There are certainly examples of former child actors who grew up to become happy, healthy, and well-adjusted adults. Unfortunately, there are also dozens of examples of the opposite happening.
The pitfalls of stepping into Hollywood under the age of 18 are so bad that many former child stars are speaking publicly against the concept and even forbid their own kids from entering the business.
Most recently, former “Full House” actress Jodie Sweetin said that one of the biggest dangers for young stars is having parents who once wanted to be famous themselves. That’s not what happened to her — Sweetin’s adoptive parents were great, she said — but she also noted how people used to approach her to say the sole reason they had children was to make them famous.
“When you see the kids that grew up in this business that turned out to be fairly normal, well-rounded people, they all have really normal parents, who didn’t want to be in the business themselves,” the 41-year-old celebrity told Today during a November 2023 interview.
“They’re like, ‘I tried to be famous, but it didn’t work out, so now it’s your turn,’” Sweetin added, saying people have told her, “I had a kid because I wanted them to be famous.”
The actress became a household name thanks to the popular 90s comedy “Full House,” making her debut on the show when she was just 5- years- old. While fame-hungry parents weren’t her downfall, Sweetin did struggle in adulthood with drug and alcohol addiction. She said the show ending was partially to blame.
“It was a huge shift in my life,” the actress said. “Everything I had known from the time I was 5 years old suddenly ended and it was like saying goodbye to a family I had loved very, very much,” Sweetin said in 2016. “At such a young age it really was a huge loss for me, I didn’t know how to grieve. Drugs and alcohol just sort of numbed everything.”
Another celebrity who warned the world about the dangers of childhood stardom is Academy Award winning actress Natalie Portman. The 42-year-old mother of two said children should be allowed to experience traditional childhood far from the bright lights of Hollywood.
“I would not encourage young people to go into this. I don’t mean ever; I mean as children,” Portman told Variety during a recent interview.
“I feel it was almost an accident of luck that I was not harmed, also combined with very overprotective, wonderful parents,” the “Black Swan” actress continued. “You don’t like it when you’re a kid, and you’re grateful for it when you’re an adult. I’ve heard too many bad stories to think that any children should be part of it.”
“Ultimately, I don’t believe that kids should work,” Portman added. “I think kids should play and go to school.”
The actress launched her acting career at the age of 12 starring in the action film “Léon: The Professional” (1994). Portman catapulted to fame for her portrayal of Padmé Amidala in “Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace” (1999).
Former child star Christina Ricci agreed with Sweetin’s assessment, going as far as saying parents who force their children to become famous are committing “child abuse.”
“I feel it’s child abuse to make your child famous,” the 43-year-old mother of two said in 2019. “Once [my son’s] an adult, and he studies, and he understands that it’s an art form, then he can pursue an acting career if he’d like.”
“Being famous is not good for children, it’s just not,” Ricci added “We have a million examples of why it’s not good for children. I’m just not going to risk it. Why would you put the most precious thing in your life up for that?”
However, her assertions stand in contrast to statements she made previously about enjoying her life as a child star. Ricci began her acting career at the age of nine in “Mermaids” (1990). She became a household name for her breakout role as Wednesday Addams in “The Addams Family” (1991) and the sequel, “Addams Family Values” (1993).
During a July 2019 interview with People, Ricci said she has no regrets about being a child star.
“I’ve had some incredible experiences and loved working as a child. I have to say ‘The Addams Family’ movies were two really – they were like glory days for me as a 10 and 12-year-old. Those were great movies to be on,” she said at the time.
There are many examples of child stars who had drama in their lives. Former child star Amanda Bynes was placed on a psychiatric hold in March 2023 after the actress was found roaming the streets of Los Angeles naked, as The Daily Wire previously reported. This was the latest in a long string of disturbing incidents over the years, including Bynes being placed under a conservatorship for years.
Speaking of conservatorships, former child star turned pop artist Britney Spears has been making headlines for most of her adult life after launching her career in “The Mickey Mouse Club” at the age of 11. In time, Spears became one of the most celebrated pop culture figures in the world, but this fame had a dark side. Between 2007 and 2008, the pop star shaved her head, assaulted a photographer with an umbrella, lost custody of her two children, and was placed under a conservatorship which lasted 13 years.
There are almost too many examples of child stars gone wrong to mention. Macaulay Culkin, who became famous as a young kid starring in “Home Alone,” took his parents to court to block them from controlling his trust fund.
Former child star and the daughter of famous parents Drew Barrymore has been open about being exposed to drugs and alcohol at a very young age because of her career. The actress became famous thanks to her role in Steven Spielberg’s “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” in 1982 when she was five.
Barrymore is a good example of a former child star who turned her life around after being in some bad situations. But not all young actors are able to escape a terrible fate. Gary Coleman, the kid star of the “Diff’rent Strokes” (1978-1986) died at the age of 42 following a history of substance abuse and depression.
There will always be a need for child actors, but by the same token, there is a need to protect them from the worst elements of Hollywood. Those who have been there themselves have sounded the alarm, and it’s up to parents and studio executives to heed their warnings.