Sadly, the mention of “child stars” conjures up images of teenage breakdowns, spirals into the world of self-abuse, long stints in rehab, and sadness that lasts for decades. Though there are former child stars out there who stayed on the right path, the majority end up losing themselves along the way.
There’s no doubt that the life of a child actor or musician is different from that of a regular child, but in many cases, the reality is far worse than you might have thought. Not only do child stars have to work like adults, but they are also treated like adults in other ways that no child should be exposed to. Sometimes, the experience of being a child star in itself is awful, and other times, the negative effects come afterward, when the child becomes a teenager or young adult.
Read on to find out exactly what goes on in the lives of real child stars, and why so many of them get lost.
15 Parents Lose Control of Them
In some cases, parents of child stars really do want the best for their child, but as time goes on, they can no longer control or influence them. Fame is a huge concept to wrap your head around as an adult, let alone as a minor whose brain is still developing—some child stars are bombarded with teams who take away their rules and restrictions and give them access to things only adults should have access to. After a while, they don’t see their parents as the authoritative figures they once did.
Around 2010, Billy Ray Cyrus, the father of Miley Cyrus, revealed that he didn’t really have control over his daughter anymore since her entourage had taken over that role. Former child actress Mara Wilson confirmed that even as a little girl, she knew her parents didn’t have the final say over her career after her father’s requests regarding her well-being were ignored by the media.
14 They Want to Act Out but Can’t
According to Wilson, who starred in classic films like Matilda and Mrs. Doubtfire, one of the biggest problems child stars face is that like regular kids and teenagers, they have the urge to rebel from time to time, but unlike regular kids and teenagers, they can’t. While normal kids answer to their parents and teachers, child stars have to face the millions of people watching them.
“Having to live up to your fan base is a little like having to deal with a million strict parents who don't actually love you,” Wilson explained. “They reward you for your cuteness and cleverness but are quick to judge and punish. And they do not want you ever to grow up. How do you react? The way any sullen teenager does: You get resentful, and as soon as you have the freedom, you act out.” Acting out is definitely consistent amongst many former child stars, including Miley Cyrus, Amanda Bynes, and Britney Spears.
13 They End Up with Body Image Issues
You might think that becoming a pop star or movie star before you’ve even graduated school would boost your self-esteem. To an extent, many former stars have admitted that they did feel cool and confident some of the time. But even more consistent are the stories about child stars feeling awkward, uncomfortable, and embarrassed about their careers when they try to integrate with normal kids.
Miley Cyrus, who played Hannah Montana/Miley Stewart on the Disney Channel, has revealed that as a result of playing a teenage pop star (before she actually became one herself), she suffered issues with her body image. “From the time I was 11, it was ‘You’re a pop star! That means you have to be blonde, and you have to have long hair and you have to put on some glittery tight thing.” The majority of us felt awkward about our bodies in those teenage years, and we can only imagine the damage a public obsession with our bodies would have done!
12 They Are Pressured Like Adults
There’s already an unhealthy amount of pressure on adults in the entertainment industry—they are told they have to look a certain way in order to succeed in areas that should really have nothing to do with appearances, like music or acting. Children should be shielded from all that pressure until they’re mentally mature enough to withstand it, but children in the industry don’t always have that option.
Singer JoJo, who released her first hit record when she was just a teenager, has confessed that even though her mother (who managed her) tried to protect her, the standards of the industry still challenged her to change herself. “I did give in because I was told that if I didn't look right that my music wouldn't come out,” said the singer, who started dieting and partaking in other unhealthy habits in order to change her look, which “messed [her] up psychologically for a while.”
11 They Are Objectified Like Adults
Both women and men in Hollywood are objectified by fans and industry professionals. Brec Bassinger, who starred on Nickelodeon’s Bella and the Bulldogs, has opened up about how the world didn’t wait for her to grow up to start objectifying her—she was treated as a product and a symbol rather than a human when she was still in high school. She says that although her social media is flooded with heartwarming comments from fans, she also receives a lot of hate and a lot of inappropriate comments from older men. The hateful comments don’t upset her as much as the perverted ones, which make her “very uncomfortable” since she is still just 18.
Mara Wilson is another star who felt objectified as a child—when she was just 12, she found herself on a foot obsession website dedicated only to child actresses. To protect her own mental health, Wilson steers clear of internet searches of herself these days.
10 They Don’t Wish It Upon Anybody
One of the most ironic things about the world of child stars is that there are literally millions of children and parents trying to break in, but those who are already established in the industry want out, and sometimes go so far as to say that they wouldn’t recommend being a child star to anybody. Selena Gomez rose to prominence after starring on Wizards of Waverly Place and has since experienced all the highs and lows of fame and fortune as a teenager.
“I think it’s really dysfunctional to be in this industry at a young age where you’re figuring out who you are,” she said in an interview with In Style. “I don’t recommend it.” She went on to say that at an age when she should have been worrying about homework (and not a lot more), she was worried about the thousands of people who didn’t like her acting on the show.
9 They End Up with Trauma
Several celebrities who started young, including Lindsay Lohan, have fallen victim to unhealthy habits. Over the last five or so years, Miley Cyrus has made headlines for behavior that many deemed to be outrageous—including releasing provocative music and videos and portraying herself in an overly sensualized way. While there’s nothing wrong with being who you are and having the freedom to live your life in your own way, the star candidly admitted that there is “a little wrong” with her, and she believes that it comes down to the damage done to her mental health as a child star.
“I mark that up to doing some extreme damage to my psyche as an adult person,” she said of the pressures of having to split her life as a tween, between being a pop star and doing schoolwork and other normal activities. “I think that what was hard for me was to balance everything,” she continued, admitting that the fans just saw her as Hannah Montana, and not the real person she was underneath that image.
