Career Testing
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5 Life Lessons from Child Stars

Image via Flickr by thebrandery

They burn brightly, but many of them shine only briefly. They’re child stars, and in Hollywood they come and go all the time. But along the way, some of them teach us important lessons about what not to do to keep a job. Look at 5 stars who got fired or quit acting, and how you can avoid their fate.

Troubled Youth

Many children and teenagers act out. They experiment with sex, drugs, weird body art. They skip school, they cut class, sometimes they even break the law. But when the children who do this are child stars, the eyes of the world are upon them. Problems become bigger in the media spotlight and some kids become even more troubled as a result. But sometimes growing pains become career-ending issues. Learning why some child stars got fired can help you avoid a similar career meltdown.


In today’s world, it’s easier than ever to share your opinions and yourself with the world...and that can be dangerous. Gilbert Gottfried was famously fired from Aflac when he made off-color comments about the tsunami in Japan. If you’re associated with a company or a product and you misrepresent that employer, you could get fired.

Just ask former child star Danny Bonaduce. After starring as the cute redhead in The Partridge Family, Bonaduce became hooked on drugs. It impeded his ability to work. In 1990, Danny was arrested for attempting to buy cocaine. He was working at the time for a D.A.R.E. anti-drug campaign. Needless to say, he was fired from that gig. It’s unlikely that D.A.R.E. will hire him again. 

Today's child stars have an even tougher time of avoiding misrepresentation. Any troubled star can tell you that Twitter make things just too easy...or hard, as the case may be. Amanda Bynes, former Nickelodeon darling, has written so many bizarre tweets that some family members and fans worry about her mental health. Angus T. Jones, child star of "Two and a Half Men" fame, attacked his own TV show. Upon finding religion, Jones called the series "filth" through social media and left the show (or was fired?) shortly thereafter. 


Look, everybody’s got their secrets and that’s understood. But if you start revealing secrets that belong to your employers, you shouldn't just expect to be fired. You should expect to have a lot of trouble ever finding work in the same field again. That’s what Shia LeBeouf is struggling with. He seemed to be on the fast track to adult success after he scored the Transformers role when he departed Disney and Even Stevens.

LaBeouf was fired from the show even before he leaked emails from his Broadway director, but it certainly didn’t help. Since then, he’s been caught plagiarizing content he didn’t write for his website and even his social media profiles. Get a reputation for being indiscreet, and finding future work is going to be a real problem.

Shannen Doherty found work after she was fired from "Beverly Hills, 90210." Doherty was 19 when the show premiered, and just a few years older when she was fired due to arguing with cast members, making waves in the press and doing a sexy spread for "Playboy." Doherty was rarely seen on TV after she got fired from her very next job, "Charmed." 

Substance Abuse

Sadly, substance abuse has touched a great many child stars and it’s ruined the careers of many well-loved actors. Many stars could be used as an example of what not to do, but Mackenzie Phillips was given more opportunities than most. She was famous in the 1970s, one of the most popular young stars of the time, and became the oldest daughter on hit sitcom One Day at a Time.

But she was also an addict. After a handful of arrests in 1977, Phillips began showing up to the set intoxicated and unable to work. Producers gave her a 6-week rehab break, but Phillips didn’t stop. She was eventually fired in 1980. But incredibly, she was re-hired after receiving treatment at a facility for her drug addiction. She joined the cast again in 1981, but was fired again in 1982. This time it was permanent, and Phillips has been rarely-seen on TV since.

Substance abuse has destroyed some of the most promising child stars. Tatum O'Neal was the youngest Oscar-winner even when she earned a statuette for "Paper Moon." She stood out in "The Bad News Bears" and was on the brink of a great career when substance abuse got in the way. She's struggled with it since, and was arrested as recently as 2008. Macauley Culkin, one of the most famous child stars ever, has been arrested multiple times for drug-related offenses. His drug problems have kept him out of movies for many years. 

Eccentric Behavior

No matter how famous you are or how good you may be at your job, you've got to act like a professional. Many child stars have learned this the hard way.

Lindsay Lohan was on top of the world after "The Parent Trap," and was poised for an amazing career when "Mean Girls" hit the big screen in 2004. Then, Linds started acting...a little odd. She began getting arrested for traffic violations and other offenses, and even got hit with a shoplifting rap. She became unreliable on set and has largely disappeared from films.

Kristy McNichol was a big child star of the '70s when she began behaving badly. She left her TV show after reportedly strange behavior and was later diagnosed with mental illness.


Many child stars simply fail to adapt from childhood to adulthood careers. Some are ill-suited to adult roles. Gary Coleman, for example, could not shed his cute image or physique to progress to leading man roles. But some child stars do adapt. They learn how to grow and change in their careers, and continue to work to find what fits.

Ron Howard began starring in film and TV at the tender age of 5, and hasn't left the industry since. He switched hats from actor to director to producer, and he's become legendary in Hollywood. Natalie Portman achieved success as a child star at a young age and avoided being burned by the excessive "Star Wars" glare that shone down on her at age 17. Portman continued to look for different roles and kept working hard for the ones she got. She is now an Oscar-winning actress and mother.

Staying Employed

Growing up is hard. Growing up in a spotlight is even harder. Many child stars end up rebelling or reacting in some way and sometimes it becomes volatile. Sometimes it leads to the termination of a job that can become the end of a promising career. Avoid their mistakes to hang onto your job, but remember this: self-sabotage can be an indication that you’re unhappy with your career. Some child actors who destroyed their own careers went on to different careers and now lead happy, rather normal lives.

And other child stars manage to correct their own behavior, make amends and work hard to get back on top. Drew Barrymore was very troubled as a teen and young adult and battled substance abuse. But Barrymore is now a wife, mother and a producer of note with her own production house -- not to mention still an award-winning actress.

Staying employed doesn’t mean never making mistakes. You’ll make them. But if you learn from them, and learn how to make up for them, you may stay employed. Work hard, and avoid doing some of the outrageous things child stars do to get themselves fired, and you may find success.

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