Reading time: 9min.

by Natalie Bannerman

Remembering the fallen – the curse of the child star

I used to be a little envious of child stars when I was younger. Yes I admit it, during maths class and science lessons I would often dream of the bright lights of fame and fortune. I would look at the Lil Bow Wow’s, Haley Joel Osment’s & Raven-Symoné’s of the world and think ‘I could do that’, ‘what do they have that I don’t’ and of course the ‘I’m way cuter than they are’ mantra. Ok ok I may have been a little delusional at this point, but you get what I mean.

It wasn’t until my most recent years after hearing more on the pressures and stresses that come with childhood superstardom, did I realise that in many ways I’m the lucky one. Don’t get me wrong while I wouldn’t mind the money, I was allowed to have a childhood, my growing pains that we all experience like puberty and rebelling I was allowed to experience privately. But more importantly my life still very much belongs to only me.

So lets start at the very basic foundations of childhood life … Family. Alyssa Milano former child star of Who’s The Boss, 90210 & Charmed (please bring this show back!) while on the Wendy Williams show was quoted as saying:

“I feel like these kids would be having a hard time and struggling no matter what they did, cause if you look back at the family like Lindsay (Lohan), the family is very disruptive. So I think if Lindsay had gone to high school and gone to college I think she would have struggled with the same struggles but we just got to watch her struggles cause she’s in the public eye so I don’t think you can separate and say these kids are a product of the entertainment industry, kids are a product of their families.”

I must admit when I see the Beyonce’s of the world who still very much have their heads screwed on straight and thank their strict parents for it, I begin to think Alyssa has a good point there.

Lindsay Lohan is the result of a disruptive family. As we all know her father has been in trouble with the law from everything from insider trading to accusations of domestic abuse. Her mother often being criticised for being cold or accused of exploiting her children’s fame. The once adorable little girl made famous for her role in The Parent Trap these days hits the headlines for DUI’s, drugs and stealing necklaces. Her stint in jail was televised around the world and each time she loses weight or changes her hair colour we watch like vultures for the chance to get our hands on the remains.

But was that family life or was it … pressure? It kind of speaks for itself doesn’t it. 12 hour days, no real childhood, no real time to make friends, treated like adults way before they were ready to be, expected to land big roles, performing up to scratch while looking good, then just as they begin to grow accustomed to that lifestyle more often than not its taken from them and their only options are either to start again or live like us regular people do, on a 9 to 5 and minimum wage. In some ways it parallels a prisoner trying to adapt to living as free person outside of jail. For the ones that are fortunate enough not to fall from grace, they tend to have a very distorted & sheltered view of reality and that’s when the temptation strikes.

Now of course we couldn’t forget the grand daddy of major ’causes’ of the child star curse … drugs. We like to demonise it as if its the cause of every problem. American celebrity therapist Sherry Gaba says:

Child stars in the movie and television industry seem to be particularly at risk for alcohol and drug addictions. This may be because of the intense public adoration that is placed on kids at a very young age. Children struggle to try to find a “normal”, which often means they have to continually get that big part, continue to do well in life and be all things to all people. This pressure, combined with readily available drugs, can be a deadly combination.”

So hang on … your telling me the likes of River Phoenix & Dana Plato all of whom were taken well before their time at the hand of drugs, were in fact as a result of the pressures of fame? Oh … Well there goes my rather hard headed theory. I used to assume they were just bored with way too much money and no one to tell them no. Whoops my bad!

Interestingly – Todd Bridges who played Willis (What’chu talkin bout Willis!) alongside the late Gary Coleman in ‘Different Strokes’ had a different take on this issue. Bridges himself struggled not only with drugs and substance abuse but also sexual abuse as a child and has now rebuilt his career and has been clean for the last 17 years.

“People have got to realize, when we were out there using drugs and buying drugs, we weren’t buying it from The Brady Bunch. You’re buying it from everyday normal people. And there are people with those other kind of problems. But it seems like the media focuses only on child stars that are doing bad. And it’s a very small percentage … maybe 2 percent.” 

Conversely there’s the other side of coin that says much of what we see these young people get up to is just part of their rebelling and growing up. Now you know I have to mention Miss Cyrus. Yes the princess of ‘twerking’. Now while I found her 2013 VMA performance to be HILARIOUSLY funny and well … nothing new (compliments of my heritage), the world was out in force speaking of their outrage and disapproval. There are parts of me that think she is only attempting to break away from that squeaky clean Hannah Montana Disney constructed image and then I think she’s young, hangs out with hood rats and wannabe rappers what did you think was gonna happen! Let the girl be. When the reality is, in the world of media constructed persona the only way for them to view you as ‘grown’ and free is through shock and awe and my god is she a pro in the art of shock for the sake of shocking. What’s clever about Miley however is that the most she does is dance or dress inappropriately and maybe smoke a little weed, she’s not yet hit hard stuff which still keeps her firmly out of any real trouble. Miley I tip my hat to thee.

Family, pressure, drugs all appear to be interwoven, laced with the loss of success, peer pressure and insecurities. Drugs in fact appear to be the result of a poor family life and temptation coupled with a high pressured working industry that really cares not how you get that paying job or show stopping performance. They are all connected. If a child with a great family life is taught the wrong life lessons arguably we could be facing similar situations. How many times have we heard of a teenager whose parents say their home life was perfect but they got in with the ‘wrong crowd’ or their insecurities got in the way? Contrarily lets just think about the affect it must have on a young star who has never experienced anything other than entertainment industry, to then loose it suddenly and if theres no support system to pick them up when this occurs the inevitable happens. Lets not focus too heavily on the why and lets start supporting this young talent should these situations continue to come to fruition. If not their families we as fans, supporters, spectators … fellow human beings. We should be the ones to help pick them back up.