Why Disney is Trying to Teach its Child Stars “Life Skills”

The Coreys didn’t have access to Snapchat, Instagram or Twitter at the height of their fame. And yet, both Corey Haim and Corey Feldman struggled despite having all the trappings of success. The 1980s teen stars appeared in some of the decade’s biggest films, including Stand By Me (Feldman) and The Lost Boys (Haim, Feldman). Yet their kiddie star burnout tales are all too familiar. For Haim, the downward spiral ended with his death at the age of thirty-eight.

Do today’s teen stars have it worse, thanks to our age of oversharing on social media? Team Disney, the undisputed leader of the child-celebrity-industrial-complex, seems to think so. The mega company is even offering its stable of young stars classes that teach them “life skills.”

As the New York Post reports:

Recently, Disney has tried to provide more guidance to its young stars with classes focused on healthy living and social-media responsibility. Speaking to The Post exclusively about the courses, studio insiders also reveal for the first time that the network offers “life skills,” coaching actors on how to navigate the wilds of social media and pitfalls of fame.

It’s a good start, and a necessary one.

We all know the sad fates that befell not only the “Coreys” but also child celebrities such as Dana Plato, Lindsay Lohan, Todd Bridges, Edward Furlong and Amanda Bynes. They all found fame as child or teen stars, yet each suffered significantly once the cameras stopped rolling.

Now there’s a new crop of teen stars struggling their way into adulthood, and they aren’t doing much better than child stars from a previous era:

Debby Ryan from Disney’s “Jessie” – DUI arrest.

Demi Lovato from “Sonny with a Chance” – bulimia, addiction.

Zac Efron, “Neighbors” – addiction

Britney Spears – addiction, hospitalization for mental health issues

Miley Cyrus – drug use (and multiple offenses against good taste)

And there are many more examples.  In some ways, fame hasn’t changed dramatically from a generation ago. Stars are still hounded by strangers and paparazzi at the most inopportune moments. Their pictures will be seen in glossy magazines all over the world. And they’re handed the kind of money that very young adults often don’t know how to manage responsibly.

Today’s stars, however, face a new pressure: to stand out in a crowded content marketplace. The advent of the Internet and social media (as well as the continuing popularity of reality TV) have changed the equation for fame.  Have a new product to push? So does every other teenager in the world, whether they appear on a TV show or a YouTube channel.

So how do you get attention? Unfortunately, too many young would-be stars do things such as post half-naked images of themselves on Instagram or rush to share details of their personal lives that would be better left private. Particularly for Disney’s stable of squeaky-clean young female stars, as they get older they seem eager to show their sophistication by showing off their naked selves in order to leave their child-star images behind.

Consider Miley Cyrus. The former Disney superstar segued into a new career as a pop provocateur thanks, in part, to her aggressive use of social media. She shed her teen image (and a great deal of her dignity) in a hurry, and likely sold millions of record as a result.

Where does she go from here, though? We’ve seen other shock acts tone down their theatrics as their careers stumble. Just ask Lady Gaga.  Now in her mid-twenties, can Cyrus make the transition from provocateur to real artist? The verdict is still out, although of late she has toned down her social media antics and settled down with her boyfriend.

Today’s teens, whether they are celebrities or not, have a hard time learning the boundaries of social media and fail to understand the dangers of living their lives online. Some simply share too much and pay the consequences. Others don’t realize that what they post today can come back to haunt them in the job market tomorrow.

The same is true for young celebrities. Handled responsibly, social media can make a star even more famous by allowing him or her to connect with fans and show a side of themselves that’s more personal.  But the dark side of social media is always lurking nearby, as are the temptations (drugs, alcohol, irresponsible sexual relationships) for which Hollywood has long been infamous.  If Disney really wants to teach its child stars “life skills,” it should start by reminding them that social media fame is fleeting, and no substitute for real life.

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