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What's making our former child stars go so bad?


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Why do so many Disney stars end up as “stinkerbells”?

While many child stars overall ultimately end up tabloid fodder, the spawn of Walt Disney’s juggernaut often seem to find trouble.

Lindsay Lohan, star of Disney movies “The Parent Trap” and “Freaky Friday,” spends more time in rehab than in high-heels.

Vanessa Hudgens apparently didn’t save enough money from “High School Musical” to buy a shirt, judging from her topless pics.

And the résumé of the panty-averse former Mouseketeer Britney Spears’ boasts everything from a 55-hour marriage to shaving her head during a breakdown.

It’s tempting to blame Disney for holding its mini mice to impossibly high performance and behavioral standards, but in reality, “the road through all child stardom is strewn with carnage,” said Robert Thompson, pop culture professor at Syracuse University.

Consider the “curse” of “Diff’rent Strokes” that consumed actors Todd Bridges, Dana Plato and Gary Coleman. Or, perhaps saddest of all, Michael Jackson.

“Being a child star is a high-risk occupation, not unlike being a coal miner or an oil rig worker,” Thompson said.

In order to be successful adults, kids must learn how to deal with uncomfortable feelings, criticism, temptation and other challenges and have a strongly developed identity, said Dr. Stanley Goldstein, author of “Troubled Children/Troubled Parents.” Laboring under constant direction on studio sets and being cooed over when off work often leaves youngsters unprepared when the spotlight dims.

“They’re expected to be adults, but psychologically, they’re not really adults,” Goldstein said.

Today’s child stars are at greater risk they “are being exposed to things that they’re not prepared to cope with” and society’s moral standards have slid, said Paul Peterson, founder of A Minor Consideration, a support group for former child stars, in a 2007 interview.

In the old days, the public was often sheltered from the shenanigans, with just three networks and gushing fanzines. Now, tabloids pay for dirt on celebs, thousands of websites battle for stories of scandal and paparazzi post videos of misbehavior. And though yesteryear’s child stars weren’t always angels, Thompson said, the difference is that today, the stories get out.

A Disney spokeswoman didn’t return calls for comment.

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