Celebrities

15 Former Child Stars on the Ups & Downs of Growing Up in the Spotlight

Jennette McCurdy

The 28-year-old iCarly actress opened up about her experience as a child star on her podcast, Empty Inside, telling Anna Faris that acting was “always, always, always” difficult for her because of the anxiety she experienced when auditioning. She also revealed that she decided to quit “a few years ago” when her mother died. 

“I initially didn’t want to [act],” she said. “My mom put me in it when I was 6 and by sort of age, I guess, 10 or 11, I was the main financial support for my family.”

“And it was very much the pressure of my family [not having] a lot of money, and this was the way out,” she continued. “Which I actually think was helpful in driving me to some degree of success, because I don’t think I would have been as ambitious if I didn’t know that it was for my family.”

She also told Faris, “I’m so ashamed of the parts I’ve done in the past, and I get that this answer is super unlikable. I resent my career in a lot of ways. I feel so unfulfilled by the roles that I played and felt like it was the most cheesy, embarrassing [thing]. I did the shows that I was on from like, 13 to 21, and by 15, I was already embarrassed.”

“My friends at 15, they’re not like, ‘Oh, cool, you’re on this Nickelodeon show.’ It was embarrassing,” she continued. “And I imagine there’s a very different experience to be had with acting if you’re proud of your roles, and if you feel fulfilled by them.”

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Rivkah Reyes

The child star played the role of bass guitarist Katie in School of Rock at just 10 years old. 

Though they enjoyed the experience of filming the movie, Reyes told the New York Post that they “felt unsafe existing” in the years following because many grown men sexualized them, making remarks like they couldn’t “wait ’til she’s 18.” They also revealed that classmates were harsh upon their return to school. 

Reyes told the New York Post that they felt pressure to land another, larger film role, telling the publication they hoped people would “stop calling [me] Katie.”

Reyes said they spent ages 14 to 24 as “a raging addict,” eventually becoming sober in 2017. 

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Mara Wilson

Wilson, now 33 and known for her roles in films like Mrs. Doubtfire and Matilda, wrote in a New York Times op-ed revealing she was sexualized as a young girl, despite intentionally choosing wholesome roles.

“I mostly acted in family movies — the remake of Miracle on 34th StreetMatildaMrs. Doubtfire. I never appeared in anything more revealing than a knee-length sundress,” she wrote. “This was all intentional: My parents thought I would be safer that way. But it didn’t work.”

“It was cute when 10-year-olds sent me letters saying they were in love with me,” Wilson continued. “It was not when 50-year-old men did.”

Wilson recalled, “Before I even turned 12, there were images of me on foot fetish websites and photoshopped into child pornography. Every time, I felt ashamed.”

“Hollywood has resolved to tackle harassment in the industry, but I was never sexually harassed on a film set,” she added. “My sexual harassment always came at the hands of the media and the public.”

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Christina Ricci

Calling her pre-teen times on the set of The Addams Family films her “glory days,” Ricci told PEOPLE how proud she is to be a former child star.

“I loved working. I loved being a kid who had a talent,” she said. “I loved being good at something. I loved all that positive reinforcement I got every day. I loved getting to use my imagination in a way that really created things. It was incredible to be able to do that so young.”

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Alyson Stoner

After her impressive dance moves stole the spotlight in Missy Elliott’s 2002 “Work It” video, Stoner went on to roles in Cheaper by the Dozen, the Step Up franchise, Phineas and Ferb and The Suite Life of Zack & Cody. The actress/dancer/voice artist recently got candid about her experience with childhood fame in a YouTube video.

“Being famous as a kid is weird and unhealthy,” she said. “I’m learning to appreciate the present moment because I was a pack mule growing up. Living in that little box? Being part of that little machine? It takes a huge toll on you. The competition, narcissism, perfectionism, the pressure, schedule, the traumatizing experiences that we can never talk about, because we’re either under contract or we’ll get shot or other things will happen to us if we open our mouths.”

Stoner is now ready to move on from her kid-famous past and reclaim control of her career. “I have some really cool bucket list projects and dreams that are coming true right now. [I’m] finally tapping into a life that I want to live,” she shared.

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Jodie Sweetin

Sweetin is no stranger to the spotlight — but the Fuller House star does admit that there are highs and lows to growing up in the public eye. The actress, who landed the role of Stephanie Tanner on Full House at the age of 5, has had her share of struggles, all of which were subject to public scrutiny. 

“The blessing and the curse of being in this industry is that people want to know about you and what it is that you do and have done, the good and the bad,” Sweetin told PEOPLE. “What that affords you is the opportunity to be able to share those things and be able to grow with people and in front of people.”

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Beverley Mitchell

“Obviously, I’m iconically going to be Lucy Camden and it’s very difficult in the business to change people’s minds, because they see you in one way and they love you and adore you and you’re great, but they don’t want to see you in something else,” Mitchell, who starred as Lucy Camden on 7th Heaven for 11 years, told PEOPLE of being typecast in Hollywood after finding fame as a child.

