Are the Kids Alright? is Yahoo Entertainment's video interview series exploring the impact of show business on the development and well-being of former child entertainers, from triumphs to traumas.
Alyson Stoner remembers exactly how it felt when it all became too much.
Stoner, who was then best known as the little girl busting a move in Missy Elliott's "Work It" video and for playing one of Steve Martin's young daughters in 2003's Cheaper by the Dozen, checked into rehab to treat an eating disorder shortly after. She was just 17.
"As someone who really built an identity around being able to hit my mark and deliver a performance consistently, it was very crushing to reach a level of burnout where my body and my mind seemed to give up on me and I wasn't able to show up and fulfill my, my job," Stoner tells Yahoo Entertainment. "Now, of course, from another perspective, it was my body and mind crying out for support after being neglected and having that time in therapy, as well as in rehab was monumental for my own self-development, but also pivotal for the longevity of my health. Had I not gone? Had I gone later, I might not have made it."
At 27, Stoner has had time to look back on the experience of stardom at a young age and how it affected her. She didn't like much of what she found. Now Stoner has made it her mission to advocate for children working in the industry, even detailing some of what she went through in an essay this month for People. She spoke about the problems and potential solutions to what she's called "the toddler to trainwreck industrial complex" for the first episode of Are the Kids Alright?, a new Yahoo Entertainment series on former child entertainers.
Much of the problem with having children in the entertainment industry, Stoner says, is that they're not seen as humans who aren't yet fully formed. They're seen just like any other employee. While she struggled with this, Stoner reveals that she also encountered allies.
"I want to be clear that Missy Elliott and most of the people I've worked with are wonderful. … Depending on the set, some adults will treat you like a child in an appropriate way. Other adults will treat you like a fellow adult and colleague," she explains.
"I will say Bonnie Hunt stands out as … one of the most beautiful human beings on planet Earth. She provided such a nurturing and nourishing maternal presence for each of us kids on Cheaper by the Dozen. We're still in touch. She was invested in our wellbeing, in our craft and development, as well as providing a safe place for us to be our age and have healthy interactions. So I'm forever grateful for her."
But that wasn't the norm.
"On other sets," she says. "I had adults offer me a cigarette when they went out for their smoke break."
Stoner wants clear regulations, child labor laws and set protocols. Her essay, along with recent documentaries about the perils of life in the spotlight for young people, such as Framing Britney Spears, Demi Lovato's Dancing With the DevilandSoleil Moon Frye'sKid 90have helped spark a conversation that Stoner hopes is only the beginning.
"Since I released my essay, there have been numerous people from past projects, as well as fellow child actors … who have reached out. And you can imagine that each of us is at different stages of healing and processing," Stoner says. "Some of us are still in the industry. Others have moved in different directions. Some of us want to participate and use our voice to advocate for new generations. Others are quite fearful of the consequences. And so my goal right now is to really honor everyone's reality and needs and … create a core group that can approach the union proactively that can carry this conversation."
She adds that it's important to her that such a conversation includes people who never saw fame.
"Most artists, most young actors paid the cost and did not get the quote unquote payoff," she says.
— Video produced by Jen Kucsak and edited by Jimmie Rhee
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