arm.
Parasocial relationships can also encourage your child, for example, to be like the soccer player they admire so much or to play the guitar for a singer they’re passionate about.

When to intervene

However, if this interest goes beyond certain limits, intervention is necessary. When can a situation become alarming? Let’s look at some examples:

  • You notice that your child gets upset because someone makes a negative comment about their idol: They don’t tolerate an opinion different from their own and tend to react with great emotion.
  • They’re unable to distinguish between the right or wrong decisions of that character and justify everything they do.
  • Through a certain anonymity that social networks allow, they’re able to write negative or hostile comments toward other people. In a way, they do it to defend or position themself in favor of their idol.
  • Changes appear in their personal relationships as a result of taking an excessive interest in their favorite character. For example, they stop meeting with friends, there are changes in their academic performance, or they prefer to be isolated.

Models to admire, not blindly imitate

As a result of the topic addressed, as adults, it’s worth taking the time to stop and guide adolescents. So, it’s possible that, in order to connect with and understand your child, you should also get to know that influencer they like so much. This is an interesting exercise, as you’ll be able to know what kind of content the young person consumes, what that public figure says, and what they stand up for (if they’re an animal advocate, a climate change activist, or an acclaimed athlete, among others).

Today, there are many characters who use social networks for positive purposes, such as solidarity fundraising, shows of support, or raising awareness of a problem. In addition, there are figures who seek to share their real life, with its problems and virtues, and who are able to refer to complex issues in a respectful and accessible way. However, there are also many extreme opinions or unhealthy criteria.

The truth is that, by knowing your child’s interests, you’ll be able to guide them with respect to these role models. It’s about helping them to have a critical spirit in order to know what to take from that person, what to question, and to know not to justify everything just because it’s someone famous. In a way, you’ll be taking your first steps in the world of parasocial relationships!

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Caro Castaño, L., (2015). Relaciones e interacciones parasociales en redes sociales digitales. Una revisión conceptual. ICONO 14, Revista de comunicación y tecnologías emergentes, 13(2),23-47.[fecha de Consulta 29 de Abril de 2023]. ISSN: . Recuperado de:
  • Donald Horton & R. Richard Wohl (1956) Mass Communication and Para-Social Interaction, Psychiatry, 19:3, 215-229, DOI: 10.1080/00332747.1956.11023049
    Elena Conde, Esteban Torres-Lana & Cristina Ruiz (2002) Internet’s new scenario: Adolescents and youngsters’ parasocial relationships in the net, Culture and Education, 14:2, 133-146, DOI: 10.1174/113564002760041532

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.