When Childhood Fame Becomes a Curse
Justin Bieber, Lindsey Lohan, Selena Gomez, Miley Cyrus, Amanda Bynes, Drew Barrymore, Demi Lovato, Macaulay Culkin, the Olsen twins… The list goes on and on. What do all of these people have in common? They are all childhood stars who experienced what seems like an inevitable downward spiral at one point in their lives. This is such a common phenomenon that one cannot help but wonder whether there is any correlation between the two: Does an early exposure to childhood fame — being exposed to stardom too early — give way to destructive behavioral patterns later in life?
When you think about puberty — most of us cringe and try to pretend that those painfully awkward years never occurred — you realize that somewhere along that span of time between childhood and teen years, you undergo personal development that literally shapes who you become later on in life. If you went through an awkward phase during this time (you can look back at your seventh grade school photo for hard evidence), you eventually grew out of it; you finally got your braces off, that terrible haircut grew out, you got the hang of how many times it is necessary to bathe on a regular basis, you did grow into your nose, that weird rash went away, and when you emerged out of the tail end of puberty, you were better for it.
So what is it that happens during these crucial years for child celebrities that causes these young kids to mature into problematic young adults? Although there are many theories, one possible explanation is that these kids skipped over the essential awkward phase, filling their days, instead, with the luxuries of a well-off TV or film star, thus evading the detrimental character-building years of self-conscious school dances and ugly yearbook portraits. This theory may seem far-fetched, but in one study, they found that those who were attractive and popular in middle school tend to hit their peak, so to speak, earlier in life and be more prone to struggle socially and professionally later in life. We can call this the “ugly duckling” theory.
If you don’t subscribe to the ugly duckling theory, that our unfortunate-looking cocoons reveal a successful, healthy, and better-looking adult in the long run, here is another possibility: imagine your seventh grade self (sorry to put you through this so many times). Now imagine that you have to go through this same stage in your life, followed by news crews and paparazzi capturing your every pimple. This is a high-stress environment to grow up in, to say the least. Hence, the delayed breakdown a few years down the line.
Or perhaps another explanation yet; in an attempt to break out of the mold of their sweet, “goody-two-shoes” young, former self, the young celeb acts out to prove that they are not defined by their early roles. We see this often with former Disney channel or Nickelodeon stars. Almost everyone we watched on TV as kids, it seems, we have also watched go through a difficult, “breakdown” phase where they are seen in the tabloids cursing out a cab driver, showing up belligerently drunk at various locales, dying or shaving off their hair, and eventually admitted to rehab to clean up their act.
Whether it is the attempt to redefine themselves, and be independent (a la Miley Cyrus), the indulgent, fame-induced free pass on the would-be shame-filled pubescent preteen years (perhaps Justin Bieber?), or just the opposite: a wounded ego from the criticisms of the inevitable thousands of haters, these childhood stats are all faced with the same obstacle, and it is only a matter of time before the entire public sees one of three possible outcomes. They either (1) rise above their defining childhood identity, avoiding the ominous child star pitfall, and proceed healthily as a musician/actor/actress and as an individual, like Justin Timberlake or Mila Kunis, (2) become wrapped up in their childhood image and unable to escape their own identity and the persistent spotlight, they fall into a downward spiral and fade out of the public eye over time, never to return and are forever known for their fleeting childhood roles or, (3) they have a breakdown, go to rehab, and emerge with a better perspective on life and their career, bouncing back from a slow decline, like Drew Barrymore, for example.
As we are the removed third party, watching their lives unfold from afar, we can only hope that the exposure these child actors receive from childhood will not mature into a nasty downward spiral and perhaps discuss the implications of allowing these “consenting” kids to sign up for something that they may not realize is coming down the road.
Do you think early stardom has negative effects on child development? Leave a comment below or find me on Twitter @JenksUOhMeASoda