In this podcast (episode #289) and blog, I speak with actress and former child star Alyson Stoner about what happens when stardom becomes too much to handle, why she became an advocate for children in the entertainment industry, the dangers of pressuring children from a young age, and how to help children manage stress and pressure.
As Alyson notes, when we are advocating for someone else’s wellbeing, we want to be careful and make sure we are not projecting our own traumas onto their experiences. One of the key ways to heal ourselves and help others is to become aware of what is driving us daily.
Of course, everyone’s mental health experience is so unique, but we can still start somewhere. We can all be a part of transforming mental health in our society, even as we ourselves are healing.
The thing is, we shouldn’t just de-stigmatize the way we TALK about mental health. We also need to give ourselves and other people REAL space to deal with mental health struggles, even if that means giving them (or ourselves!) time and space to “crash” when things get too much.
This is especially true in the entertainment industry. The way we place actors, actresses, models and musicians “outside” of everyday society has serious repercussions. We often see them as less relatable and less human, which often leads to a lack of empathy that is underscored by the way they are portrayed by the media. This can affect how an entertainer, who is a very real PERSON, manages their own mental health and human struggles, regardless of their age, and can be especially serious if the star is a young child.
There is what Alyson calls a serious “toddler to trainwreck pipeline” in the entertainment industry. Young artists are subject to incredibly unique stressors and pressures, including forced or free labor, exploitation and extortion, physical and psychological abuse, rapid “adultification”, public objectification, harmful set conditions, a loss of autonomy, and constant sickness and coercion (including substance abuse). Yet, instead of seeing this as a systemic issue, many people label child stars who act out in response to the stressful conditions they face as “trainwrecks”. Rather than asking these children what is actually going on or giving them the space or tools to manage their mental health, they are labelled as “moody”, “troubled” or “difficult”. Unfortunately, little is done to help these children, which has resulted in a measurable?? industrial complex and years of generational trauma.
As a society, we need to be careful of making fame, attention and wealth too aspirational, because this can end up hiding the ugly side of the entertainment industry. This creates an environment ripe for apathy, conflict and misunderstanding because we are not truly listening to reality or hearing what people are saying—we only see what we want or are told to see.
But there is hope! If we shift the way we treat children in the arts and entertainment industry, we can have a ripple effect in other institutions, including sports and academia. We can make the world a safer and more welcoming place for ALL children.
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2:02 Alyson’s experiences as a child star
3:06 How becoming famous affected Alyson’s development
3:41 How Alyson uses her experiences to help children in the entertainment industry
6:12, 9:05 How labels can help us AND hold us back
10:00 Why we all go through mental health struggles
11:16 Why Alyson started her advocacy work
12:30 The dangers of de-humanizing people in the entertainment industry
12:50 The “toddler to train wreck” pipeline
18:44 The dangers of putting fame on a pedestal
22:40 How Alyson’s experiences as a child star affected her mental health
23:50 How stress affects everyone in different ways
29:00 How to help children manage their mental health and life’s pressures
37:00 How our experiences change our brain and body and affect our wellbeing
40:00 Why we can’t always control events but we can learn to control our reactions
43:25 The incredible resilience of the human mind
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