She continued: “But in the real life standpoint, I love it. Because I’ve been able to grow up with so many of these people and I’m so much a part of their lives and to hear them talk about watching the show with their grandma and having conversations, that’s really something special and I feel like that’s a gift and I’m ever so grateful for it. So yeah, I’m Lucy.”

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LeAnn Rimes

The actress and country star — who rose to fame in 1997 at the age of 13 — has no regrets about her road to stardom, but admits that becoming famous at a young age isn’t for everyone. “I would not recommend it to anyone, but it’s my path, so I’ve accepted it and learned from it,” she recently told PEOPLE. “I can really appreciate it at this point — all of it.”

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Miley Cyrus

The star formerly known as Hannah Montana has been criticized for her outlandish outfits and behavior, but she explained to Harper’s Bazaar that it’s a way for her to reclaim her youth: “I was an adult when I was supposed to be a kid,” she said. “So now I’m an adult, and I’m acting like a kid.”

Cyrus also revealed to Marie Claire that her time on the show left her with some lasting body issues. “I was told for so long what a girl is supposed to be from being on that show,” said Cyrus. “I was made to look like someone that I wasn’t, which probably caused some body dysmorphia because I had been made pretty every day for so long, and then when I wasn’t on that show, it was like, ‘Who the f–k am I?'”

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Selena Gomez

Gomez told GQ that growing up as a child star means having the entire world watching you navigate adolescence — and rooting for you to fail.

“It’s disgusting, because it’s interesting to grown adults that these kids go through weird things because they’re figuring out, ‘Do I like this? Do I love this? Maybe I love this person. Oh, I’m exposed to this, people are reporting my every move and this and that because of Instagram and Twitter and you can find out everything,’ ” she said. “Because it’s, I don’t know, fun, maybe? It’s like watching a car crash as you’re driving past it. You want to watch it.”

Still, she has no regrets about stepping into the spotlight at a young age. “I chose this. So I’m not gonna sit here and say, ‘Oh my God, poor me, I didn’t have a normal childhood,’ ” she told the men’s mag. “I don’t give a f— about that.”

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Daniel Radcliffe

The Harry Potter star is often upheld as one of the rare, well-adjusted former child stars in the industry, but he admits that he simply “got lucky.”

“People expect me to be an absolute a–hole. And when I’m not, that always plays in my favor,” Radcliffe told Playboy in 2015. “The most underrated way I and all the producers on Potter got lucky was that I f–king loved the work. I’ve seen kids on set who are bored, and I’m like, ‘What are you doing? This is the best place on Earth.’ I loved it from the word go. I loved being on set. I loved the hours. I loved the people. … Acting was the focus for me, and I wasn’t going to do anything to jeopardize being an actor.”

Radcliffe has been open about his struggle with alcohol as a coping mechanism for fame, and in 2012, announced he was sober.

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Hilary Duff

Though she admitted that it was hard for her to shake the public’s perception of her as Lizzie McGuire for years after the show ended, Duff only has positive memories of her time on the Disney Channel show.

“As torturous as it has been at some points in my life to be Lizzie McGuire, I think that when that show came out, it was such a part of who I was, I didn’t feel like I was playing a part,” she told PrideSource. “The writers all knew me so well and were writing things that were happening in my life and things that I would say, and I was dressing exactly like I wanted. It was so me.”

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Raven-Symoné

The former Cosby Show and That’s So Raven star admitted that being famous at young age is part of the reason that she felt the need to hide her sexuality for so long.

“I knew I couldn’t say it out loud because, ‘Oh my God, Little Olivia is gay? This is crazy!'” she said. “I had the No. 1 show on Disney, I had multiple albums, I was on tour with ‘NSYNC. People had bucket lists, my bucket list was finished at 18. I didn’t want to deal with that.” She never thought she’d come out because “my personal life didn’t matter,” she said. “It was only supposed to be sold as the Raven-Symoné brand.”

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Demi Lovato

Lovato has been very outspoken about her struggles with addiction and an eating disorder, and how being famous at a young age and the events of her Disney Channel days still haunt her.

“We joked around that it was Disney High, except we all were shooting shows and really overworking. I joke that I sometimes have PTSD after leaving the channel, because if my schedule starts to get too busy, I rebel and I get bitchy…” she told Billboard. “When you’re on set, you work like an adult. I always wanted to be the next Shirley Temple, to be the youngest person to ever win a Grammy and an Oscar. It didn’t turn out that way. I don’t regret it, but I probably won’t allow my kids to get into the industry unless it’s on their terms.”

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Joe Jonas

Jonas opened up about his Disney past in a now-famous essay published on Vulture, where he revealed that he felt like a puppet when he and his brothers were working with the channel.

“Being a part of the Disney thing for so long will make you not want to be this perfect little puppet forever,” he wrote. “Eventually, I hit a limit and thought, ‘Screw all this, I’m just going to show people who I am.’ I think that happened to a lot of us. Disney kids are spunky in some way, and I think that’s why Disney hires them. ‘Look, he jumped up on the table!’ Five, six, 10 years later, they’re like, ‘Oh! What do we do?’ Come on, guys. You did this to yourselves.”

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