The Destruction of Child Actors

Is the curse of the Disney channel just a coincidence?

American singer/actress Demi Lovato released a documentary titled Dancing with the Devil in 2021 where the singer speaks on her issues with addiction, both drugs and alcohol. Coming out with her near-death encounter, the actress goes into depth about prior trauma and her methods of coping. Demi began her career at the early age of 7 and has starred in popular kid’s television shows such as Barney & Friends. She then moved over to the Disney network when she starred in her breakthrough roles, Camp Rock and Sonny with a Chance.

The Disney channel also happens to be where many other well-known celebrities have begun their careers, some of which have also struggled with addiction and/or trauma-related experiences.

Because of this, speculations that the Disney channel was cursed began to circulate.

Do child actors have a higher chance of substance abuse? If we examine the lives of other popular artists who found their fame through Disney such as Britney Spears, Miley Cyrus, and Lindsay Lohan, to name a few, all of which have also had similar substance abuse issues. This isn’t to say that all Disney child actors have struggled with trauma but an overwhelming amount has come forward either openly or through the brutal public lens.

Could this just be the combination of child actors exposed to an adult business? Or maybe these particular children were not properly monitored by any responsible caregivers.

Whatever the case may be, Hollywood is infamous for its party scene where drug and alcohol use are commonly heard about. More and more stories of young artistic individuals are falling down the rabbit hole of fame.

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31 thoughts on “The Destruction of Child Actors

  1. This is sad to learn of. I think many kids really idolize child actors, as someone relatable due to being their age but seemingly higher up. Particularly, many kids have grown up watching Disney, so they likely think especially highly of those child actors. To learn that they really have gone through traumatic experiences and face certain struggles really personifies them. And perhaps children who wish they were like the Disney stars were really better off as their lives were.

  2. At a young age, these child actors are subjected to the ruthless entertainment industry that exploits these children’s youth and talents to their advantage. Rather than labeling this issue as the Disney curse, this matter should be viewed more broadly as a pressing issue that’s due to the lack of regulations implemented to protect these children. Without the proper legislation in place for these child actors, they are more vulnerable to abuse from higher authority figures. Thus, it is important for these child actors to have reliable caregivers who will defend their rights and have the kids’ best interests or at least have stricter child protection laws so that children have the legal jurisdiction to protect themselves from unfair treatment. The entertainment industry needs to improve in providing a safe environment for these child actors to lessen the chances of these kids incorporating unsafe practices into their lifestyles.

  3. I feel like it has more to do with the entertainment industry as a whole rather than just Disney. I think that child actors in general are exposed to a lot of environmental factors in the entertainment industry, Disney included, that contribute to their childhood development. Working in an industry where they are in the “spotlight” and constantly having to promote their image, seems like a recipe for stress and damage to their mental health and wellbeing, with the possibility of addiction and trauma abuse coming later in life. I think there should be some serious changes in the industry to help protect child workers from this.

  4. I think it is incredibly sad and shocking to see popular and loved Disney channel stars go through such a hard time and even through addiction. It is heartbreaking to see as somebody who grew up watching Disney channel. It is even more devastating to know that this is not something only happening on Disney Channel, it is happening on Nickelodeon as well as can be seen with Jenette McCurdy. She wrote a book about her negative experience on the show iCarly and how difficult her childhood was, especially having an abusive mother. It is sad to think that so many of these stars were struggling psychologically as kids and nobody noticed. I think it is important that more regulations be put in place and we closely monitor any adults working with child stars or actors as well as closely monitor the mental health of these children being put in front of audiences and cameras at such a young age.

  5. I feel like child actors not associated with Disney have also experienced similar trauma by just being in the media industry. Drew Barrymore, Macaulay Culkin, Winona Ryder, and so many other young stars have shown similar habits to those that started as young actors on Disney. As the post mentions, being surrounded by alcohol and drug use may be (I think must be) an influence. On top of that, I also think there are toxic work environments where many do not have their best interests in mind.

  6. Childhood exposure to certain social behaviors and environments has well-researched and undeniable effects. Since being impacted by your environment is unavoidable, what can be changed is the attention given to a child’s psychological well-being. Improving the resources available to children as well as surrounding them with adults that have their health and well-being in mind can help mitigate any harm that they undergo. Overall, what’s most important is listening to the victims and making changes accordingly.

