Why Do So Many Child Stars Develop PTSD?

Natalie Portman rose to fame when she was 13 years old in films such as Léon: The Professional (1994) and Beautiful Girls (1996). In a recent episode of Armchair Expert, Portman spoke out about how being sexualised at such a young age was traumatic.

What is Child Star Syndrome?

Child star syndrome is a term used to describe the troubled adult lives of former child stars. It is a complex and nuanced phenomenon, but key causes include:

Childhood Abuse

Children are more vulnerable to abuse than their adult counterparts — whether that’s emotional, sexual or financial. Unfortunately, young stars often face a combination of all three.

Former Disney Channel Icon, Alyson Stoner, described her on-set childhood as traumatic and harrowing in her essay ‘The Toddler to Trainwreck Industrial Complex.’ She is now an outspoken advocate for the health and wellbeing of child actors.

The ‘Lucky One’ Paradox

While children often want to perform, they can fail to grasp the magnitude of their decisions. Child stars work long, adult hours and spend vast amounts of time alone. It is not uncommon for them to experience developmental milestones, such as their first kiss, onscreen. When they grow up and begin to realise their sacrifices (or the abuse they endured), it can lead to feelings of anger or resentment.

Unpredictable Love

Human beings are tribal creatures, which makes us hardwired to seek out affection and belonging. These feelings are at their strongest during adolescence as we navigate our social value and find our tribe. But for child stars, who have grown accustomed to adoring fans and constant admiration, puberty can signal rejection and countless challenges.

With social-media apps like Tik-Tok creating a whole new type of child star, parents and caregivers must understand the mental-health risks — such as PTSD — which can come with growing up in the spotlight.

How Can You Overcome Child-Star Syndrome?

1. Focus on the Mind-Body Connection

Part and parcel of an actor’s job is to remain in touch with highly intense emotions. But, as children, we are still figuring out the boundary between fact and fiction, real or imaginary. As a result, spending years on end in auditions or movies that require you to become highly emotional can lead to nervous system dysregulation, which means you struggle to manage emotional responses. Mindfulness techniques, yoga and meditation can all help re-strengthen your mind-body relationship.

2. Separate Significance from Meaning

Try to find ways to use your platform in a meaningful manner, whatever that means for you.

3. Seek Professional Help

Above all else, if you are struggling with any signs of PTSD, seek professional help as soon as possible. This is particularly important if you have experienced any kind of sexual or physical abuse. Symptoms include flashbacks or nightmares, increasingly negative thoughts about yourself, feeling tense and avoiding people or places that remind you of the experience(s). While challenging, help is available, and you can heal from these painful experiences.

Paracelsus Recovery

At Paracelsus Recovery, our treatment programmes for PTSD use the latest psychotherapeutic techniques and biochemical restoration practices to heal the whole person — mind, body and soul.

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