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Parents take note when child stars move to a mature image

| Monday, May 24, 2010

With a daughter surrounded by young pop-culture heroes, some who behave better than others, Kelly Busis aims to teach her "tween" daughter that what famous people do isn't necessarily wise or healthy.

Busis' daughter, Abigail, 11, has been a big fan of the show "Hannah Montana" for several years, and a big admirer of its star, Miley Cyrus, as a singer and actress. Yet the innocent Disney Channel icon idolized by so many young girls is now 17, and rapidly approaching adulthood with a more mature image that many call risque. Cyrus has attracted much criticism lately for being overly sexualized.

"I think it's important to explain to your child that just because people are famous, that doesn't mean they're necessarily a role model," says Kelly Busis, of Squirrel Hill. "Because it's very easy to get all wrapped up in the excitement of a rock star ... and think that just because that person can sing well and is famous, that that person is a good person, and that's what we should all be striving for.

"They're just people," Busis says. "They make good choices and bad choices. They shouldn't be role models."

Child stars like Cyrus -- whose more mature-sounding pop album, "Can't Be Tamed," comes out on June 22 -- grow into young men and women, though their public image often remains perpetually stuck in childhood, even as the youths strive to transition into adult stardom.

"That's the hardest part. ... You never totally grow up in anyone's eyes," says Joal Ryan of Los Angeles. She is the author of "Former Child Stars: The Story of America's Least Wanted," and a freelance journalist.

Kids like Cyrus, with a squeaky-clean image tied to the Disney Channel and the tween crowd, can face disapproval if they move too much toward adulthood and adopt a sexy image as teenagers and young adults. Or, in cases like Lindsay Lohan, a former child star, can spiral out of control with self-destructive behavior as a young adult. Or, like "The Brady Bunch" kids, they can do little else with acting and become forever known for their childhood roles.

Yet child stars, fundamentally, aren't that different from everyday youths: They just get a lot more publicity as they go through the trials and changes of adolescence and young adulthood, and their money can magnify issues, Ryan says. Cyrus often dresses in the same style as other girls her age, she says.

"In general, that might be a genuine transition that any young woman goes through," Ryan says. "It's sort of on the precipice of adulthood because you still feel like a kid, but also desperately want to grow up and desperately want to be an adult.

"I'm sure Miley Cyrus feels like a completely different person" than when "Hannah Montana" started in 2006, she says.

"It's only four years, but that's a gigantic space for someone that age," Ryan says.

Child stars, she says, are "not martians from another planet. The problems and the challenges they face are a lot like the challenges everyone faces."

Cyrus has been criticized recently by people whose daughters have idolized her, because the parents feel awkward about how the same innocent tween is the subject of a photo spread in "Vanity Fair" that many called racy. In the photos, published two years ago when Cyrus was 15, she is shown with a bare back wrapped in a satin bedsheet. Since then, many have criticized Cyrus for what they call provocative clothing.

It's not just parents reacting to Cyrus' changes. Even Abigail Busis says she's not as enthralled with her idol.

"She can be a little inappropriate sometimes," Abigail says. "She hasn't been acting that well .... she's just not how she used to be. She looks amazingly different."

Even without the shifting image that comes with Cyrus growing up, though, tweens inevitably will lose interest in their idols and move on to other things anyway, Ryan says. Shana Hill, 12, of Vandergrift, says she was a huge Cyrus fan, but now she's mostly outgrown her "Hannah Montana" stage and is much more into other artists like Toby Keith and Nickelback. Shana still watches the television show, though.

Mary Hill, Shana's mom, says she hasn't allowed her daughter to see the last year's controversial video of Cyrus as she danced to "Party in the U.S.A." at the Teen Choice Awards. Some viewers say Cyrus danced provocatively alongside a dance pole, though people defending Cyrus say that still images of the performance made it look more lewd than it actually was. Mary Hill says she hasn't seen the video, and that Shana doesn't want to see it.

"The parents that I've talked to said it's not appropriate for children," Mary Hill says.

Elizabeth Braman -- whose daughter, Veronica, 9, is a moderate Cyrus fan -- says that the star's image has become a bit too old for her daughter, so Braman doesn't promote Cyrus too much. Braman, of Greensburg, says she was concerned when she heard rumors that Cyrus might pose for "Playboy."

"Whenever somebody has that big of a crowd who is watching her and taking cues from her about how to act ... I find that disturbing," Braman says.

Cyrus' best chance for a successful transition into adult stardom, Ryan says, is to appeal to young-adult fans, rather than the tween and teen fans who are outgrowing her anyway. Yet, as a former tween idol, Cyrus faces a higher expectation of purity and serving as a role model, and she must watch her behavior, Ryan says.

"No matter what Miley Cyrus goes on to, she's always going to be Hannah Montana," Ryan says. "If she has massive success ... the Hannah Montana stuff will always be there."

Child stars who made it... and some who didn't

Some child stars become even bigger adult stars, some grow into successful but private adults, and some go crazy and fail. Here are a few notables.

Successful transitioners

Sarah Jessica Parker . The "Sex and the City" star got her start in the Broadway production of "The Innocents." She was in "The Sound of Music," played the lead role in the Broadway musical "Annie," and had many other roles, including in the teen movie "Footloose" and as Patty Green in the 1982 sitcom "Square Pegs."

Britney Spears. The pop princess certainly has had her share of problems, including mental-health meltdowns and child-custody issues. Still, the former "The All New Mickey Mouse Club" star has become far more famous, if not infamous, as a young adult.

Drew Barrymore. The adorable, piggy-tailed girl on "E.T." struggled with drug and alcohol abuse, but later blossomed into a successful actress known for romantic comedy roles, like "Never Been Kissed," "50 First Dates," and "He's Just Not that Into You."

Jodie Foster. She made her acting debut in television commercials, and got her breakout role in the series "Mayberry R.F.D." Now, Foster is known for major roles like "The Silence of the Lambs," "The Accused," "Contact" and many more.

Ron Howard . He played Opie Taylor on "The Andy Griffith Show" and Richie Cunningham on "Happy Days" before he became a successful film director, with credits including "Splash," "Apollo 13," "A Beautiful Mind" and "The Da Vinci Code."

Not-so-successful transitioners

Lindsay Lohan . The star of "The Parent Trap," "Freaky Friday" and "Mean Girls" consistently has made headlines in recent years for her substance abuse and stints in rehab, arrests, and other mayhem. Last week, a California judge issued a warrant for Lohan's arrest after she failed to show in court for a mandatory probation progress report. Lohan claims she was stuck in Cannes because of a stolen passport.

Macaulay Culkin . The "Home Alone" movie series was his high-water mark, and he since has had issues with drugs and turmoil in his personal life.

Corey Haim. The teen heartthrob and star of "The Lost Boys" and other '80s movies struggled with drug addiction and died on March 10 from an apparent overdose of prescription pills.

Dana Plato. The child star of "Diff'rent Strokes" entered the world of pornography after her Diff'rent Strokes role as Kimberly, and tragically committed suicide in 1999.

. Gary Coleman. The fellow cast member of "Diff'rent Strokes" known as the cute, sweet, chubby-cheeked Arnold -- has had many brushes with the law, including charges for assault and disorderly conduct.

Source: Tribune-Review research compiled by Kellie B. Gormly

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