  7. I think that there is no way that the curse of child actors is not just a coincidence. I believe that all of these child stars such as Demi Lovato, Lindsey Lohan etc., have been a clear indicator to us that there is something harmful about having to work and be in the public eye at such a young age. Many of these child stars are under pressure to present a certain image, however, as we all know, growing up can be hard and confusing and we are constantly changing and figuring out our identities. Being a child actor means that you have to grow up faster because there are more expectations on you and you are exposed to adult topics and themes. This prevents these child actors from being able to connect with their inner child, which can leave them feeling lost and depressed in later years if not treated properly. After a long time of dealing with the pressures of maintaining a certain image, I think that people like celebs such as Miley Cyrus and others clearly wanted to rebel against this image that society had for so long been speculating on and criticizing. I think that the entertainment industry, as a whole, is to blame because there is clearly not many resources in place to combat this trauma. However, this is not as easy as it sounds because of the widespread access people have to technology. Children now have access to technology and thus they are now consuming media as well. They want to see people their similar age in the content they consume, however, what impact does this have on those in the content?

  8. While it may be tempting to attribute the curse of the Disney Channel to a mere coincidence, it is essential to consider the larger systemic factors at play. The entertainment industry, with its demanding schedules, intense scrutiny, and exposure to fame and fortune at a young age, poses significant challenges for child actors. The pressure to conform to societal expectations, coupled with limited opportunities for normal childhood experiences, can lead to detrimental consequences for their overall well-being.
    Instead of solely blaming the Disney Channel, it is crucial to address the broader systemic issues within the entertainment industry, such as the lack of adequate support systems, the need for improved child labor regulations, and increased emphasis on mental health resources.

  9. The most prevalent child-actor I know about is Jennette McCurdy, who was known by her role of ‘Sam’ in iCarly and Sam & Cat. I read her book about her difficult and mentally draining experience as a child actor. It made me incredibly aware of the fact that these kids are in their early years of development and everything has incredible effects on their development and adolescent years. It is jarring in my opinion.

  10. I think this is a very interesting proposition. There seems to be a correlation between Disney Channel Child Actors and future substance abuse and other crimes. I think child actors suffer from immense pressure and do not get the “normal” childhood that many of us experience. Thus they may be more inclined to turn or substances.

  11. I agree that child actors are often placed under a great deal of pressure at a young age. Because of this I believe that it is common to get exposed to drugs and alcohol as a child and to turn to those as a way to relieve their stress and pressure. While I believe it mostly comes down to being involved in an adult business, I also agree that some parents of child actors place a great deal of pressure on them and turn a blind eye to any issues their children may be facing in the industry.

  12. Child actors, especially Disney characters, basically spend most of their childhood working and being on set. Whilst this is setting them up for success, it is also stripping away their childhood and making them grow up faster than they should. Being in such a cutthroat business doesn’t help with their development either. I feel as though they are being placed into an adult workplace and being forced to act a certain way in order to maintain their image. This, in turn, causes them to not be a “rebellious” child or teenager and results in them growing up and craving a sense of freedom and release. Unfortunately, this can sometimes be found through substance use.

  13. This is an interesting topic. I’ve never connected these two together. It is possible that because young actors are not under the protection of their parents and probably not even see their parents much because of shooting a show or movie, so they are more likely to be exposed to drugs and have no one to tell them the consequences of using it. Moreover, they are in contact with many different kinds of people everyday and they will have more exposures to drugs and alcohol than kids that go to school and all the people they know is their peers at schools and teachers, while young actors can meet people in many different ages and from many different backgrounds.

  14. Money and fame amplify the traits and behaviors of people. This is especially dangerous for children who have had less experiences and time to figure out themselves and the world around them. The result is a child who had to grow up too quickly and with too many influences around them.

  15. I think one reason child actors abuse drugs may be the environment. As you mentioned, entertainment industries such as Hollywood have many scenes of alcohol and drug abuse, and this environment negatively affects young child actors. Another reason may be stress. The entertainment industry is competitive and stressful, and child actors often face enormous work pressure and public attention. They are dealing with busy work schedules and constant exposure, which puts a lot of stress and psychological burden on them. If the parents of these child actors cannot give them the proper guidance at this time, they are likely to seek relaxation from drugs. Giving child actors a healthy growth environment is an important issue.

