Like many kids who grew up watching Disney Channel, I often pretended that I was drawing the logo with a sparkly wand alongside Brenda Song or Miley Cyrus. I would stare at the TV and ask my mom why she didn’t put me in acting. I always got the same response: “I didn’t want you to end up like Lindsay Lohan.”
I’m not saying I could have made it as big as Lohan had my mom brought me to auditions as a kid. However, my mom knew that introducing me to the world of show business brought the risk of childhood fame — and the trauma that frequently accompanies it.
Lohan was my first conception of a darling child actress gone wild. She was charged with driving under the influence, cocaine possession and a misdemeanor hit and run when I was five years old and a huge fan of the 1998 The Parent Trap remake. But as I soon learned, Lohan was not the first child star to “go off the deep end.” Rather, she was embodying the well-known trope of the troubled celebrity who grew up under a spotlight. Instead of sitting back and watching as the industry harms more young kids, we should be demanding better protection of child celebrities.
One of the biggest problems facing child celebrities is that they’re often treated like adults. In addition to Disney Channel, I was also a big Nickelodeon fan — particularly the show iCarly. One of the stars of the show, Jennette McCurdy, recently revealed that she was pressured to drink on set when she was only 18. McCurdy, who had never had a drink before, was told by a superior on set that alcohol would give her an edge.
Sometimes even child celebrities’ own parents can forget to let their kids be kids. When actress Drew Barrymore was a child, her mother took her to Studio 54, a New York nightclub, instead of school. She became addicted to cocaine as a child actress, entering rehab for the first time at the age of 12 and relapsing at 13. At age 14, she survived a suicide attempt and became emancipated from her mother.
Child actors may also be asked to film scenes they cannot fully comprehend the consequences of. When actress Brooke Shields was only 11 years old, she starred in the film Pretty Baby, playing a child prostitute. Her first kiss was on the set of the movie — with a 29-year-old actor. At age 14, she began filming the 1980 movie Blue Lagoon alongside costar Christopher Atkins, then 18. Both Shields and Atkins were almost nude throughout the duration of the film.
When young actors and actresses film revealing or sexually explicit scenes, it can have lasting impacts on their psyches. Reflecting on her early roles, Shields has acknowledged how she was sexualized at a very early age and how such movies exploited her sexual awakening. Shields’ experiences on set led her to feel culpable and ashamed of herself.
If children are going to be acting in TV and movies, they need to be given the resources necessary to cope with the mental toll of the job. Former child actress Alyson Stoner, featured in movies like Camp Rock and Cheaper by the Dozen, suggests having a third-party mental health professional on all sets to monitor working conditions and help entertainers sort through their emotions after demanding scenes. Additionally, she recommends that all guardians and representatives of child entertainers be required to take a course on the industry and media literacy. This way, Stoner argues, families can be educated on the risks of having a child in the public eye.
We have let too many young celebrities suffer for the sake of our entertainment. As more former child stars speak out on the harm inflicted by the industry, it’s our responsibility to listen. We must create better and safer working environments for today’s kids. Otherwise, the trope of the child star gone bad isn’t going anywhere.
Abigail Tuschman is a junior from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. majoring in Writing Seminars and Natural Sciences. She is the Opinions Editor for The News-Letter.
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