When I was a kid, I acted in a few movies.
20th Century Fox
20th Century Fox
It was generally a good experience, but every day I'm glad I wasn't Olsen twins famous. Not many child stars make it out of Hollywood alive or sane, and at any given time there are at least three former ones having very public breakdowns.
But why does this happen?
7 Their Parents Won't Help Them ...
I chose to start acting when I was 5. It was my decision, and my parents tried their hardest to discourage me. When I insisted, they allowed me to act, but were always very protective of me.
I saw many child actors who did not have that, and they were all miserable. Kids whose parents pushed them into acting often grow up to resent them. They never had a choice, and worse, they never had the chance to be a kid.
This dude reportedly said "Actors are cattle." That would mean child actors are veal.
When one of my preteen co-stars didn't seem that into acting, I asked him why he even bothered doing it. "For the money," he said. I hadn't considered that. My own money was an abstract concept: locked in a bank somewhere, to be used only after I turned 18. I was just acting because I liked it. But this kid was supporting his family.
This isn't a new problem. Back in the 1930s, Jackie Coogan was not only the biggest child star in the world, but one of the biggest stars, period. The kid had $4 million (more than $48 million in today's money) to his name, but when he turned 21, he found that his mother and manager/stepfather had spent almost all of it. Coogan sued his parents, and while he only got $126,000, he did get a law named after him. That's a nice consolation prize, right?
And he also went on to play a character named after something a boil does.
The Coogan Law isn't perfect, though: While it has long protected a kid's right to a trust fund, it still only protects 15 percent of a child's earnings. There are still lots of ways parents can misuse their kid's money. And it's easy for them to get away with it, because most kids don't have the guts to take their own parents to court and scream about all the things they can't handle (the truth, and so on).
The next time a former child star is in the news, look at the age at which he or she started performing. Then imagine making a life-changing decision at that age. Chances are good he or she wasn't the one who made it.
6 ... or Their Parents Can't Help Them
Even good, non-stage-parent parents can have trouble asserting authority over their kids. My parents, I think, did most things right. They didn't always pick the greatest movies for me to be in, but they were supportive and responsible about money. But even they had to answer to a higher power.
No, not this guy. We were Jewish.
When I was 7, I went to the premiere for the movie Nine Months. I don't remember much about the movie beyond Hugh Grant stammering and some placenta jokes, but I do remember a red carpet reporter asking me my opinion about Hugh Grant getting busted for prostitution.
"You play a child-wizard in this film. Do you think abortion should be a woman's decision?"
If he had been arrested for something like defacing a Lion King poster or stealing bouncy castles, I might have cared. But while I knew he'd been arrested, I didn't understand what for and didn't feel comfortable answering. My father called the station the next day to suggest that they, you know, not talk to a child about soliciting sex. But he was rebuffed, and the complaint was ignored. Even then, as a kid, I knew that parental power was gone.
When Miley Cyrus went through a series of scandals in 2010, one involving the scarier-than-pot-but-somehow-more-legal salvia, Billy Ray Cyrus went on record saying that he had very little control over his daughter anymore. Her Disney entourage had long since taken over. Even if he wasn't telling the complete truth about his role in his daughter's scandals, it was clear that he, the parent, was not in control.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
"We are your family now."