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The Rise and Fall of the Disney Child Star

The Rise and Fall of the Disney Child Star


We’ve all heard the tragedies that have unfolded for former child stars – both those long ago and more recently. There are tales of addiction, mental illness, violent relationships, legal problems, and the career-ending oblivion of being forgotten. This occurs across race and gender lines, but there seems to be a specific pattern of behaviors for Disney child stars gone wrong.

It starts out fabulous. The young lady is signed to a hit TV show, record label and/or movie. She is in the spotlight all of the time. Young boys crush on her and young girls want to be her. She has access to money and resources and receives tons of attention and adoration. The most valuable thing about her is her wholesome image. This image is protected like the most exquisite gemstone. Her clothing and hairstyle are carefully selected. Her friends are chosen and, when she is old enough to date, so will be her boyfriends. She does not hang out in bars or wild parties, but is involved in a number of charitable organizations.

Then… the show ends… She is no longer a little girl and may begin to panic about what comes next in her career. Often, she has grown tired of her squeaky clean image and is eager to reinvent herself as a woman – sexy, maybe a little dangerous. She frequently pushes to such an extreme she shocks her fan base. Tabloids shout about her drug use, promiscuity and other scandalous behaviors. She receives a lot of attention (most of it negative), but this typically does not translate into the grown-up career she desires. Instead, she is a bit of a joke.


If she is lucky, she has an opportunity to get out of the spotlight for a while. This gives her a chance to realize she doesn’t have to be the opposite of her child star persona to be relevant. She can (hopefully) find someplace in the middle to make her own. She can figure out who she is without everyone else’s influence and become comfortable in her own skin. When this happens, these stories can have a happy ending.

This doesn’t always work. Some are unwilling/unable to take time away from public attention and figure herself out. She has developed an appetite for attention that cannot be contained. She may have a “momager” who is pushing for the next payday. She may be too deep into her addictions to think rationally. She may be too mentally ill to manage her own affairs. These stories often end tragically – overdose, suicide, arrests, hospitalizations.


So what is the answer? What can we do to bring about more positive outcomes and less tragedy? I’m not really sure. If I had my way, there would be an “exit interview” type situation when a show ends. The kids would be educated about what happens next and how to manage their upcoming life changes as positively as possible. Maybe a support group of kids in similar situations. Perhaps a mentorship relationship with a former child star who successfully navigated to the other side. Would they even listen? Maybe not all of them, but wouldn’t it be great to rescue the ones who would?


I Feel Sorry for … (Insert Name of Celebrity Douche Bag Here)

I Feel Sorry for … (Insert Name of Celebrity Douche Bag Here. For the purposes of this blog, I am going to use Justin Bieber. I feel sorry for Justin Bieber.

I know. Your jaw just dropped. Justin Bieber, the super rich 20-year-old celebrity? The one who keeps getting in trouble with the law? The one who had teen/preteen girls screaming his name and crying hysterically? Yep, that’s the one. Look, I know he hasn’t exactly been a shining example of good behavior over the past couple of years, far from it, but imagine what it must be like to be Justin Bieber. Yes, he has ridiculous amounts of money, can buy almost anything he wants and can travel anywhere his heart desires, but he has to be a total mess. Here are the reasons why your life is better than Justin Bieber’s:

  1. You don’t have all of your mistakes broadcast for the world to see. I did plenty of boneheaded things in my late teens and early twenties. I am not going to go into details here because I have a daughter and don’t want to give her any ideas, but trust me they were beyond stupid. When I made those mistakes, only the people in my immediate circle usually knew about them. I only had to deal with that level of public shame. (Except a couple that were done very publicly, but, fortunately, those people did not know my name, so I was somewhat protected. I became this “dumb girl” in a funny story.) Imagine all of your idiocy and growing pains broadcast on TMZ or written about on Perez Hilton. That would completely suck, right?
  2. You don’t have to wonder if your friends are really your friends or if they are only after money, drugs, celebrity, women, etc. Pick your poison. Justin Bieber has to wonder if his friends would still be his friends if he wasn’t “Justin Bieber”. You don’t hear about his friends rolling in his Honda Civic or partying with him in their Sherman Oaks apartment. Rather they are driving his Fisker Karma, Range Rover, Lamborghini or Porsche and are partying it up in his mansion. This has to be terribly lonely and he has to wonder if his success goes away, how many of them would follow. You have reasonable certainty your friends are in your life for you, not your millions.
  3. Your parents are your parents and not on the payroll. This is not an indictment of Justin Bieber’s parents. I do not specifically know if he gives them money directly – I’ll speak in more general terms because of this. If you are a famous young adult (like a Justin Bieber) and your parents are “regular people” – this means they are not famous and/or wealthy in their own right – then this puts you in a position of power over the people who are supposed to be guiding you. You can withhold money from them at any time. Very few parents have been able to resist this temptation and draw a line with their kids. This makes them untrustworthy as a support system, life guides and as people who will call you on your crap. I used to have this fantasy where my parents would go along with everything I said and would let me do whatever I wanted. In all honesty, it would have been scary. We should be able to rely on our parents to tell us when are out of line and to give us advice that will have our best interest at heart – not the biggest payday. If you’re famous and contributing to the support of your family, how can you ever really be sure of their motives?
  4. You are not a commodity, you are a person. After a certain level of success, famous people stop being individuals and start being a brand. They are advertisements and ticket sales, clothing lines and designer fragrances. You have the good fortune to be able to make decisions about your life that benefit you personally – Who are your friends? Who will you date? What car will you drive? What clothes will you wear? Where will you hang out? Justin Bieber is limited in these choices. Every choice he makes will impact his brand – date the wrong girl and people may like him less. Hit up a hot club and they like him more. He no longer can make his choices based on his own wants and desires, but based on what his fans might like. A perfect example is my own daughter. (Sorry, Charlie). She was a HUGE Justin Bieber fan 3 years ago or so and now she turns her nose up and comments on how he is bad news and makes “stupid decisions”. She is especially offended by her perception of his alleged mistreatment of his on-again/off-again girlfriend, Selena Gomez. (She is very protective of her). This change in her admiration had nothing to do with his talent or music, but her reaction to his personal life choices. You, in general, are free of this type of scrutiny. Lucky Duck – if you are anything like I was at your age, there are things you definitely wouldn’t want publicized!
  5. You do not have to be responsible for a multimillion dollar empire. I know, sign me up, right? Don’t leap so fast, my friends. The amount of pressure this has to create has to be mind boggling. How to spend it? How to share it? How not to run out of it!? Everyone suddenly wants a piece of you and your money. You may want to donate to charity, but which one, or two or twelve? Where do you draw the line? I was irresponsible with my money in my teens and twenties. I bought things I could not always afford and rang up some credit card debt. But I learned. There were natural consequences to stupid spending and I did not like them. (Think bill collectors calling at all hours). These young celebrities can spend without consequences, so they are not learning important life lessons. They aren’t learning to be a responsible adult.

Are you feeling a little worse for Justin Bieber yet? He may have money and fame. He gets to travel and hang out with some of your favorite celebrities. But it has to be a terribly lonely place to be. He is isolated while in the midst of the world’s biggest crowds. You can rely on the relationships you build with your friends and family. You get to keep your mistakes private, or at least limit the public exposure. You get to make choices for yourself based on your own wants and needs. And you get to learn the lessons that will enable you to be a fully functioning adult someday. Maybe we should condemn young celebrity a little less and can find it in ourselves to have some small amount of empathy for them instead.

Advice for My Daughter

Advice for my daughter:

  1. You are amazing and special and no one has the right to take that away from you.
  2. Boyfriends are fun, but never screw over a friend to get one. Good friends can last a lifetime, it is a rare boyfriend that does.
  3. There are toxic people in this world – they can be male or female, young or old, white or black. It isn’t important to make them be nicer, rather to recognize they are toxic people and allow them to have as little impact on your life as possible. They may be mean girls in high school, or your boss, or even a family member. Protect yourself as best you can from them. It is not your job to make them non-toxic, but to protect yourself from their influence.
  4. Your education is one thing no one can ever take away from you. Protect and cultivate it.
  5. You teach other people how to treat you. If you allow people to treat you like crap, they will think it is OK and keep doing it. You are worthy of respect and kindness.
  6. Your dad and I will love you always. There is nothing you can ever do to make us stop. There is nothing you can ever tell us to make us stop. We will love you no matter what.
  7. Recognize when it is time to say something is “good enough”. You can make yourself crazy striving for perfection. Know when to stop and move on to your next task.
  8. You are beautiful. You are not too fat, too skinny, too tall, too short, too blonde or too dark. You are beautiful just as you are. You should never feel like you need to change yourself for anyone else’s approval (even yours).
  9. People you see on TV and in movies and those in magazines are not “real”. They have been lighted and photo shopped and edited and made up to appear as they do. Do not hold yourself to that standard of beauty. Be you.
  10. Choose wisely when you pick your life partner (whether male or female). Choose them for who they are now and who you can become together, not who you want them to be. You will only frustrate yourself and them.
  11. It is cool to be smart. Never feel you have to hide your intelligence to impress others. Anyone who is threatened by your amazing brain isn’t worth the effort.
  12. Most things are OK in moderation. (I am not talking about drugs here – a little bit of those can kill you). It is OK to have a little sugar, some fatty foods, an afternoon in the sun, and occasional lazy days. But more often than not, make the choices that are the healthy choices.
  13. No naked pictures. Ever. Let me say this one more time, no naked pictures. You never know what will happen to these pictures and, even if you don’t have future aspirations on the Presidency, the potential for embarrassment and humiliation is infinite should they fall into the wrong hands. Repeat after me – No. Naked. Pictures.
  14. Honesty is important in your relationships. I’m not talking about the “Do I look fat in this dress?” kind of honesty (though still important), but you should be able to tell them the truth about what you are thinking and how you are feeling. You should be able to expect the same from them.
  15. Money is not everything. It can only make things easier for you. Never let money rule your decisions, but do what you can to be self-sufficient. Desperation can make you do things you wouldn’t do otherwise.
  16. Don’t give away your power. If you twist yourself into knots to make someone else happy or change yourself for their approval, you are giving away your power.
  17. Abuse is never OK. No one has a right to place their hands on you. If someone who claims to love you does, run. Get away. It is exceptionally rare for abuse to happen “just once” in a relationship. Never gamble with your well-being.
  18. You ALWAYS have the right to say, “No”. (Except when I tell you to brush your teeth). Practice saying it often. This applies to anything anyone ever wants to make you do that you do not want to do or are uncomfortable doing. Let’s say it together, “No”.

Did I miss anything? I’d love some suggestions!

My Lottery Winning Plans

Do you ever think about what you would do if you won the lottery? This comes up from time to time in Casa Tonelli – unusual because we rarely buy lottery tickets. But, we have a plan. It’s important to have a plan.

  1. Claim our prize anonymously. This isn’t possible in all states, but California lets you keep your winnings a secret. Yay! This is extremely important to the rest of our plan.
  2. Tell our friends and family we won the lottery. Here is the strategic part, tell then we won way less than we did. Why? We don’t want to be seen as the cash cow to our families. We would give them each a set amount to help them out, but tell them there is no more. This may seem harsh, but we want to maintain our relationships with our loved ones and this gets really icky if money is involved.
  3. Stay in our current house. It is a fine house – totally big enough for us and we don’t need to drop dough on a ridiculously big estate.
  4. Travel more. We would love to spend money on experiences, not things. We would take our daughter and see the world (around her school schedule, of course. Education is priceless.)
  5. Invest! Put the majority of our winnings away. This will leave us income for the rest of our lives. It also protects us from acting like idiots and blowing it all. Have you seen those TV shows where they interview lottery winners who are now broke? They bought dumb crap like huge marble statues of their dogs!
  6. Keep working. It is important to maintain a sense of purpose. How I work may be different, but I would still have a job. For example, I currently see patients who can pay me in my private practice. If I won the lottery, I may still see patients, but those who cannot afford to pay. My work may only be related to charitable organizations who cannot afford treatment. But, I would still be working.
  7. Perhaps most importantly, I would not tell Charlie (my daughter). She needs to grow up with the understanding she will someday need to be self-sufficient. This will motivate her to get an education and pursue a career. We can do things for her with the money (like a free ride to college), but wouldn’t shower her with money. We would help her in more subtle ways, like vacations and helping with the down payment on her first home.

Did I miss anything? Would you do anything differently? I’d love to fine tune my plan in case my numbers are ever called (assuming I bought a ticket)!

Greeting and Salutations!

Welcome to Psycho Babble where I will babble about anything and everything psychology related. I am open to any input you may have about what interests you and will do my best to answer any and all questions. Until I receive some suggestions, you are stuck with whatever is going on in my mind. So, let me make a recommendation – start suggesting things because my brain is a scary place!