The Lindsay Lohan Effect: Why Child Stars Always Fall From Grace


Earlier this week, perpetual train wreck Lindsay Lohan was released from rehab, a common hangout for former child stars. Amanda Bynes, once Nickelodeon’s darling, has been publicly descending to rock bottom, tweeting nonsensical insults, drastically altering her appearance, and setting driveways on fire. This is not a recent phenomenon. While not Disney tweens, Brat Pack members like Robert Downey Jr., Rob Lowe, Anthony Michael Hall, and Ally Sheedy all struggled with substance abuse or legal troubles. Even those who have successfully maneuvered the troubling 20s are not safe — many child stars’ public issues flare up later in life. Charlie Sheen entered rehab at 33 years old, but his true issues bloomed in the past five years, with the star in his 40s. Others try to keep their issues deep under wraps. Andrew McCarthy waited over a decade since sobering up  before admitting that he struggled with alcohol starting when he was 12 years old.

So why exactly do child stars have a higher propensity for debauchery than the rest of the world’s youths? One argument is that they don't. For every child star that becomes a drug addict, there are many more who vanish from the limelight. We assume that the troubled ones are the majority because they are the ones we hear about in tabloids and gossip sites. On the other hand, it might be less of a case of faulty statistics and more of a case of pure youthful recklessness. When you combine a staff that caters to your every whim, fans that follow your every move, and parents who may be seeking vicarious stardom, it’s no wonder that kids who grow up on film and television sets become overwhelmed by it all. Drugs and alcohol provide a release from all of these stresses, and it’s not exactly frowned upon in Hollywood. With a mound of money at their disposal, it isn’t hard for these young adults to indulge.

Even the most grounded of former child stars describe themselves as having grown up on set, thus missing the invaluable benefits of a happy-go-lucky childhood. Some make up for this wasted opportunity by delaying their adolescence until later in life, when they drown themselves in foolish decisions with heavy consequences. Former child actress Mara Wilson of Matilda fame wrote an article outlining seven reasons why her peers were likely give in to the temptation of the wild side. Wilson argues the top reasons result from parents, the craving for attention, and boredom, the last of which is verified by Full House star Jodie Sweetin, who said she began taking drugs because she was “bored.”

The child stars that continue to work in Hollywood relatively unscathed by drugs, alcohol, and legal troubles are few but worthy of note. Hilary Duff, formerly the titular character on the Disney show Lizzie McGuire, is happily married with a son, as is Star Wars star Natalie Portman, who also boasts a degree from Harvard that separates her from her wayward peers. Former Mickey Mouse Club members Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Ryan Gosling all survived their kiddie-sized spotlights, albeit not without some bumps along the way. In fact, when it comes to child stars, comebacks are the norm. Talents like Robert Downey Jr., Neil Patrick Harris, and Drew Barrymore spent years after their adolescent breakthroughs slogging through made-for-TV movies and guest-starring roles on television shows before they hit their second big break. Lindsay, Amanda, Miley, Macaulay: Whether it’s two or 10 years down the line, there’s hope for you yet. If Tara Reid can do it with a movie as awful as Sharknado, so can you!