Behind the Lives of Child Actors

If you grew up loving your childhood classics, you would know that the recurring theme when you reminisce about these sitcoms/movies is the idea of the lost innocence of the child actor. The characters you found solace in turned to directions in their personal lives that made you disconnect from the roles you resonated with so much and instead critique their life choices. That too, when they had so much going for them. This made you view them as rebels who turned to indulgence beyond limits and took their blessed lives for granted. However, while that could be one of the factors, as I binge-watched many of their interviews, they drew attention to the external conditions that could have potentially led child prodigies to places and life situations with irreparable consequences.

Their personal experiences are neglected by solely holding the individual accountable due to the fantasized perception of stardom. We are quick to overlook the fact that as fascinating as their lives seem to the general public, for many this was not as idyllic an experience as the media portrayed it to be. From child actor Alex Winter being abused by a co-star on Broadway to Wil Wheaton traversing this path only to fulfill his mother’s dream, the many ground realities that cause emotional upheaval at such a young age are highlighted. Todd Bridges said, “Acting is a fictional life, and you have to discover real life. I can deal with both but I prefer real life.”

This highlights two concepts. The first being a shielded environment far removed from the real world that the child actors are brought up in. Once escaped, it causes emotional turmoil that is hard to cope with. The second is the oppression that exists within the shielded environment pertaining to emotional/physical abuse for many or lack of agency over one’s choices due to parental pressure and the expectations that they are supposed to adhere to. The Olsen twins who experienced a lot of supposed discomfort on the sets of “Full House” and were pushed into acting when they were eight months old have completely removed themselves from the limelight. A lot of child actors realize that this life isn’t for them and are able to move on from it. However, many are lost amidst the pressures, getting sidetracked and resorting to drugs as a way of coping.

The common perception is down to the poor decisions made for fun which could partly be true. It is also a way of coping with the lack of control over their lives and them being exposed to more than half of the world regarding their choices and decisions in life. Their individuality is compromised at a very young age owing to maintaining the image that is expected of them. Once they get out of that space many find it difficult to adapt to the real world. Post the finale of “Full House,” Jodie Sweetin, a child actress, turned to drugs. Not knowing how to deal with losing a very big part of her world, she lost control over her life, but somehow managed to sustain her sobriety and find her ground.

While star kids learn a lot of valuable lessons and skills, get the liberty of being tutored on sets, read and apply scripts, their talent is disregarded by the buildup of these factors making one believe that they wasted their lives. Their coping mechanisms are infused with shame and many of them are patronized instead of being supported. This also highlights the societal narrative of drugs. It shows how society views drug problems as a consequence of personal indulgence and completely overlooks emotional issues because of which this topic continues to remain tabooed with people hesitating to ask for help.

While it is great to root for Hilary Duff for not buying into the temptations that came from being a Disney star, it is important to understand and highlight the individual context, lived experiences, and most importantly the network of support that got them through. For many, authority figures added to the pressures. Drew Barrymore’s mother taking her to nightclubs as a kid was such an example. Nowadays, the functioning and regulations are much better. If toddlers are acting, they get to work for very limited hours and there seems to be more support and lesser hype for child actors. The difference between Generation X and Generation Z actors boils down to the external functioning around them which has gotten better over time.

Our childhood actors were not so bad. They were doing the best they could with what they knew.