8 They Get No Control
One of the worst things about being a child star is that often, they have no creative control over their careers. Even some adult stars are victims of being ordered like robots to make the music and movies that others want them to make, but children are at a particular disadvantage because of their age and lack of self-confidence or critical thinking.
Though JoJo’s breakout single was an anthem for tweens everywhere, she has now confessed that she wasn’t nearly so fond of it: “I didn't love my first single, 'Leave, Get Out.' I didn't really get it and I considered myself more of an R&B singer, and I felt like the song was so pop.” After that, the singer was lucky enough to come across people who helped her find her authentic sound and create the music that was actually right for her. Unfortunately, not all teen stars are so lucky and spend years making art that is meaningless to them.
7 They Lose their Childhood
Parents of child stars who genuinely love and care for them often try to make sure their children stay as normal as possible—they put them in school and try to expose them to regular people, in the hope that they still experience a real childhood. But many stars have confessed that being in the spotlight at a young age robbed them of being a kid completely, no matter how much their parents tried to shield them.
Not only do they have to work like adults, but they’re also held to the same standards of perfection before they’re ready to handle it. They often find themselves dealing with things that children shouldn’t even see, and the result is that the essence of childhood gets destroyed for them in the process. Brec Bassinger has admitted that she feels older than she is because she’s had tons of adult responsibilities for years.
6 Every Teen Move Is Documented
Even in the days before social media, teen stars were closely followed, thanks to the fanatical interest of their young fans. JoJo has said that although she came up in the days of Myspace, and the very beginnings of Facebook, she’s grateful that she dodged the documentation tools we have today, like Snapchat and Instagram. At an age when she was making mistakes and “dating idiots”, she was able to get away without having every move chronicled, but the stars of today aren’t so lucky.
All celebrities have their actions scrutinized, but this is particularly damaging for child and teen stars because they’re at an age when they’re still finding themselves. Not only are they more likely to make significant mistakes (think Lindsay Lohan) while they do that, but they’re also more likely to act out in resentment and then take all the criticism to heart because they’re yet to build the thick skin that many adults in the industry have developed.
5 Their Parents Drive It
One of the saddest confessions a child can make is that their parents—the people who are supposed to love and protect them, no matter what—failed to do their job. A number of child stars have revealed that their parents pushed them into their careers, not because it’s what they wanted to do, but because their parents had their own agenda. Father of Macaulay Culkin, Kit Culkin, managed his son’s career, and did all of his negotiations for him and was an “abusive man” not physically, but mentally.
“I just wanted a little bit of a break. I wanted a summer vacation for the first time in, you know, forever,” confessed Culkin, who begged his father for rest but was ignored as more acting projects were shoved down his throat. To further establish a position of power, Kit Culkin reportedly forced his son to sleep on a couch, while he had his own king bed.
4 Some Just Do It for The Money
Some parents push their kids towards Hollywood because they want to vicariously live out a dream that never came true for them. For others, it’s all about power over their children. And of course, there are some parents who want their kids to succeed as actors and musicians for the pay they bring in.
Mara Wilson has said that she only ever acted because she loved it, but she often met other child stars who were doing it for the money: “When one of my preteen co-stars didn't seem that into acting, I asked him why he even bothered doing it. ‘For the money,’ he said. I hadn't considered that.” Many celebrities have stated that the only thing that saves them from the horrors of fame is their passion for their craft, and to not have that passion must make the hard parts of the job even tougher to get through.
3 That Money Isn’t Even Theirs
According to Mara Wilson, though child stars often bring in a sizeable paycheck at the end of their projects, one of the biggest problems they face is that legally, the money doesn’t really belong to them. This opens children up to extortion by their parents. While the law does protect children to an extent, it’s not perfect.
Known as the Jackie Coogan Law, one Act does protect a child star’s right to their trust fund, but only protects 15 percent of what they earn, which means that parents can still find ways to access their child’s money. The law was passed in honor of Jackie Coogan, a child star who earned $4 million in the 1930s (around $50 million today), but found out that his parents had spent nearly all of it by the time he’d turned 21. Parents might break the law to get their hands on their child’s fortune, but a lot of the time, child stars don’t take their parents to court.
2 They Can’t Escape It
Whether the experience of being a child star is good or bad, many celebrities have revealed that it’s something they aren’t able to live down, ever. Hilary Duff, who achieved global fame through starring on the Disney Channel’s Lizzie McGuire has said that even today, she is still compared to the teenage girl she once was. After they become famous for one project, children and teens are molded to always fit that image so their fans still like them, and that can get tiring after 10 years.
“I just didn’t know what success the show was gonna be, and after that—four years, five years after that—and I was still Lizzie McGuire to people and that was super annoying,” Duff told Between the Lines. The star is still grateful for the opportunity she had at such a young age, and although she found parts of it tough, has managed to defy the odds and have a long and successful career.
1 They’re Exploited
Unfortunately, not everyone around the child star has their best interests at heart. Judy Garland seemed safe and happy when she famously played Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, but she later revealed that the MGM studio manipulated and exploited her for its own benefit.
“They had us working days and nights on end. They’d give us pills to keep us on our feet long after we were exhausted. Then they’d take us to the studio hospital and knock us out with sleeping pills,” the late star admitted. Not only were the teenagers working for the studio given substances to induce sleep, but when they were woken up, they were forced to work for up to 72 hours at a time. Children and teenagers are easier prey than established adults because they don’t immediately question conditions like that, and a lot of the time, neither do their obsessive parents.
Sources: www.cosmopolitan.com, www.seventeen.com