It's so easy to berate young fame - mostly because there is a great wealth of case examples. When talking about the pitfalls we remember Michael Jackson's oddball behaviour, Drew Barrymore's alcoholism, and other "big" things.
Margaret McAllister, an educational psychologist specializing in children's behavior, believed, when interviewed in 1993, that child fame is dangerous. An overdose of adult approval and lack of interaction with other children, she suggested, will be damaging!
When you get to what she called a "Culkin super-star level" things start to become "unnatural and damaging." "While recognizing their talent," she warned parents of stars, "[you] should avoid giving [your] child the idea that it is particularly special".
Indeed Michael Jackson himself was self-described as the Peter Pan of pop and said he didn't have a childhood, something he tried to rekindle as an adult, often with dubious results.
Another child star Mary-Kate Olsen once told Marie Claire magazine that "I would never wish my upbringing on anyone ... but I wouldn't take it back for the world." This conflict is easy to sympathize with.
The effects of childhood fame are relived as an adult, too. Paul Peterson, who was the child star on the Donna Reed Show in the sixties, noted that: "people would come up to me and say 'Gee, I used to love you' and I would agonize over what I ever did to make them unlove me'.
David Giles, a reader in media psychology at the University of Winchester, interviewed a childhood star for a paper he wrote called Being a Celebrity: A Phenomenology of Fame for the Journal of Phenomenological Psychology in 2009. He found that "for the former child star at the age of ten, the experience of going from a "neighborhood kid" to a famous TV personality overnight was life-altering."
"The famous person's being-in-the-world is impinged on, in that he or she "can't just go anywhere.""
The risks are clear: childhood fame could impinge upon "true" or "pure" childhoods, lead to substance abuse, make relationships more difficult, and give brats a free pass for precociousness.
But is it necessarily so?
I was struck in a recent interview in the Guardian by the groundedness of Selina Gomez. Despite the fact that she has 15.6m Twitter followers, millions in album sales, tens of millions in box office dollars, she is not the stuck up enfant terrible that the professors would suppose. She speaks honestly about her "shelf-life" and how she only feels she has about 5 years left to achieve her goals. Hardly the typical precocious brat that "concerned" psychologists typify when "studying" childhood fame.
As the Guardian interview notes:
Gomez is not so media trained that she can get through an entire interview without seeming to conjure a single independent thought, and she makes engaging company, frequently poking fun at herself.
Rather than showing sever damage, which the academics above would prefer to display, Gomez demonstrates exacting self-awareness. This is neither the hubris that studies prefer to show, nor is it demonstrating a behavior that should prompt stuffy suits to weep over her "crazy" human condition. She's just as normal.
Further, there's no worry about her lack of peer attention. It almost feels today like only young people are famous, old people can hardly keep up. What concerns Gomez the most is what concerned most of us when we were 19, namely love. She doesn't name names (we all know anyway) but when talking about privacy she says: "You're young and you don't know how to be. You don't think: 'Now I have a boyfriend - let's keep it super-private and low key,' because that's not what you're thinking about. You're thinking about: 'Oh my God, we're holding hands!' You're just thinking about stuff like that. Everybody falls in love and you would never want to hide something you're so happy about."
As I was saying, it's so easy to berate young fame, but that's because of the propensity for old people to patronize young people. I say live and let live. Not everybody is going to wave babies over balconies or divorce parents, so we should stop sticking our noses in where it's not needed.
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