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Being a Child Celebrity is Hazardous to Your Health

We lost another former child celebrity last week. I know that the general population has its share of drug overdoses, alcoholism, criminal behavior and suicide, but it sure seems like former child stars are overly represented. Why is that?

When we’re young, we are learning about the world and ourselves and forming expectations that we will carry for the rest of our lives. Most kids learn that they must follow the rules, be kind to others, sometimes do things they don’t enjoy, and ultimately become contributing members of society.

What if a child is famous? Acquaintances and strangers admire them. They get a lot of attention just for being famous. I’m not saying they don’t work hard, but that’s not what most of the recognition is about. Rules that other people have to follow are rearranged for them. People around them are willing to cater to a star, even when they’re wrong. What would a kid learn from all of this? That they are the most important person in the room, that they don’t have to follow rules, that they can do no wrong. You can say whatever you like, but kids, like everyone else, learn more from actions than words. How can a person who believes these things grow up to have a successful marriage or be a good parent?

So a kid grows up learning these things and then at some point, things change. Maybe they can’t continue to be paid and admired for being cute. Maybe they continue on with their chosen career, but have a hard time getting jobs. All of those things that they think they deserve, attention, money, and power are gone. They missed the opportunity to learn how to follow rules with good grace, how to put someone else’s needs first, how to do things they’d prefer not to do. It’s harder to learn these lessons as an adult, partly because it contradicts what you learned before, and partly because there are no adults to make you toe the line. There are a lot of child celebrities who are able to transition into ‘normal life’, but there are also many who have difficulty.

So how do you prevent this from happening to your child? Well, for most of us the answer is easy. No professional performing. Casting directors don’t usually pursue kids who aren’t trying to break into the business anyway.

But what if you have a child who loves acting, singing, dancing or whatever? What if they have talent and are willing to work hard? If they were passionate about a sport, you’d let them play club sports, wouldn’t you? And if this turns out to be their career choice, the experience gained as a child can help them get started in an industry that’s hard to break into. Here are a few ideas to support them in following their dreams while protecting them at the same time.

Take your child’s temperament into account. Some kids are more affected by what people say than others are. If your child’s view of herself depends on what others think of her, she should probably wait.

Stardom is different than acting, singing, etc. If your child just wants to be famous, you should stop it there. Fame isn’t good for kids.

There may be a way to pursue the art with less exposure. If your child is a talented actor, for example, can he pursue his art in a place that’s not so popular? Maybe he can act on stage instead of on tv. Maybe he can work on a film that’s not likely to become a blockbuster. If he wants to be financially successful as an adult, his experience should help him land roles. And it avoids the issue of typecasting. For young musicians, maybe playing with an orchestra rather than a pop band would reduce the fame among their peers.

You can limit their work. This will definitely slow down their career, but maybe having a normal healthy childhood is worth it.

Make their regular life as normal as possible. They need to be treated just like anyone else at home and in the community. You should take the time to decide on specific behavior that you expect from your child. They must do their chores and they should only have access to a reasonable amount of money, similar to what other children their age have. You may even choose to make continued professional work contingent on good behavior. If they let their fame go to their head and start treating others poorly, it’s time to step back from the work until they can regain their perspective.

Controlling the actions of peers and people in the community can be more difficult. Changing your child’s appearance when they go out might make them less recognizable. Sending them to a small school or living in a small community might help, since people will get used to them and hopefully be less star-struck.

Another problem that arises for professional children is centered around money and trust. Their parents often manage the money, and sometimes there are allegations of mismanagement later, when they child becomes an adult. This is a difficult position for parents. Managing a child’s career is a lot of work. Someone needs to drive them to auditions and to work. I would imagine that it’s a bad idea to leave a child on a set or studio without someone to look after them. I would want to know what kinds of things my child was being exposed to. Depending on how much a child works, these duties can interfere with a parent’s career. I imagine that some parents take pay from their child’s earnings to compensate for this. Now there’s a problem. From the child’s point of view, the person who is supposed to be completely trusted to look out for their interests is taking some of the money. And there is a great opportunity for abuse on the parents’ part. Is it possible to hire an advocate who can drive your child to auditions and jobs, look out for their interests and manage the money? It think it would be difficult to find someone that you trust that much, and you’d still have to oversee it. If you can do that, though, it would be just another cost of doing business. There would be no question of parents taking advantage of a child financially.

Sudden fame often goes straight to the head for adults. It’s not reasonable to expect a child to deal with it. In our media-heavy world, fame at an early age is a recipe for disaster. If a parent allows their child to work professionally, they must have a plan in place to protect them from the potentially deadly effects of fame.