#3. They Need to Rebel, But Can't
Probably one of the reasons I was never big into partying as a teen was because I was scared of the public finding out. "Friends" of mine would sometimes post things I'd said or pictures I was in on public websites, which caused rifts and some serious trust issues. Even now, I will duck out of the way at parties when someone brings out a camera -- even though I'm well over 21, I haven't been a recognizable name in years, and my parties tend to be less "coke orgy," more "board game bonanza."
Though I do love getting Banged.
Nearly every teenager rebels. But most of them have about five people they need to answer to when they screw up: teachers, school administrators, and their parents or guardians. Maybe the police or other authorities, if they're rowdy or growing up in a rough area, or a wise neighbor if they grew up in a sitcom.
Now imagine if you, as a kid, had millions of people watching your every move. First, there's your own entourage: parents or guardians, agents, managers, producers, studio heads, executives of all kinds. And then there are the fans: kids your age who think they know you because they've seen your face on TV, parents who pray you stay squeaky clean because their children want to be you.
"Please, God, do not let Justin Bieber be the head of a sex trafficking ring."
Having to live up to your fan base is a little like having to deal with a million strict parents who don't actually love you. They reward you for your cuteness and cleverness, but are quick to judge and punish. And they do not want you ever to grow up. How do you react? The way any sullen teenager does: You get resentful, and as soon as you have the freedom, you act out.
Look at when most teen and child stars committed crimes and had breakdowns. Most were in their late teens, or even well into their 20s. When everyone else their age was getting detention for flipping off teachers or getting grounded for breaking curfew, Disney and Viacom and Fox were doing everything they could to ensure that their adorable little props weren't causing trouble and costing them millions of dollars.
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"Shit. Hilary Duff cannibalized another PA, somebody call the Wolf."
But when they get older, they have more freedom. They also have money and little to no experience making decisions for themselves, so their rebellions are going to be on a much larger scale. The whole world will see it.
And if there's one thing the whole world loves, it's a public breakdown.
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#2. They Don't Know What Else to Do
If I were to talk to Lindsay Lohan, I'd encourage her to get the hell out of acting and into something soothing. Take up botany or something.
But she wouldn't be likely to listen to me -- and not only because I'm younger and way less hot than her. It's because she's been acting all her life, she has little education, and in her mind, there's nothing else she could do. She's likely to keep doing it even if she's making herself -- and maybe also the people she works with -- miserable.
"Laugh and the whole world laughs with you" swings both ways.
Everyone loves to laugh at that asshole who was smug once, and has since fallen. (I was thrilled when I saw a sitcom rerun a few years back and realized that the fellow child actor who broke my heart when I was 15 was pretty shitty at acting.) But no one wants to be that asshole. I worked several crappy jobs when I was younger, and prayed every day that no one would recognize me.
Eventually, I had to stop caring: It didn't affect my paycheck, and I liked working hard (which led to me getting a job I actually liked). But most former child stars are proud and sensitive and don't have much of an education. It's easier for them to hold onto what they did in their past and make money that way.
Hence all this crap.
Besides, everyone they know is in the business, and after having people take their money, reject them for their looks, and turn them into a sex object, they're not going to be especially trusting. The sleazy bastards you know are better than the sleazy bastards you don't.
#1. They Can't Escape It
People who meet me as an adult are often surprised that I'm alive and have never been in prison or rehab. Sometimes they're disappointed I'm not cooler: I'm a normal-looking woman living in a two-bedroom apartment in one of the less cool neighborhoods of New York. I write stuff and tell stories, but I'm not a celebrity and wouldn't want to be one. I'm much more "reformed drama nerd" than "former child star," and I like it that way.
One of the reasons I love living in New York is that no one gives a shit about celebrities. Susan Sarandon comes to your deli, Lou Reed's in your kickboxing class, David Mamet flips you off, whatever, most New Yorkers really don't care.
Just make sure you put rocks on your garbage cans to keep Gary Busey from digging through them.
But even here (and even though I was never as famous as those people), I still get recognized. It's flattering, but it can be uncomfortable. Maybe because it only seems to happen when I'm looking and feeling crappy, and while I'm glad what I did meant something to someone, I can't take much pride in my childhood acting. It feels like it happened in another lifetime, and even then, it felt like a hobby. People making a big deal out of me just embarrasses me, and I'm also very camera shy.
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You would be, too, if you'd been in the public eye when you looked like this.
It's not something I'm ever going to escape. And while I'm glad for all the advantages it's given me -- I got to meet the queen of England! -- it does give me something I have to not only live up to, but surpass. A lot of child stars feel like they'll never get past what they did as a kid, that their character has taken over their life. Jake Lloyd might have been melodramatic when he said The Phantom Menace ruined his life, but it does kind of suck that years later he's still seen as a punchline.
It's a constant damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't situation: If former child actors bring up their past, they're washed-up opportunists shilling for attention. If they never do, they're clearly in denial. If they say it was fantastic, they're full of shit. If they acknowledge that it wasn't always fantastic, they're bitter.
There's not much to do besides accept it for what it was and move on. Child stars who are best off as adults usually do one or two projects, then get the hell out of Hollywood, at least for the next few years. They go to Harvard or Yale (or my alma mater, NYU, which has been called "Where Child Stars Come to Die") and learn to do something besides act.
"Welcome to the wonderful world of low-paying, menial office jobs where you will work thanklessly until you die, anonymous and alone."
That's my suggestion for kids who want to act, by the way: Make sure it's really your choice, get out of it when it stops being fun, and get an education.
Additionally, movies like A Series of Unfortunate Events and, um, Twilight have used CGI rather than human babies in some scenes. Some of them looked pretty creepy, but CG technology is improving all the time. Considering all the legal hassle child stars can be, I won't be surprised when they are phased out by CGI children voiced by adult actors.
When, not if.
Behold, your future.
For more on life after hitting it big, check out The 7 Most WTF Post-Fame Celebrity Careers and The 7 Most WTF Post-Fame Careers of Famous Musicians.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 4 Ways 'Futurama' Is Becoming a Reality.