We all wanted to be on TV as kids, but some youngsters actually lived the dream. But was it all it was cracked up to be? It turns out the stories about what it's really like to grow up in the limelight are often terrible. Nightmare might be more accurate! From lost fortunes to harassment and everything in between, it really wasn't all fun and games. Check out the honest confessions from your favorite faces, next.
Macaulay Culkin Was Forced to Act
Macaulay Culkin made millions in the Home Alone series. All along, he was being pushed to his success by father Kit Culkin, his manager. Today, he alleges that dad was abusive, and wouldn't let him rest. Projects were shoved down his throat, no matter the mental cost. He recalls: “I just wanted a little bit of a break. I wanted a summer vacation for the first time in, you know, forever.”
As an adult, the tabloids saw a bit of rebellious behavior from Macaulay. He withdrew from Hollywood and took some time for himself. Not all that glitter was gold, from his point of view. But ultimately, he got to choose!
Selena Gomez Was Too Exposed
Selena Gomez starred on Wizards of Waverly Place and then broke into the music business. Her success was basically immediate, but it came at a cost. While she should have been worrying about homework and boys, she had to think about the approvals of millions of strangers. According to the singer: “I think it's really dysfunctional to be in this industry at a young age where you're figuring out who you are...I don't recommend it.”
Today, her net worth hovers at $75 million. Looking at that number, many might say it was worth the struggle. But Selena certainly paid a psychological price, and wants you to know the reality.
Drew Barrymore Was Everyone's Moneymaker
As a successful child actress, Drew Barrymore found herself in the role of breadwinner for her mom. Obviously, this wasn't exactly healthy. She reflects: "I, for 20 or 30 years, felt toxic inside that I had to keep separating myself from her to gain autonomy and a structure and boundaries...and learn everything on my own. I had to completely relearn what [the] parent-child dynamic is. I couldn't have a relationship with her until I figured that out for myself, and could come to her as a woman."
Drew never got to be a wholesome kid, which affected her for decades. The actress is honest about her life on a new talk show, and guests really seem to open up to her on stage. Maybe it's because she is so open, herself.
Mischa Barton Became a Sex Symbol at 13
Most of us know Mischa Barton from The O.C., but her career started even earlier. Sadly, she already felt violated by the time we saw her in the California drama. She shares: “It was for Pups that I had my first kiss on screen and in real life, in front of an entire crew...My character had her first period in one scene, something I hadn’t even experienced in life yet. The movie blew up in Asia, and I became a strange sex symbol over there. I was 13.”
Today, the actress speaks out about the way young girls are treated. It's a bit late for her, unfortunately. But Mischa has the experience to share, and she's not holding back.
Gary Coleman Lost Hope in Humanity
Gary Coleman made millions laugh on Diff'rent Strokes. At the height of his fame, he was actually the highest-paid teen actor on TV. But behind the scenes, he struggled to gain control of his own fortune and worked as a security guard to make his rent. He sued his family and management for misappropriation of his finances. The court agreed funny business was going on, and Gary was awarded $1.3 million. But he didn't really win: He was left totally jaded, in the end.
He shared: "I don't have any friends and don't have any intention of making any. People will stab you in the back, mistreat you, talk about me behind your back, steal from you. And they're not really your friends. They're only there because you're a celebrity or because they want to get something from you."
Elijah Wood Knew Too Much
Elijah Wood now says he witnessed inappropriate behavior while acting as a minor. Recently, he alleged: "Clearly something major was going on in Hollywood. It was all organized. There are a lot of vipers in this industry, people who only have their own interests in mind. There is darkness in the underbelly. What burns me about these situations is that the victims can't speak as loudly as the people in power. That's the tragedy of attempting to reveal what is happening to innocent people: they can't be squashed, but their lives have been irreparably damaged."
While he has not specified who the victims or the perps are, he is not backing down. We don't know if he was personally affected. It's possible, and that's tragic!
Candace Cameron Had Bad Body Image
Sure, everything seemed hunky-dory on Full House. But there were real kids acting on that show, growing up in front of the world. Actress Candace Cameron had millions of prying eyes on her after puberty. She shares: "When I was 16, I filmed an episode of 'Full House' where my family goes to Disney World. I remember putting on baggy overalls just to hide my stomach. When I watched it, I was pretty disappointed and bummed out looking at myself...I didn't feel good about my own body."
