Sibongile Mafu

What is it with child stars?

2013-08-02 07:46

Sibongile Mafu

We grew up watching them. Those young, freakishly talented little people, who owned roles, outshone the experienced adults in the cast, carved out huge pop careers and stole many hearts. I grew up on television, so I considered many of them to be some of my closest childhood friends. Then the most obscene, inconceivable thing happened - they grew up, and so did I.

From ex-Nickelodeon star Amanda Bynes, to Gary Coleman (RIP) from Diff’rent Strokes, and the awfully wholesome, know-it-all kids from 7th Heaven, we fell in love with their talent and dynamism. And as the years ticked by, and well, something we didn’t foresee happening did, we became adults, and things fell apart.

I’ve been watching Amanda Bynes’ slow fragmentation into the abyss over the last little while. If you’re not familiar with Bynes, she is a former child star who was a huge talent on the kids’ channel Nickelodeon when she was younger. She hosted her own sketch show called The Amanda Show, where she showcased her comedic chops. The kid was a star.

She grew up and starred in a few mildly successful but nevertheless entertaining teen films, and was considered a wonderfully talented young comedienne. Definite role-model material. She never put a foot wrong in public, and her fame never seemed to get to her head. We liked her because she didn’t offend us and she made us laugh. She was also a child star who we mistakenly thought had made the rare transition into a well-rounded, reasonably sane adult. We spoke too soon.

Over the past year, Bynes has been going through the most bizarre public meltdown since Britney-Gate in 2007/2008. Using her Twitter account as the foundation for her outbursts, she allowed the world a small gander into her messy, messy world. I normally wouldn’t pay much attention to this kind of thing, but it gets slightly personal when you recognise the person as the kid you grew up with.

A week ago it all came to a head. Bynes was hospitalised under a 5150 mental health evaluation hold after allegedly starting a small fire in the driveway of a stranger's house in California. A series of bizarre events followed involving her Pomeranian dog, petrol and a convenience store. Bynes' parents filed for conservatorship of their daughter shortly after her hospitalisation began, and now we’ll have to wait and see what happens with her. All very dramatic and very sad.

Some say this is just an attention-seeking stunt from Bynes who hasn’t been in the limelight for her work in a long time, while others believe this is just another fallen child star who was never allowed a childhood and has subsequently paid the price for it during their adulthood. Another Michael Jackson, another Gary Coleman, another Britney Spears?

Being a child prodigy or at least one who starts peaking at a very young age can’t be easy, and it’s something we normal childhood folk may never understand. One only needs to look at fully grown adults, those who were never child stars, but became famous during adulthood, struggling to deal with fame themselves. They aren’t coping. And you expect an 11 or 12 year old to cope? How is that fair?

But Bynes and many before her have fallen spectacularly from grace. Some have died and others have managed to pick up the pieces of their entertainment careers and forged ahead. Others have slipped into obscurity, with only their three-line Wikipedia page giving some sort of clue as to what they’re up to. Perhaps they were the lucky ones.

- Sibongile is a videographer, blogger and social media enthusiast who would be nothing without her thumbs. Follow her on Twitter: @SboshMafu.

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