20/12/2010 12:29 GMT | Updated 22/05/2015 06:12 BST

Can A Child Star Ever Make It Out Unscathed?

Take a close look at Lindsay Lohan. Now, remind yourself that weathered face is twenty-four-years-old. Yes, there are apparently substances to blame for dulling the glow of youth, but the damage wasn't done by chemicals alone.

Look at Lindsay again. Now remind yourself that is the face of someone who has been working for 21 years. Lindsay became a breadwinner at three, years before she was old enough to know how to write her own name on a contract, let alone for her signature to be legally binding. In terms of workplace stress, Lindsay has experienced as much as your average forty-five-year-old. Ouch.

Dina and Michael Lohan claim they never pushed their eldest child, but it's hard to understand how a three-year-old is capable of taking themselves to Ford modelling agency. And what about the 60-plus commercials she completed before the age of ten when she graduated to a steadier gig as a regular on US soap Another World. Like many child stars before her, Lindsay was a veteran of the industry before she became a teenager. And now she's been labelled a has-been at an age when most of her peers are struggling to get on the first rung of the career ladder.

The effects of having divorce, substance abuse and legal troubles in her immediate family were no doubt exacerbated by Lohan's place in the spotlight. But even if her upbringing had been rosy, it is impossible for a child to come of age publicly without suffering from unwanted and destructive attention.

Granted not every young hotshot becomes a Lindsay Lohan. (Or a Tatum O'Neil, a Britney Spears, a Michael Jackson, a Drew Barrymore, a Corey Haim, or a Mischa Barton). But avoidance of a massive public meltdown isn't setting the bar particularly high. Even those held up as shining examples of the child-to-adult-star transition like Brooke Shields, the Olsen twins and Emma Watson look less sparkling when examined close-up. Shields has been forced into a lifelong defence of her mother's controversial casting (read nudity) decisions. One Olsen spent time in rehab for an eating disorder, while both endured creepy websites counting down the days until the pint-sized stars became 'legal', and both dropped out of university blaming their inability to be accepted as normal students. And while twenty-year-old Miss Watson has yet to put a foot wrong, she has also yet to prove she has a post-Potter future. Through no fault of her own, she could easily be a Hollywood cast-off by twenty-five.

Would you want that for your child?

My answer is no. Years working for a teen publication, interviewing the latest crop of Disney darlings, left me no doubts about the impact of early fame. Bloggers, paparazzi and prying eyes aside, no one deserves to feel the stress of financial responsibility and adult decision-making at that young of an age. When my very talented child arrives on this planet (as I don't have one yet, I can only assume they will be phenomenal, right?) no amount of money would be enough. I am sure they will hate me when I refuse to sign consent forms for whatever future version of the X Factor captures their imagination, but I will persist in my stubborn belief that they will thank me later (did I mention that being childless also allows me the luxury to naively assume I will be able to stick to my guns?).

Even with perfect parents and a blessed career in which you get every part you ever audition for, never receive a bad review, and get to choose when your retire, what does someone whose life peaks as a teen have to look forward to? With the youngest generation now predicted to live to 100, future teen idols will have even longer to wander through life as someone who used to be someone. Saddling your child with that much emotional baggage seems closer to willful negligence than it does to parental support.

By: Phebe Hunnicutt