Kids and Fame Don’t Mix

Having children that range from 4 to 13, there are times I watch the Disney Channel. I love the cartoons (Phineas and Ferb!) but not a fan of their sitcoms. Aside from the bad writing, lame jokes, lack of good parental role models, and the laugh track (which I only appreciate because it lets me know when they were trying to be funny,) the thing that bugs me the most about these shows is that I wonder what will happen to these “child stars” when they get older.

The track record is not good. Let’s turn the wayback machine to 1981 when an adorable Drew Barrymore (6 years old) helped her brother with the E.T. in his closet. She was smoking cigarettes by the age of 9, drinking by the age of 11, smoking pot by 12 and snorting cocaine by 13.

Miley Cyrus got a lot of publicity after she turned 18 and became overtly sexual with her outfits and lyrics.

Do I need to go into details about Britney Spears and Linsdey Lohan?

Most recently, Demi Lovato (Disney star of Rock Camp and “Sonny with a Chance”) has come out of rehab for drug addiction and shared with the press that she still struggles with self-injuring. She’s 19.

And it’s not just the girls who are at risk. Macaulay Culkin, star of the classic Home Alone movies, was just ten when those started. He’s been mostly silent about his personal life during his teenage years, though he was arrested for drug possession when he was 24. Haley Joel Osment (when he was 18) flipped his car because he was driving under the influence and also possessed drugs. Daniel Radcliffe reciently confessed that as a teen he regularly came to the Harry Potter set drunk.

Kids and fame don’t mix. We all know that TV and movie sets are not a healthy place for them,  but we have more “child entertainers” now than ever before.

Is anybody doing anything to stop this?

Is there anything we can do to stop this?

It is easy to shake our heads when former child stars end up on the cover of People magazine because of one scandal or another, but aren’t we also at fault? It’s not as though this surprises us anymore. Here’s the obvious truth: The more famous a child becomes, the more likely they will get involved in dangerous and unhealthy behaviors that could even lead to their deaths (like River Phoenix.)

Sadly, I don’t have a conclusion to this blog. It’s more of a lament. I see children in danger and an economy and society that encourages their destruction.

If you think about it, it’s not unlike the Hunger Games. So perhaps Peeta offers us the best advice: “If no one watches, then they don’t have a game.”

What about you? Any thoughts?

8 Comments

  1. I do think that it is a tragedy that so many child stars do end up engaging in self destructive behavior. I’m not sure that it is just the environment of tv and movie sets.I’m sure that those sets are stresful places,but I believe that the adults in that child’s life are to blame as well. I’m wondering if the parents remain on set while their child is taping (my guess is no). Also the parents or other adults that the child trusts should be talking with the child regularly.Children need to be able to talk ad they need to be heard and not judged. Where is their guidance coming from? Parents (or other trusted adult) NEED to be present in their child’s life (that goes for ALL children not just child stars). I also have to wonder what other issues some of these child stars are dealing with in their personal lives where they are choosing such destructive ways of coping? Obviously there is more going on in their lives than just being involved in the world of media.

    1. Great point. Does the media break kids or does it attract broken kids? And since they’re not old enough to put themselves in that situation, the responsibility falls heavily on the parents. Tom’s comment speaks well to that, too.

  2. There’s Charlie Korsmo, the kid from Dick Tracy, What About Bob, and Hook. After Hook, he decided to quit acting when he was a Hollywood “it” kid. He did one teen comedy when he got older has stayed away from acting ever since. He got a degree in Physics from MIT and became a Doctor of Law at Yale. He’s a university professor now.

    He’s also a total odd duck in Hollywood. I have a family in my program fly their kids back in forth to Hollywood for acting opportunities. They’ve been in movies and gotten some recognition. When the dad told me one of the director’s they worked with (it was a bit part), I was kinda shocked because the director has not only made some infamous movies, but one of his breakout films revolved around a character that was a father who was a pedophile (full disclosure: I could never bring myself to see any of this guys movies, but I have friends who are fans and the last line of that particular movie is so foul that I can’t imagine any family being stoked to have their child associated with this guy’s work). I said what I could and I do like the family a lot. He made his first communion last year.

    This stuff is going to keep happening and it will probably never be regulated. Even good natured people have a hard time ripping their eyes away from a train wreck. The strongest thing anyone can do is to say “not my kids”, to not value fame, to avoid that business at any level. Like acting? Great! The school play sounds great. You want to break into movies? No!

  3. Fame breaks parents!

    Remember Jessica Simpson’s dad? The guy was a pastor! He switched to managing his daughter’s career. He later commented how he completely understands why people wanted to sleep with his daughter.

    Teen idol Leif Garrett’s mom lost complete control of him and later regretted it, but relished in her son’s fame. Gary Coleman’s parents outright stole the money he earned when on Diff’rent Strokes. I don’t doubt for a second that they love their kids at some level, but shows like Toddlers and Tiaras feature parents who get far more caught up in the glitz than their children.

    I just have a hard time seeing how kids are broken for wanting attention. I think it plays on the most basic of human desires. The same goes for child’s natural capacity for wonder. I don’t blame a kid for getting stars in their eyes, but you kinda hope someone’s orienting that stuff stuff toward something constructive.

    1. Well said. Instead of “attracting broken kids” I should have said “attracting broken families.” I think there is something messed up with a parent or parents who thrust their kids in the spotlight. They justify it as “I’m doing it for them” but at the end it can become very self-serving. I remember about a year ago that Billy Ray Cyrus regretted ever having his daughter doing Hannah Montana. But she was his ticket to fame (outside of being a one-hit wonder.) If he had a chance to do it all again, would he really say no? I’ll trust him on his word that he would (no reason to not to) but it would be quite a tempting choice.

  4. Great topic, Bob.

    I also think it’s because child actors (and Hollywood actors who are adults) (and celebrities generally, now that I think about it) have a constant audience.

    In all my essays/talks on social media, I bring up the adolescent psychology term “imaginary audience.” Part of teenage development is feeling like you have an audience all the time (hence the elevated interest in middle school/high school in looking and acting certain ways and fitting in to certain crowds). In our culture, thanks to lots of factors including Facebook, Twitter and the like, not everybody snaps out of that in adulthood. We know we have an audience (our FB friends and followers!), so we constantly perform for it.

    The point is this: I think for celebrities of any age, the same is true, but on an inescapable level. Adolescence is hard, period, ultimately because the brain isn’t fully developed. But constant fame means constant scrutiny. I really think the young brain isn’t equipped to handle what child actors try to handle. I know few people who are entirely authentic when they know they’re being watched, and there’s only so long somebody can forfeit authenticity before he or she breaks.

  5. Also, AWW MAN! I accidentally forgot to correctly identify myself in that last comment, which resulted in my name linking to a blog I haven’t updated since appx. 2006. I need a new Word Press login, lol.

  6. This is mildly pertinent to your post, very mildly… Since you mentioned Peeta and have Katniss in your header I’m very much looking forward to post about them kids 🙂

    I am often horribly saddened by these Disney and Nickelodeon Tween kids who grow up too fast (grow up terribly) and end up burnt out in their early twenties. They had too much money and fame with no ideology of real substance to keep the afloat when their shiny sitcom lives didn’t match up to their real lives. After Disney most of them try to act more “grown up” and they take up their clothes or they join other shows that with really heavy, immoral material in hopes that they will be taken seriously. A real, lovely childhood is so important and yet it’s cut shorter and shorter these day and the result are disheartening to say the least.

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