06 Dec YOUNG, RICH, AND FAMOUS
Over the past year, an unexpectedly large number of stars have risen into the spotlight, most of whom are under 18. The familiarity we have with the concept of child stardom leaves a sour taste in most people’s mouths, and for a good reason. When we think about child stars of the past, we are reminded of many instances when addiction, situations of abuse, family troubles and mental illness have caused devastating impacts to their quality of life and their careers in entertainment. Lindsay Lohan and Amanda Bynes’ huge careers in TV and movies beginning during their adolescence forced them to grow up too quickly. By their 20’s and 30’s the success that they achieved so early on had caught up with them in the form of mental health issues, addiction and arrests; the toxic effects of child stardom playing out in front of the world’s eyes to these beloved stars. Justin Bieber’s new song “Lonely” gives us insight into how he and many child stars feel in the midst of and after their careers in the entertainment industry. After achieving such high successes in his early teens, he fell into a sequence of controversies involving drugs, assault scandals and his infamous 2015 arrest for careless driving. Although Bieber has recently shown his ability to come back from these downfalls, this isn’t the ‘normal’ outcome for ex-child stars who’s burdens become too much for them to bear. The worry this is potentially going to occur for this new generation of child stars is becoming more prevalent as people are beginning to notice, especially since the toxic effects of social media have been added to the mix.
TikTok’s growing popularity paves the way as one of the biggest social media platforms where teens can garner huge followings overnight. The uniqueness of this platform’s algorithm of the infamous For You Page has caused stars like Charli D’Amelio and Addison Rae to become instantly recognizable celebrities with some of the highest followings on the app in a mere couple of months of using it. At only 16, D’Amelio specifically has amassed over 100 million followers and more than 7.5 billion likes on her dance-based TikTok account (TMZ). Her success has led to numerous successful partnerships with Hollister, Morphe Cosmetics and most recently Dunkin Donuts, who named a drink after her called “The Charli.” D’Amelio and her sister Dixie D’Amelio, a huge star in her own right, have also partnered with UNICEF on an anti-bullying campaign driven by their personal experiences with online hate. As some of the most famous stars on the app and new-coming celebrities in the entertainment industry, it’s no question that they are prone to the trolling that comes with their job of exposing their whole lives online. Although “research suggests that kids who take advantage of that opportunity in a positive way can lead to better-adjusted adult lives” (Insider), we can’t forget that they are still young teens on social media who experience the same issues as everyone else but on a much larger scale.
Although these sisters are making positive strides with their platforms and seem to be handling their success well, that doesn’t mean they haven’t experienced controversies of their own while in the spotlight. Just a few weeks ago, the sisters both garnered attention for their “spoiled” behaviour during a dinner party on their family’s YouTube channel. The backlash they received from this caused D’Amelio to lose around one million subscribers within the span of 24 hours. In a tearful Instagram live, D’Amelio admitted that “If this is the community that I’m in and the community that I put myself in, I don’t know if I wanna do that anymore” (US Magazine). During the wake of lockdowns in the United States, as cases steadily increased, young TikTok stars, including the D’Amelio sisters, were caught attending massive house parties in the Hollywood hills, which acts as the home-base for many teen influencers. Especially during the pandemic, with a lot of our attention turned to TikTok as a key source of entertainment, these celebrities’ issues are immediately presented to the public.
Another TikToker, Bryce Hall, might come to the top of your mind when thinking about controversial stars on the platform. Although his being 21 no longer makes him a child star, Bryce gained popularity during his teens on other social media apps such as Instagram, Vine, and TikTok’s previous platform, musical.ly which makes him just as susceptible to the effects of child stardom. Hosting and attending numerous COVID house party’s (even leading the LA mayor to shut off his house’s power), fighting in the streets and over Twitter with TikTok stars, and his drug arrest with fellow star Jaden Hossler in early May are only a few of the controversies that have become associated with him in his considerably short, but successful career on TikTok. Although this is not a clear indication that Bryce is on the same troubling path, we can’t ignore that the cumulation of being young, rich and famous for him and stars like him is eerily similar to the behaviours of ex-child stars. Hollywood’s fast-paced lifestyle has caused so many notable, now ex-child, stars to lose themselves, and psychologists predict the same if not worse results for this new generation.
For many past and present child stars, the media’s over-sexualization and unsettling focus on their relationships have impacted their ability to form healthy connections with themselves and others. The period in which many of us begin forming our identities through exploring relationships is no longer possible for teenage celebrities without the presence and judgement of millions. The speculation surrounding D’Amelio and her “relationship” with Chase Hudson, another social media star, was all people could talk about due to the mass amount of attention they both received from the media and the cheating scandals that began surrounding their relationship. Although both stars are still in their teens and hadn’t been in many if not any relationships before this, the way their relationship was talked about was as if they were experienced adults, being overly criticized for any mistakes they made. Having to learn about relationships in front of millions of people is not only difficult; it has the potential to seriously impact one’s mental health.
Especially on TikTok, when fame becomes the main priority for these young teens, their relationship status may become a source of clickbait, another outlet to build their following. Hall and Addison Rae, for one, are known for doing this. Feeding into their relationship status speculations through flirty TikTok videos but denying being more than friends allows them to stay relevant and get people talking. Whether they are together or not, the back and forth of what is portrayed to the media may have lasting effects on their self-identity and impact their ability to form true relationships in the future. There is a fine line between real actions and those used for fame. When you are a celebrity, and especially when you are young, struggling with trust issues when your whole life is on display may lead to more serious troubles down the road.
For many child stars, they are met with the burden of becoming the provider for their families. With their huge success comes huge sums of money that often gets transferred over to their parents to control. In some cases, such as seen with Britney Spears who rose to fame at a young age, parents’ roles often get blurred as both their family and manager, and the child’s role as both the kid and, ultimately, their employer. For many ex-child stars, the familial dynamic played a major factor in their struggles. Although we aren’t able to see if this is accurate with any of the TikTok stars right now since the platform is so new, it is easy to suppose that for many of them, it will have a similar effect, especially since we can already see some of these parents riding the coattails of their children’s success by garnering their own social media following.
The added effects of social media and the already obvious problems it is causing youths are just another reason psychologists are so worried about these new child stars. Becoming famous from a social media platform requires constant posting and updating on their lives, with millions of eyes on them at all times. Being what the D’Amelio’s campaign is based around, and for young women, especially, one’s appearance is often the main target of haters. Combining the worries of what others think with personal worries developed from their criticism is troubling for many and is even more common now but is just as distressing as in the past. More than anything else, though, fame at a young age causes many people to lose a sense of their identity. Missing out on childhood experiences or experiencing them alongside the gaze of millions is something all too familiar to child stars. Fame requires them to grow up fast, and especially living in Hollywood, where the new generation of stars has flocked to, it becomes easy to lose oneself along the way.
Social media runs people down to being defined by a number. It no longer matters what we do in our lives as long as we are followed for it. So many young people look up to the lifestyles that TikTok stars experience. I’m sure when you’ve posted on TikTok, you use the #fyp hashtag in hopes that one of your videos will finally go viral. Why would we not be jealous of the success these stars have? They are young, rich, and living the lives many of us dream of, so we often forget the consequences of this success. As consumers, we are just as responsible for the ways we use social media and our role in the toxic effects of child stardom. The combination of being young, rich and famous, makes them just as vulnerable to the troubling paths child stars before they have gone down, and we must continue to shed light on this.
HEADER IMAGE SOURCE: The New York Times