Many child stars are pushed into the entertainment industry before they’re old enough to decide on their own if this is their career path of choice. It may seem appealing to have your face plastered on television screens and magazine covers, but there’s a hidden side to the industry that is full of scandal, abuse and trauma.
California and New York are entertainment hubs, and these two states have strict laws in place to protect child stars. In California, studios are prohibited from employing babies younger than a month old, but any baby older than that is free game. In the U.S., child actors are regulated by a labor union and state and federal laws. However, movie studios are able to skirt around these laws by filming children in remote locations overseas. Child actors are subjected to long working hours and are even forced to participate in risky and dangerous stunts involving wild animals.
Drug and alcohol abuse is common in the entertainment industry, and it’s not just the adults who are indulging. Child actress Mackenzie Phillips admitted her father, musician John Phillips, got her hooked on drugs by injecting her with cocaine at a very young age. And “Full House” star Jodie Sweetin says she turned to drugs and alcohol at the age of 14 to help cope with her career taking a nosedive after the series wrapped in 1995.
Actress Judy Garland, the star of “The Wizard of Oz,” was emotionally abused and tortured by greedy studio execs who wanted her to maintain her wholesome and child-like image. The child star said studio handlers would tell her she wasn’t pretty enough, and they would demand she stay thin by eating less food. Due to shady contracts she had signed, Judy was forced to continue working while dealing with the abuse. She eventually suffered a nervous breakdown in 1947.
Many child stars deal with mental illness, but unfortunately, they don’t receive the help they need until it’s too late. Amanda Bynes had a successful career as a Nickelodeon star, but her career suffered when she started to exhibit erratic behavior. She threw a bong from her New York apartment window, set fire to a neighbor’s driveway and had a complete meltdown on Twitter when she accused her father of sexually abusing her. Her family finally stepped in and Amanda was admitted to multiple mental health facilities and placed under psychiatric hold.
Child actors are robbed of their childhood and forced to perform even when they don’t feel like it. When they get a bit older and are granted more freedom, they tend to rebel. Christina Aguilera was so desperate to break free from her wholesome image from Disney’s "The Mickey Mouse Club" that she completely reinvented herself as a sexy siren with no inhibitions. When she released the racy music video for “Dirrty” in 2002, jaws dropped at the sexually suggestive lyrics and her over-sexualized appearance.
The most disturbing dark secret about child stars is the amount of sexual abuse that occurs in the industry. During casting calls, parents are instructed to wait behind closed doors while their young child is left alone in a room with a much older Hollywood exec. 80’s child star Corey Feldman has been very vocal about child predators in the industry, and he alleges to have been sexually abused by a prominent Hollywood figure. He has suffered from years of substance abuse, and he claims his self-destructive lifestyle is a result of years of being victimized.