  16. Children in media was a topic that someone mentioned in one of our discussions which sure it’s fun to post things with your children being funny every once in a while, but when children are put in a constant environment of putting their lives on display for everyone, it can lead to detrimental effects on the child growing up. If you know the Nickelodeon star Jennette McCurdy who plays Sam Puckett from ICarly and later had a spinoff called Sam and Cat. Then you would know the terrible things that production did to the poor young actress. Her character was known as a reckless strong girl who ate a lot which actually contributed to Jennette’s real life eating disorders. Additionally, the producer Dan Schneider who has made many popular tv shows such as Drake and Josh, Zoey 101, etc. was known to sexually harass a lot of the young female actresses and expressing foot fetishization in some of his works. This especially affected Jennette in which she was constantly the one showing her feet on the show. Going back to the idea of children in media, it’s not only actors who get affected, but children on YouTube such as Ryan Toy’s Review who has millions of subscribers on YouTube who constantly is making their family money by reviewing toys almost everyday. It’s really bad for children to be in a stressful environment such as media at a young age which could lead to early depression and mental health issues as well as less motivated self.

  17. I firmly believe that child actors shouldn’t exist. Specifically, I think any child who is subjected to work and becomes the primary “bread winner” for the family should not exist. These children are exposed and exploited and unprotected. Expectations that no child should hold are placed on them and the whole world has access to their life. I think it’s too much for an adult in general and it’s much worse on children. There have been many cases of child actors who have grown up and faced hardships they would’ve never had if they had just been a regular kid. This also applies to children on YouTube who are growing up with even more sever circumstances, no privacy at home.

  18. I think child actors is a dangerous career. Children’s brains are not fully developed and therefore are forced to rely on the decisions of adults (some of which are decisions that do not have the child’s best interest in mind). In general, (without proper regulation) child actors exposed to an adult business can be extremely toxic for the child since the business was not designed for them. I do not think the blame should solely fall on the caregivers; it falls on the system as a whole. Child actors are not bad; they just should not be a part of the adult business. They should be a completely separate business because they not only cater to a different audience, but their needs are different than that of an adult.

  19. Child actors are exposed to a different realm. I feel like they have relinquished a lot of themselves and their person before even being able to develop it. Whether they have managers or parents someone is instructing them and they have boundaries broken for them before they are able to understand themselves.
    I personally believe that rich people are out of touch with reality in general. These children are bombarded with too much access and opportunity for drug consumption and “work-related parties”. Not to mention the conundrum of pedophilia and abuse of power enacted upon them.

  20. I believe that child actors being exposed to drugs and alcohol from a young age most definitely affects their development because it becomes as something normal since they are consistently seeing it. On top of that I think child actors develop these addictions because they observe how adults take them and possible it seems to the children that is help decompress from a hard day at work, and since these children are undergoing so much stress for someone that age. The more stress that children are put under, the easier not is for them to be pressured into doing things such as drugs and alcohol. And the more drugs and alcohol these children consume the more dependent they might become and the more they will work so that they can continue feeding into these addictions.

  21. I agree that child actors are especially vulnerable to eventual drug and alcohol abuse. The idea that children are basically working from as early as 5 years old for our entertainment is insane to me. The pressure these children must be under to basically provide for their family and work under even what some adults say a strenuous work schedule can have serious negative consequences for children. As many other people have said, I’ve also grown up watching Disney and Nickelodeon shows, and watching what they did to some of these actors devastates me. These kids are expected to maintain such an innocent demeanor and once they brake free, they go in the complete opposite direction. Question is, how do we support child actors and prevent them from going down this road?

  22. Just like Disney, I thought about Nickelodeon shows as well. I feel l like child actors from Dan Schneider’s shows got lost in translation, and then we tend to find out later about their past when the stars are more comfortable bringing up the topic (ex. Jennette McCurdy). Thus, it is tragic that the child actors have to go through such traumatic experiences, which could be a reason why they end up taking the substance abuse path to cope with the past.