Today, Candace is a married mom. She is into fitness, seems personally well-adjusted, and doesn't seem self-conscious at all. But we understand that was a long journey. Hollywood makes very few of us confident about our bodies!
Miley Cyrus Had to Go Extreme
As a young star, Miley Cyrus put on wigs and tights and did what adults told her to do. But after her sitcom ended, she didn't know how to proceed. Sure, she had clear musical talent. But how could she ever top her first try, and get rid of her wholesome image? According to Miley: "I felt like I was never going to amount to the success of Hannah Montana."
Miley ended up chopping off all her hair and twerking on TV. Some observers were shocked, in a bad way. But Miley gained plenty of new fans with her new persona. Maybe it was the only way to move on!
Demi Lovato Was Dismissed
Singer Demi Lovato actually started out as an actress on the Disney Channel. But no one knew that she was sexually harmed by another teen actor, back then. No one held the costar accountable, and Demi was forced to see her perpetrator all the time at work. She recently shared: "My 'Me Too' story is me telling somebody that someone did this to me and they never got in trouble for it."
Demi has had a lot of trouble with substance use in the past few years. One overdose even caused her to have a stroke. We have to wonder if these early experiences contributed to her decisions. It seems likely!
Natalie Portman Felt Unsafe
Natalie Portman struggled after her edgy roles in Beautiful Girls and Léon: The Professional in the 90s. She shares: "Being sexualized as a child took away from my own sexuality because it made me afraid...When I was in my teens I was like, 'I don't wanna have any love scenes or make-out scenes.' I would start choosing parts that were less sexy because it made me worried about the way I was perceived and how safe I felt."
These days, the Oscar-winning actress seems more comfortable choosing all sorts of roles. But this phase does sound a little gross. She was just 11 years old in Léon: The Professional!
Lindsay Lohan Went Wild
After The Parent Trap and Mean Girls, Lindsay Lohan was seen in rehab. Fame had taken its toll, fast. According to the actress: "The first time I was in a tabloid, I was like, 'Oh, my God, I feel like Britney Spears!' because she was in a tabloid and I felt cool...Little did I know what would happen from there...I know that I'm a damn good actress, and it's been my passion since I was a child, and I know that when I care about something I put 100 percent and more into it...And I know that in my past I was young and irresponsible — but that's what growing up is. You learn from your mistakes."
These days, it seems Lindsay has been canceled by Hollywood. With so much bad PR, she just isn't selected for top movies anymore. Will she make a comeback? We hope so!
Mara Wilson Was Harassed
Mara Wilson was in charming movies like Mrs. Doubtfire and Matilda. But for her, life was creepy. She shares: "People had been asking me, 'Do you have a boyfriend?' in interviews since I was 6...Reporters asked me who I thought the sexiest actor was and about Hugh Grant's arrest for soliciting a prostitute. It was cute when 10-year-olds sent me letters saying they were in love with me. It was not when 50-year-old men did. Before I even turned 12, there were images of me on foot fetish websites and photoshopped into child pornography. Every time, I felt ashamed."
Today, adult Mara Wilson stays away from the worst aspects of the business. She speaks out about harassment, to warn others. Fans were surprised that even Mara was experiencing it!
Daniel Radcliffe Got Wasted
Daniel Radcliffe was pretty exposed after getting famous. Harry Potter couldn't even get a drink in peace! He shares: "In my case, the quickest way of forgetting about the fact that you were being watched was to get very drunk...Then as you get very drunk, you become aware that, 'Oh, people are watching more now because now I'm getting very drunk, so I should probably drink more to ignore that more.' There is no blueprint for starting young and working stuff out."
Daniel's drinking started to look like a problem, and the actor addressed it before it got out of control. Still, it could have turned out worse! For many child stars, it does.
Kirsten Dunst Got Very Sad
Kirsten Dunst stole our hearts starting at age 6 on-screen. In her 20's, she checked into a treatment center for depression. She revealed she had been repressing a lot of anger and got burned out by her 20's. She shares: "You grow up in a business where there's a lot of people-pleasing. It's hard to be firm in your own ground and not be afraid to rock the boat...I was swallowing a lot of stuff...In my relationships and personal life I absorbed things from other people, and then because of what I do for a living, I had to keep giving. It can dissolve you."
