The Curse of Child Stars

Being a child star may seem glamorous, but behind the scenes, there is much more than meets the eye.

As early as their toddler years, child stars are thrown into the harsh world of show business, often pressured by eager parents. This is difficult for many young children because of the demanding work schedule, extreme pressure from parents, constant public scrutiny and direct or indirect abuse from adults on set. Prominent child actors like Macaulay Culkin, Demi Lovato, Lindsay Lohan and Jennette McCurdy are living examples of the detrimental effects of being forced into the industry as a child.

Actors have shared the shocking details of the abuse they suffered at the hands of large production companies — such as Nickelodeon and Disney — as well as the drug and alcohol problems that plagued them when the constant spotlight became too much. As actors continue to speak out against the mistreatment they endured, they come closer to exposing the industry and hopefully eventually ending it entirely.

One example of a child star who suffered in the industry is Macaulay Culkin, who starred in the classic Christmas movie “Home Alone” when he was only 10 years old. That seemed like the perfect starting point for a successful acting career. After the movie was released, Culkin was awarded 2nd place on Video Hits One’s list of “100 Greatest Kid Stars.” Yet the talented child actor quit acting completely just four years later due to things familiar to many child stars: constant pressure and abuse from superiors. Growing up very poor, Culkin’s parents were unhealthily fervent about his acting career since he was financially supporting his family. The mental abuse escalated whenever he showed a disinterest in acting, and many times, his father would turn to physical blows, according to an interview Culkin did with YouTuber Nicki Swift in March of this year. After getting married at just 17 years old and filing for divorce at 22, Culkin was arrested two years later in Oklahoma City for possession of marijuana, Xanax pills and clonazepam, a pill prescribed for anxiety and seizures, for which Culkin did not have a prescription, according to CNN. Culkin is one of many child stars who struggled with drug abuse.

Turning from child actor to hit pop star, Demi Lovato too has struggled immensely with her early rise to fame — especially with drug use. Getting her start in popular shows and movies like “Camp Rock,” “Sonny with a Chance,” “Glee” and many more, Lovato also launched a very successful music career. Although it seemed like she had it all, mental health issues sent Lovato through multiple rounds of rehab for alcohol and drug abuse. She had been struggling with addiction on and off since 2010, according to an interview with the New York Times. In 2018, she relapsed on heroin and fentanyl and was immediately hospitalized, she said in an interview with CBS News. Fan reactions were not all sympathetic; most felt that their idol had thrown away her life. But others wished her the best in her recovery and stood by her through her struggles. For Lovato, the spotlight led to hate and criticism from fans about her weight, her voice and her gender identity. Watching someone they grew up with on TV deal with their struggles in the public eye was upsetting to fans who once viewed the star as a role model. Having unending pressure from so many different sources at such a young age seems like a recipe for substance abuse that stars can turn to when the strain of criticizing fans becomes too intense.

Known for her role as Cady Heron in the film “Mean Girls,” Lindsay Lohan’s career as a child actor took a wild turn within the first couple of years of its beginning. Her roles in Disney’s “Freaky Friday” and “Parent Trap” depict Lohan as a sweet young girl; however, her track record begs to differ. Lohan has been arrested seven different times, all involving incidents with drugs and alcohol, according to E! News. As a result of her arrests, she was sent to rehabilitation facilities three separate times by a judge, friends, family and doctors. In an interview with Emirates Women magazine, Lohan said she is living in Dubai, staying out of the public eye and focusing on her health.

Jennette McCurdy, who starred in the TV shows “iCarly” and “Sam & Cat,” ended her acting career early because the industry turned her life upside down. Growing up, McCurdy had constant pressure from her mother, Debra McCurdy, to succeed, be unhealthily thin and ultimately continue down an acting path the star did not want for herself, according to an interview with People magazine. McCurdy alleges that someone at Nickelodeon took illicit pictures of her and forced her to drink alcohol. McCurdy said Nickelodeon offered her $300,000 not to talk about the incidents. She refused the money and only revealed the alleged abuse and payoff attempt in her recently-released book “I’m Glad My Mom Died,” which shocked many with the title.

“I get that it’s attention-grabbing, but it’s also something I mean sincerely,” McCurdy said in an interview with “Good Morning America.”

Ultimately, her goal with the book is to spread awareness of how children who grow up in the entertainment industry are often mistreated.

The former child actors are only a few of the many who have been mistreated by the industry and forced to endure a lack of privacy, enormous pressure to succeed and frequent abuse of various kinds. Not only did most resort to drugs and alcohol but most still suffer from a variety of mental illnesses. This has negatively affected the views of countless former fans, who now only view celebrities as terrible and reckless people instead of the victims they really are. What is needed to combat this problem is more awareness of the abuse and maltreatment child stars face. McCurdy’s “I’m Glad My Mom Died” does exactly this, and it is in this way, through personal accounts and direct exposure to the plight of child actors, that any further change surrounding the issue of child stars can eventually occur.

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