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Here's What 19 Child Stars Have To Say About Being Thrust Into The Spotlight By Their Parents
It might seem like a glamorous lifestyle, but sometimes, kids just wanna be kids...by Rhianna Campbell
See the words "child star" and I'm sure someone immediately springs to mind for you. Sparkly-eyed and smiley, it seems like they were born for the stage. But how many of these mini-mega stars actually enjoyed the path their parents forced them onto from the second they arrived Earth-side, and how many would never have chosen the route for themselves?
Content warning: This post contains mentions of child abuse and sexual exploitation
1. Janet Jackson
Kevin Mazur / Getty Images for The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Joe Jackson, the Jackson patriarch, groomed his kids for international stardom from the second they were born. Known for ruling the family with an iron fist, his kids were seen as a means to a steady income instead of children who wanted to live normal, happy childhoods.
It's even said that Joe told his kids to called him Joe, not Dad, to ensure a business relationship was maintained at all times.
While the family was very musical, even having a studio at their house, Janet only wanted to act. When her father found a song she'd made, he told her she should become a singer, but she said: "'No, no, no, no, no! You don’t understand. I want to go to school. I want to go to college and study business law and support myself by acting.'"
From there, her career was controlled by Joe, from her music to her acting jobs to her image.
Chris Walter / WireImage
He insisted she star in the TV show Fame to appeal to a wider audience, which she admitted in her 2022 documentary she wanted nothing to do with.
She said: "I didn’t want to be on Fame; I didn’t want to do the show. The kids were great. I just didn’t want to do that. I did it for my father."
So while Janet did want the path she landed on, the stops she made along the way don't seem to have been ones of her own choosing.
2. Jennette McCurdy
Taylor Hill / WireImage
Jennette is getting a lot of attention these days due to her best-selling book, I'm Glad My Mom Died. In it, Jennette explains her complicated relationship with her abusive mother Debbie, who had Jennette acting from age six in a bid to live out her own dream of being a performer.
Jennette became the main breadwinner of the family, but never liked being in the spotlight. She continued acting in an attempt to win her mom's approval, but eventually confessed to her mom that she didn't want to act anymore. Debbie's reaction was so hysterical that Jennette continued on the path she never wanted to be on in the first place.
The Washington Post / The Washington Post via Getty Images
In order to give Jennette the most chance of getting child actor roles as she grew older, Debbie forced diets on her daughter to keep her so underweight she could be mistaken for a child years younger. The ways of thinking Debbie instilled in her daughter caused a battle with anorexia that she still struggles with today.
Following her mom's death, Jennette has worked through her feelings with therapists to dissect the complicated nature of the relationship they shared, and has finally been able to untangle herself from the dreams her mom made her believe were hers. Now aged 30, Jennette has quit acting and plans to write or direct for the foreseeable.
Scott Gries / Getty
3. Cole and Dylan Sprouse
Arturo Holmes / FilmMagic
Cole and Dylan were put into acting at just eight months old, as part of their mom Melanie's attempts to stabilize the family's finances after splitting with their dad, Matthew. Describing his mom as the "financially the most irresponsible woman ever," Cole explained that Melanie had spent all his and Dylan's earnings from before they joined The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, eventually losing custody of them when they were 10 years old.
While their dad originally wanted the twins to live normal lives after he won custody of them, the monetary benefits of their budding acting careers soon overtook his initial desire.
Bob D'amico / Disney Channel via Getty Images
Cole said: "I think there’s two types of kids within the child acting business. There’s, like, the ‘thespian children’ who choose to do it, and then there’s the working class kids that, in our case at least…I mean it started, really, as a means to put bread on the table.”
Talking to the Call Her Daddy podcast about his feelings around being pushed into child acting, he said he didn't regret his childhood but definitely has some feelings to work through about it.
Frazer Harrison / Getty Images
He said: "My brother and I were put into acting when we were eight months old by our mother because we needed money. I never made the decision to join the arts or acting specifically. And so it was never really my passion. To be honest, if she never thrust me into it, I probably never would have thought of it as a career choice for myself."
4. Taylor Momsen
Axelle / FilmMagic
Known these days as the frontwoman of the rock band The Pretty Reckless, Taylor was once most recognized for her portrayal of Jenny Humphrey in Gossip Girl.
During her time filming the show, rumors began to circulate that she was difficult to work with after guest star, Tim Gunn, called then-17-year-old Taylor a "diva," and said: "She was pathetic, she couldn't remember her lines, and she didn't even have that many. I thought to myself 'why are we all being held hostage by this brat?"
Taylor realized that acting wasn't something she actually wanted to do, telling Revolver: "My parents signed me up with Ford [Modeling] at the age of two. No two-year-old wants to be working, but I had no choice. My whole life, I was in and out of school. I didn't have friends. I was working constantly and I didn't have a real life."
Harry Herd / WireImage
Speaking to Cosmopolitan at a later date, she said of her decision to quit acting: "When I realized I could actually make my decisions, it was a very strange feeling. It was like, if I don't have to do this thing that I don't enjoy doing anymore, or I don't know if I ever really did, then I'm not gonna do it anymore! Because this is my life, and I want to live it and enjoy it if I can."
5. Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen
Angela Weiss / AFP via Getty Images
Mary-Kate and Ashley began acting at nine months old when their mom's casting agent friend snagged them a spot at the casting call for Full House. While the girls' parents didn't initially plan for them to act, their rising popularity meant they began getting the girls into more and more projects as they got older, and it wasn't long before Mary-Kate and Ashley were the ultimate It girls of the '90s and '00s.
“With what we were doing in business when we were younger, I don’t think it ever felt like we were actresses,” Mary-Kate told In Touch. “Because we spend so much more of our time not in front of the cameras, building a brand.”
Ashley agreed, saying: “I always looked at myself, even as a kid, as a business woman.”
While the twins said their parents did try to ensure they had a normal life as well, the girls were targeted by paparazzi, with Ashley being reduced to hysterical crying when they were photographed in bikinis as teenagers on vacation in Hawaii.
Clint Spaulding / Patrick McMullan via Getty Images
Mary-Kate said she wouldn't wish her childhood on anyone, and said she felt like a "monkey performer." In fact, their experiences with the obsessive media at the height of their fame nearly made younger sister Elizabeth give up acting.
She described the media as "abusive to (her) sisters", detailing how the paparazzi would follow Mary-Kate and Ashley to the extent that they almost got into car accidents, and said she "really didn't want to be in that industry."
It makes sense that the twins turned their attention to their passion: fashion. They quit acting and established two clothing lines, one called The Row and one called Elizabeth and James, named after their siblings as well as their desire to explore masculine and feminine trends.
Matt Winkelmeyer / Getty Images for The Met Museum/Vogue
They rarely give interviews these days, and seem happier living a creative life behind the scenes.
6. Macaulay Culkin
Amy Sussman / Getty Images
Macaulay's dad, Kit, was an aspiring actor, and when a stage manager neighbor was looking for child actors, it "got to a place of, like, 'Sure, you want kids? What gender? What age? Yeah, we got a bunch. Here, take this one," according to Macauley's brother Kieran.
Kit was said to be jealous of Macaulay's success and took out his anger mentally and physically on his children. He also used his power as the manager of one of the '90s biggest child stars to get his other children acting roles, even forcing directors to take them on for projects that they did not want them for.
As a teenager, his parents split up and Macaulay finally learned that he was worth a massive $50 million.
Jeff Kravitz / FilmMagic, Inc
His dad had hidden all mention of money away from him, and when Macaulay found out, he emancipated himself and cut his father off. He quit acting shortly after and decided to go back to high school.
Macaulay has since dipped his toes back into the acting waters, this time on his own terms. He said he'd originally planned for his exit from acting to be permanent but had an epiphany after a few years.
Kimberly White / Getty Images for Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center
He told Time: "When I stopped, I just thought it was over and I was never, ever going to do it again...I was just hoping to disappear off the face of the earth. It took me about six years to figure out you can't back out of this."
7. Brooke Shields
Dia Dipasupil / Getty Images
Brooke Shields' mom Teri is infamous for the projects she got her daughter involved in. Starting modeling at the tender age of 11 months, Brooke was photographed nude in a bathtub for Playboy magazine's presser Sugar and Spice by just 10 years old.
By 12, she was playing a child prostitute in the film Pretty Baby, in which she had to kiss a 29-year-old and appear naked in front of a room of people bidding to take her virginity.
At 14, she appeared in the infamous Blue Lagoon. Dubbed as "soft porn" by the Daily Mail, Brooke was topless with her hair glued to her breasts and constantly encouraged to pursue an off-screen relationship with her 18-year-old costar, Christopher Atkins.
Steve Granitz / WireImage
Shortly after that, Brooke was cast in Endless Love, a story about high school students forbidden to see each other, which again featured a lot of nudity.
Brooke spoke out about how she believes the constant sexual exploitation from such a young age made it difficult to express or understand her own sexual identity, especially when the press dubbed her "America's most famous virgin" at age 22. She said: "I was such a naïve, innocent child. I wasn't Lolita. I didn't have that precocious understanding of my sexuality."
Jack Mitchell / Getty Images
Describing her relationship with her mother as "enmeshed", Brooke explained that she didn't resent her mom for her actions as she believed they would have been "dirt poor" otherwise.
8. Ariel Winter
Amanda Edwards / Getty Images
Ariel was forced into acting at age four by her mom, Crystal Workman. Ariel said that her mom "physically and emotionally abus(ed)" her, and her sister became her legal guardian when she was 14 years old.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, she said that living with her mom was a "really bad chapter," and that she "caught up on the childhood (she) didn't have" when she moved in with her sister. She also talked about how her mom made her wear skimpy clothing that led people to think she was double her age when she was just 12 years old, before tweeting that her then-estranged mom was "toxic" when Crystal publicly criticized her appearance to In Touch magazine.
Ariel tweeted: "What's sad is that you lie consistently. Also, why is it that you only choose to talk to me through the press? I'm doing just fine.