Treatment really seems to have helped the actress. Today, Kirsten is a mom and shares her mental health struggles with fans. She says it's okay to seek help. We agree!
Billie Eilish Just Wanted to Have Fun
14-year-old Billie Eilish shot to fame fast as a musical team with her brother. He helped produce the music, and she provided the voice and the angst. The singer's sullen image wasn't all an act, though. She actually was mad about something! Billie just wanted to shop at the mall like a normal kid, but her sudden noteriety wouldn't allow it. She shares: "I was a kid, and I wanted to do kid sh-t."
Since then, it seems Billie has found a way to do what she wants. She's a bit of Gen-Z fashion icon, and we hope she's happy with her closet. The mall is probably still off-limits, though!
Jojo Wasn't Thin Enough
Singer JoJo has been off the radar for a while. But many of us remember the teen sensation from the early 2000s. While she sang "Leave, Get Out", she was being pressured to dress a certain way and control her weight. She shares: “I did give in because I was told that if I didn't look right that my music wouldn't come out." She was also pressured into dieting, even though she was already a thin teen.
Jojo says the fixation on food messed her up mentally for a while. But after a long hiatus, it looks like she's still interested in singing: Her new album was released in 2020.
Hilary Duff Lost Her Identity
Hilary Duff was another Disney Channel star who faced confusion after her show ended. As Lizzie McGuire, she had millions of fans. But would their loyalty follow to the next phase of her life? Maybe, but maybe not. Hilary shares: “I just didn't know what success the show was gonna be, and after that-four years, five years after that-and I was still Lizzie McGuire to people and that was super annoying.”
Even today as a married mom of three, people still see Hilary as Lizzie. But for the most part, she's not mad. She's grateful for her success, despite the annoyance!
Judy Garland Only Appeared Cheerful
The Wizard of Oz wasn't so magical after all, according to Judy Garland. Later in life, she revealed: “They had us working days and nights on end. They'd give us pills to keep us on our feet long after we were exhausted. Then they'd take us to the studio hospital and knock us out with sleeping pills...Not only were the teenagers working for the studio given substances to induce sleep, but when they were woken up, they were forced to work for up to 72 hours at a time."
Judy was just 15 when the filming started, which makes this even sadder. On-screen, she certainly looked safe and happy as Dorothy. But the truth is, she was just an exceptional actress!
Zayn Malik's Look Was Too Adult
UK Boy band One Direction took the world by storm. Five good-looking teens brought fans to seats and sold millions of records: Liam Payne, Harry Styles Louis Tomlinson, Niall Horan, and Zayn Malik. But Zayn faced an image problem early on. His genetics caused him to grow a lot of facial hair before all the other members. Management saw that as a problem. He was pressured to hide it, for years!
These days, the "Pillow Talk" singer is a dad to model Gigi Hadid's baby. He's allowed to be all grown up, because he is. Reflecting on the beard, he shares: "Eventually, when I got older, I rebelled against it and decided to keep it anyway."
Mark-Paul Gosselaar Wasn't Mature
Saved By the Bell will always have a special place in sitcom history. Actor Mark-Paul Gosselaar was a big part of its success, and he has shared what it was like to act as a teen. Apparently, he wasn't allowed to be one! He shares: "The director was saying, 'The minute you walk through these double doors leading onto the stage, you're no longer a child anymore, you're an adult.'"
His career benefited tremendously from this role, no doubt. And yes, professionalism is required for all actors. But could he really grow up, that fast? We think not, if we're honest.
Corey Feldman Recently Spoke Out
80's teen star Corey Feldman has alleged widespread misconduct against children in Hollywood. But he won't say who al; the perps are, to this day. He shared: "People are frustrated, people are angry, they want to know how is this happening and they want answers and they turn to me and they say, 'Why don’t you be a man and stand up and name names and stop hiding and being a coward?' I have to deal with that, which is not pleasant, especially given the fact that I would love to name names."
