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."
#5. They Get Used to Love and Attention, and Then Lose It
The first week of my first movie, Mrs. Doubtfire, I got gifts from every cast member. When an interviewer asked me what I loved most about acting, I forgot all about the joy of becoming someone else on camera and said, "You get a lot of presents, sometimes!"
"And the weed is just ... mmm!"
Combine the regular amount of free stuff celebrities get with all the presents people give kids just for being cute, and you've got a recipe for one spoiled-ass child. My parents tried to keep me grounded: They made me share a room with my sister, kept me in public elementary school, and encouraged me to think of acting as just a hobby. But I'm sure there were still times when I was an entitled little shit.
This tends to happen: It's called the hedonic treadmill, which sounds like something 1950s sci-fi writers imagined we'd all have in our pod-houses by now, but actually means that even people who have the best of everything quickly become used to it. The thrill of new things and new experiences always wears off.
"OK, I'm bored, take a hike."
Adults know that infatuation is fleeting, but kids don't understand this. A year in a kid's life seems like an eternity, and they think anything happening now will happen forever. Years of adulation and money and things quickly become normal, and then, just as they get used to it all, they hit puberty -- which is a serious job hazard when your job is being cute.
It's basically a real-life version of Logan's Run. A child actor who is no longer cute is no longer monetarily viable and is discarded. He or she is then replaced by someone younger and cuter, and fan bases accordingly forget that the previous object of affection ever existed.
Except without the human sacrifice and creepy '70s strobe-light orgies.
Most of you reading this felt pretty disgusting and useless while you were going through puberty. But imagine that people you once relied on and trusted -- as well as millions of people you'd never met, who had previously liked you -- had told you then, "Yeah, it's true. You are exactly as ugly and worthless as you feel."
#4. They Have Been Sexually Exploited
Speaking of which, you know that one lucky asshole you grew up with who never seemed to go through an awkward age, at all? The child stars who make the most successful transitions tend to be those kinds of assholes: They were adorable kids, and now they're beautiful adults. The rest typically disappear.
Michael Kovac/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
Or come back a few years later as Rorschach.
But it's not always a smooth transition: To be a teen idol is to be vulnerable. Brooke Shields has said that being a sex object led her to feel like she wasn't in control of her own body, and is one of the reasons she didn't have sex until she was 22. Natalie Portman has said similar things.
And sometimes it gets violent: Former child stars Corey Feldman, Corey Haim, and Todd Bridges all went on record saying that they had been sexually assaulted by adult men when they were young, and that there were likely many more child molesters in Hollywood. Actress Rebecca Schaeffer was killed by a stalker after he saw her in bed with a male character in a film and denounced her as "another Hollywood whore."
But even when it's not violent, it's not pleasant. When I was 12 years old, I made the mistake of looking myself up on the Internet. (I know not to do that now, unless I want to stay up all night imagining the kind of person who would replace my Wikipedia article with nothing but the word "poo.") One of the things I found was a foot fetish website dedicated to child actresses.
Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images
Officially displacing the "pictures of actresses sneezing" blog as the creepiest celebrity site on the Internet.
Now, at the time, I thought this was hilarious. I was in seventh grade and couldn't say the word "sex" with a straight face; fetishes were beyond me. I never told my parents because it seemed like too much of a joke, not a threat.
Then, two or three years ago, I was talking to a friend and casually mentioned the foot fetish thing. Her eyes went wide. "So, basically, you were on a child porn site?"
"Uh ... I guess so." I hadn't thought about it like that. Suddenly it wasn't as funny as I had once thought.
There was worse, both for me and for others. Like the Coogan Law, there are too many loopholes. If you ever need to convince someone not to get their kid into show business, inform them that it's still legal in several places to Photoshop a child's head onto a nude adult body. Sexual exploitation is just part of the package.