Like many kids who grew up watching Disney Channel, I often pretended to draw the logo with a sparkler along with Brenda Song or Miley Cyrus. I was staring at the TV and asking my mother why she didn’t put me in acting school. I always got the same answer: “I didn’t want you to end up like Lindsay Lohan.”
I’m not saying I could have gotten as big as Lohan if my mom brought me to auditions as a kid. However, my mother knew that introducing me to the world of show business carried the risk of child stardom – and the trauma that often accompanies it.
Lohan was my first idea of a favorite child actress gone mad. She was charged with driving while intoxicated, possession of cocaine, and felony hit and run when I was five years old and a big fan of 1998 The parent trap remake. But as I soon learned, Lohan wasn’t the first child star to “go off the deep end.” Rather, she embodied the well-known image of the troubled celebrity who grew up under the spotlight. Instead of sitting back and watching the industry harm more young children, we should be demanding better protections for child celebrities.
One of the biggest problems child celebrities face is that they are often treated like adults. Besides Disney Channel, I was also a big fan of Nickelodeon – especially the show iCarly. One of the show’s stars, Janet McCurdy, recently revealed that she was forced to drink on set when she was just 18. McCurdy, who had never drunk before, was told by a supervisor on set that alcohol would make her gave edge, end.
Sometimes even the very own parents of celebrity kids can forget to let their kids be kids. When actress Drew Barrymore was a child, her mother took her to Studio 54, a nightclub in New York, instead of going to school. She became addicted to cocaine as a child actress, entering rehab for the first time at age 12 and returning at 13. At age 14, she survived a suicide attempt and emancipated herself from her mother.
Child actors may also be asked to film scenes of which they may not fully understand the implications. When actress Brooke Shields was only 11 years old, she starred in the film Nice baby, playing a child prostitute. Her first kiss was on the set of the film – with a 29-year-old actor. At the age of 14, she began acting in the 1980 film Blue Lagoon along with actor Christopher Atkins, then 18. Both Shields and Atkins were nearly naked throughout the duration of the film.
When young actors and actresses film explicit or sexually explicit scenes, it can have a lasting effect on their psyche. Reflecting on her early roles, Shields acknowledges how she was sexualized at a very young age and how such films exploited her sexual awakening. Shields’ experiences on set leave her feeling guilty and ashamed of herself.
If children are going to act in television and movies, they need to be given the necessary resources to handle the mental demands of the job. Former child actress Alison Stoner, who starred in films such as Camp Rock and Cheaper by the dozen, suggests having a third-party mental health professional on all sets to monitor working conditions and help actors deal with their emotions after demanding scenes. She also recommends that all guardians and representatives of children’s entertainers be required to take an industry and media literacy course. That way, Stoner argues, families can be educated about the risks of having a child in the public eye.
We’ve let too many young celebrities suffer for our entertainment. As more and more former child stars speak out about the harm done by the industry, it’s our responsibility to listen. We need to create a better and safer working environment for today’s children. Otherwise, the spoiled child star trope will go nowhere.
Abigail Tushman is a junior from Fort Lauderdale, Florida majoring in Writing and Science Seminars. She is the opinion editor for The News-Letter.