Maybe he is afraid to expose victims before they are ready. Or maybe, he is afraid of the offenders themselves. We can't say why Corey is keeping half a secret, but he may reveal more, one day. Time will tell!
Cole Sprouse Lost Touch With the World
Cole Sprouse was one half of the twins who starred on The Suite Life of Zack and Cody on the Disney Channel. Fans never forgot him! Although this sitcom made him an instant success, he says there was a personal downside. Nine years on TV meant he was "raised in such an insular environment that [he forgot] what real human experience or boots-on-the-ground actually looks like." Did he ever recover from this state?
Indeed, he did — at NYU. According to Cole: "Taking time for college was really important, and I think it's one of those things that I'd recommend to every single young actor...It allowed me to regain a semblance of my anonymity, which is something that's really important."
Joe Jonas Couldn't Be Real
The Jonas Brothers were a marketing success. The industry wanted you to believe they were wholesome young men, unlike you. That really infringed on the creativity, as a group. Joe Jonas recalls: "If a lyric was slightly sexual, someone at the record company would tell us we had to change it. It could be the most innocent reference, like 'I’m alone in a room with you,' and it would have to go. It felt like we couldn’t be creative, so we stopped listening to them and just started handing sh-t in."
Sugarcoating reality is no longer a requirement for this star. He's all grown up, and he can sing about whatever he wants. And actually, current fans like it better that way.
Melissa Joan Hart Experienced Bulimia
Melissa Joan Hart starred on Clarissa Explains It All, and then Sabrina The Teenage Witch. But to get beyond kiddie sitcoms, she was told to change her body. She shares: "They actually took all of my quirky things and put them in the show. However, I was told I could be a big movie star if I would lose 10 pounds. Things like that. I spent one day trying to be bulimic, and that didn’t work because I hate throwing up. I was like, No, I’m not going to do that. I guess I’m just not going to be a movie star if that’s what it takes."
In the end, she decided she didn't care enough to take these drastic steps. Today, she is involved in more family-friendly projects in Hollywood. And she seems happy with that choice!
Todd Bridges Was Triggered by This
Child star Todd Bridges made us laugh on Diff'rent Strokes. But behind the scenes, he wasn't always laughing. Todd actually refused to be a part of one episode, because of the subject matter. The writers wanted to address molestation, a secret issue for millions of Americans. But he felt this was way too close to home, and asked to be written out of the storyline. The reason was simple: Todd had experienced this, himself.
In the end, he wasn't in the script. But it was hard to even watch, from the outside. He recalls: "Watching it happen on the show, it was like reliving it all over again."
Alyson Stoner Survived Way Too Much
Former Disney Channel star Alyson Stoner was in The Suite Life of Zack and Cody and Camp Rock. You may have seen her in a few movies, too. But behind the scenes, she dealt with adult issues as a minor. From sexual harassment to child labor law violations, there was a lot to make her feel unsafe. She dealt with an eating disorder and constant stress. Today, she is sharing the truth to prompt change.
In a recent article, she reflected: "While traversing extreme peaks and valleys of global fame, hidden medical hospitalizations, artistic milestones, rapid adultification, and multi-layered abuse I wish on no one, I narrowly survived the toddler-to-trainwreck pipeline...In fact, nothing was designed for me to end up normal. Stable. Alive."
Jennette McCurdy Wouldn't Eat
Jennette McCurdy was cast on the Nickelodeon sitcom iCarly. Fans tuned in, week after week. But they had no idea that Jen was struggling with basic eating behind the scenes, starting at age 11. She shares: "My disordered eating was reinforced wherever I went and by whomever I saw. I’d lose weight and go to a wardrobe fitting where the stylist would look at me excitedly, wag a pair of double zero jeans, and happily singsong, 'Down a size!'"
The actress learned that being smaller would mean more roles, very early on. It remains true in the business, as anyone can see. Hopefully, Jennette is doing better these days!
Raven Symone Was Way Too Big
As a teen, Raven-Symoné starred on a show and released music. Both were successes, in the eyes of fans. But in the eyes of executives, she was fat. Raven said she was openly criticized for her body, right on set. Diets were demanded. Now, she reflects: "It was definitely hard...I remember not being able to have the bagel or anything at — we would call it crafty, where it's just a table of food, ready for you to eat whatever you want. And I remember people would be like, 'You can't eat that. You're getting fat!' I'm like, 'I'm 7! I'm hungry!'"