  23. This is a case of correlation, not causation. As humans, we like to make associations, simply because it makes it easier for us to remember things, but in this case, I think that it is very important to emphasize the environment these child stars are in. They might be actors, but most importantly they are children, and their family is essential to keeping them in line because, for as many child actors who destroyed their lives, there is an equal amount that turned out really successful, either in other business endeavors or continuing acting. It really depends on every individual case by case. Parents forget that because the child is the one that makes the money they no longer need to do any parenting or seem more lenient, but it’s not about being super strict or any of that, it’s just keeping the children grounded and loved, by a tangible family, so they don’t feel the need to look elsewhere to satiate that need.

  24. As I grow older, I have realized and would also have to agree on the amount of destruction of child actors. Not only is it Disney, but Nickelodeon has some as well. For instance, look up “Drake Bell” from the T.V show ‘Drake and Josh’. I found it crazy to think a child actor, someone who always had eyes on them, was willing to: risk their child’s life, inhale unknown substances, exchange sexual texts with a minor, and hide in Mexico to escape his charges. Having almost everything you could ask for, fame and money, you would think one would try to better themselves and their family; not take it for granted. It is almost sad to think majority of these individuals were controlled as a young adult/child until now; making some feel almost “lost” in the world after fame.

  25. This article sheds light on the abuse child actors face in the industry. Addiction works in many ways but the correlation of the industry cannot be overlooked, especially when it affects actors and artists at such young ages. The courage to speak on this could not have been easy, but this is a conversation that must be had to prevent a repeat of history.

  26. Hi Shannon!

    Very interesting topic! Growing up I admired a lot of child actors and actresses. For the fact that even some of my own idols started their career journey from there. However, recent years, with the increase in suicidal rates, drug and alcohol abuse, and other forms of abuse or violences have brought to my attention that these people are undergoing inhumanly treatments. As much as they look great in the stages, they may be faced with so many circumstances behind the scenes. These are anxiety and pressures that cannot even be properly managed by adults, then imagine the children. In order to generate the maximum profits possible, many at a times, they are forced to perform things against their will. The sad part is, even though the person is still a child, they are not in the eyes of the employers. For them, they are simply money generators. A child is still yet too innocent and young, instead of working under stressful environments like this, they should be utilizing their time to enjoy their only childhood and also earn a good degree. Mental health and depression have become a popular issue in younger generations. As such I believe there should be an age limit, or at least, the company should prioritize their happiness and joy over work.

  27. Good article, as it sparks a lot of ideas and conversation. Child actors and their upbringing in Hollywood have always been an interesting topic because Disney was not the first place where we noticed this. Look at The Wizard of Oz’s Judy Garland and actress Marilyn Monroe. You see a similar story with them as you see with Lovato and it not only speaks to the industry but to those that support them, like us. Because we support the countless shows, movies, and endeavors that these actors take part in, are we a part of the problem?

  28. I really liked your article mostly because it touches on a topic that no one really wants to talk about. I believe that more attention needs to be focused on the mental health of childhood actors to make sure they are on the right track to becoming successful, even if they continue acting or not.

  29. It’s definitely a thought-provoking topic to consider whether the Disney channel and the early fame it provides to child actors contributes to their substance abuse issues later in life. While it may not be fair to label it as a curse, it’s worth examining the factors that may play a role in this trend. The intense pressure and scrutiny of the entertainment industry, coupled with the transition from child to adult roles, could certainly contribute to these struggles.

  30. Hey Shannon, great article!
    The pipeline of child stars to addicts with mental disorders is such a well-known transition that it baffles me that there aren’t more guidelines to protect child actors. Having that much attention on a person, as well as increased chances for access to drugs and alcohol at such a young age, they’re bound to get to the point at which they’re overwhelmed. Ultimately, these are children that are working for adults and it’s pressure that most cannot handle at such a young age. This is why there should be more conversations about how to better equip these kids to handle possible mental problems or even more conversations about whether children should be put to work in the film industry at all.

    1. Hi Gazel,

      Definitely children can experience an overwhelming amount of pressure entering a world that adults have all the power. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to be in their position, but god did I love watching Disney shows starring them! I think that it is crucial to introduce conversations about how to equip kids to enter this overly demanding world, but how? I don’t think anybody has come up with effective methods to support child actors in this transition. I’m curious if you have any ideas on how the film industry can change to help children entering the acting world? Do you think we just shouldn’t have children actors, or what would be a good solution?

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