How many young people yearn to achieve stardom? A lot, if the numbers of them who audition for shows like The X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent and America’s Got Talent are anything to go by.
But is early mega-stardom as good a thing for those rare individuals who achieve it as many imagine it to be? Almost certainly not. When we imagine what stardom would be like, we tend to overestimate the positive elements whilst underestimating, or ignoring altogether, the negative aspects.
One example of a casualty of early fame is Zayn from One Direction whose departure from the group appears to have been due, at least in part, to the intolerable pressure of being constantly in an intense spotlight (both literally and metaphorically) with his every move under relentless scrutiny and endlessly reported upon. And, of course, to sell papers, such reporting amongst certain sectors of the press was based upon wild rumours and speculation.
Zayn was nearly an adult when he achieved his stratospheric level of fame, but what about those who achieve it at an even more tender age?
Most experts agree that if psychological harm is to be kept to a minimum, the young star’s childhood needs to be kept as close to ‘normal’ as possible (although, of course, it would be impossible to keep it completely so). Parents play a vital role in ensuring this happens, as do mentors and others with whom the young person comes into professional contact.
Crucially, this involves making sure that the young person has similar rules, boundaries and limits set for him as anyone else of his age. In the case of Justin Bieber, in the early days of his fame when he was already earning a passive income, it was reported that his mother, who used to travel with him on tour, allowed him only a small allowance to spend each week in order to help him ‘keep his feet on the ground’. (How much good this has done in the long run, however, many might consider being a moot point.)
This brings us on to the next important consideration, namely that it is also of great importance that those connected to the child star professionally do not behave towards him/her in a totally submissive, obsequious and sycophantic way – in other words, it is not helpful for the psychological development of the young star to be constantly and solely surrounded by ‘yes- men’. There have been some reports in the media that this was at the bottom of some of Justin Bieber’s legal difficulties.
If the young star has his every need pandered to, it will impair his/her ability to learn how to cooperate with others in life, reach compromises, negotiate and build up a tolerance for not invariably getting his/her own way. If we do not learn these things as we grow up, but, instead, develop an attitude of complete and utter entitlement, life becomes far more difficult and stressful than it otherwise would be when we are adults.
Just because a person is rich and famous, perhaps, too, adored from a distance by millions, this does not mean he is immune from emotional suffering. He can develop psychological problems that are just as painful as anyone else’s. Indeed, the pressure of fame itself can often be a significant contributory factor to the development of poor mental health. Consider, for example, how many rich and famous individuals have committed suicide over the last fifty years or so.
However, such celebrities can come across the problem, if they are, say, very depressed, of others taking the ignorant attitude towards them best expressed by the phrase ‘what have you got to be depressed about?’ Equally badly, the famous person may unnecessarily berate himself with similar sentiments, thus compounding the guilt which is invariably an intrinsic component of clinical depression.
Parent-Child Role Reversal:
If the parents of the young star fail to set their celebrity offspring appropriate limits, rules and regulations, but, instead, concentrate entirely upon catering for his every whim, a kind of role reversal may occur within the relationship, whereby it almost becomes as if the child is the parent and the parents the children.
This will be even more likely if the child star becomes the family’s primary money-earner.
If this happens, the child can feel as if he has lost his innocence which he is likely to later mourn.
Many child stars find that they are thrust into the public eye ‘overnight’ which itself is problematic as they are deprived of a transitional period during which they can gradually adjust to their new, elevated social status.
Young child stars find that they are compelled to develop a kind of split personality – a false, professional image to be presented in public (which may require the adoption of a confident and happy persona the star does not feel) and a private, authentic self.
Sometimes, problems may develop if the two presentations of self start to merge so that the child star feels that he is not at all certain as to who he ‘really is’ (i.e. identity confusion may develop).
It’s Lonely At The Top
Young people very often ‘just want to be normal’, so becoming a major star can feel very lonely and isolating. Inevitably, the dynamics of friendships the star has with non-famous friends are likely to become confusingly complex. Perhaps some friends will become so intensely admiring of the star it makes him feel awkward and uncomfortable, whilst others may become madly jealous. The young British star, Jamie Bell, who played Billy Elliot in the original screenplay, spoke of how some at his school bullied him as a result of his success. The young British diver, Tom Daley, also experienced bullying as a fifteen- year -old Olympian.
Furthermore, it is easy for the young celebrity to become mistrustful of new people he meets as there is always the possibility, if they show interest in the star, that they are primarily drawn by the brute fact of his fame and the prestige it may bring by proxy, rather than by his inner personality. This is particularly difficult for adolescent stars as adolescence is well known for being a time of deep personal insecurity even under ‘normal’ circumstances.
Amplification of mistakes:
Making social errors when a teenager is mortifying as we are so self-conscious during this period in our lives. Imagine, then, how teenagers feel who find their indiscretions and faux pas plastered over the front page of a national tabloid newspaper due to their stardom. Many find this price of success too high.
‘Property of others’
Many young stars feel they can no longer be ‘their own person’ but seem to become almost a commodity. Some have described it as being treated like a performing seal or monkey at the zoo.
Loss of fame and anticlimax:
Some young stars do not make the transition from child stardom to continued success in the same field as an adult. Sometimes, of course, as in the case of Macaulay Culkin, this is by choice.
If, however, it is not by choice, the young adult may become depressed by believing the best part of his life is already over and that the rest of his life will, by comparison, be one massive disappointment and anticlimax. This may result in the adoption of unhelpful coping mechanisms such as over-reliance on alcohol and drugs (indeed, obtaining these may be facilitated if s/he accumulated a large amount of wealth as a child star, thus increasing temptation).
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).