Raven now has a daytime TV gig and shares her observations with fans. According to this celeb: "I wish I was living now as a younger person...I probably wouldn't have so many mental issues."
Soleil Moon Frye Was Forced to Grow up
90's fans enjoyed Punky Brewster, a sitcom starring a very young Soleil Moon Frye. But as soon as she hit puberty, execs started offering her sexy roles. Why the sudden change? Apparently, it was because she had developed so quickly. But was embarrassing for Soleil, because she wasn't there mentally. The actress shares: "No one is in charge of how their body develops, but there was so much shame about it."
Today, Soleil focuses on her family and a business selling party kits. She occasionally gets involved in the world of entertainment, but it's not her full-time time focus. We're not surprised!
Amanda Bynes Went off the Rails
After a successful Nickelodeon career, child actress Amanda Bynes suffered from substance abuse. She was seen saying extreme things on social media, which turned out to be related. Fans are happy to see she is doing better now. She shares: "My advice to anyone who is struggling with substance abuse would be to be really careful...It really made me a completely different person. I actually am a nice person. I would never feel, say or do any of the things that I did and said to the people I hurt on Twitter."
These days, Amanda says she is sober. She wants to return to TV acting if she can get the chance. We suspect former fans are still current fans.
Alisan Porter Was an Addict
As a little girl, Alisan Porter starred in Curly Sue. But as an adult, she struggled with substance use like so many former child stars. How did she break free? The actress reveals: "I felt trapped, scared, and sad and I was ready to really go for broke or get better...For the next four years I went to meetings, worked the steps, got a sponsor, found a god of my own understanding, prayed, meditated and basically grew up. Growing pains were inevitable, I felt them often but I continued on the path because unlike my old ways, this way was working."
It's hard to believe young curly Sue is all grown up and sober. Recently, you may have seen her as the winner on season 10 of The Voice. Congrats, Alison!
Rivkah Reyes Was Bullied
Comedian Jack Black seems to be doing just fine. But School of Rock star Rivkah Reyes really struggled after a few years in the entertainment world. It was an honor to get the kid role in that movie. But very quickly, she found herself bullied at regular school, and Rivkah felt pretty sexualized and exposed on-screen. It was all very uncomfortable. Soon, she turned to destructive behaviors with substances to cope. How is she doing, these days?
Much better, actually. Rivkah currently resides in Los Angeles, and hopefully, she can now be famous, on her own terms. She's involved in improv, standup comedy, and hosts a podcast: Where Are We Now.
Christy Carlson Romano Got Bad Advice
Christy Carlson Romano got famous on Even Stevens and Kim Possible. But after making a million bucks in a year, she spent it all. Why? She shares: "My biggest thing about child actors, you aren't told that the work is going to slow down...In fact, I was told the opposite, specifically by my mom, some of my team, even my money manager at the time...I am not a millionaire in any way, shape or form."
Today, Christy is a mom with a YouTube channel. She says that she regrets not investing what she earned as a child star. So many young actors fall into this trap, financially.
Evan Rachel Wood Was Ignored
Evan Rachel Wood felt like no one asked how she was doing, for years. She was making the studio money with movies like Thirteen, and that was enough for them. But it wasn't good for her, at all. The actress recalls: “Suddenly I felt like a commodity that needed to be monitored and groomed and I had to present myself in a certain way...My voice just kept getting quieter and quieter.”
Today, Evan seems to have found a very big voice. She speaks out about abuse in dating, another topic. But sometimes, child stars go away quietly. We rarely know their real pain!
Regina King's Mom Did Her a Favor
Regina King was just 14 when she starred as Brenda Jenkins on 227. But mom decided to send her to public school, anyway. She reflects: "It was instrumental in me becoming a person who can find balance on shaky ground. It's not an easy thing, living your life on display, and it's particularly hard when you're young...But participating in those social situations as a teen gave me an understanding to how different people can be, which has been very helpful when navigating Hollywood."
It's a good thing she got that social exposure. So many teens are kept away from normalcy during these roles, and exploited by the adults in their lives. Brenda was one of the lucky ones!