The arrest of a former child actor is a tabloid's delight. Since primetime America's wayward sons and daughters usually get busted for drugs, fights, and DUIs, their legal troubles are easy to write about, leaving plenty of room for incredulous comparisons of adorable smiling children, with the puffy, sullen adults they've become.
But it's not as if child actors are this special breed of human designed to warm our hearts as children and then later tickle our egos with a series of public failures. They somehow became that way, and — though the "personal responsibility or bust" crowd may disagree — often through no fault of their own. Child actors are three times more likely than regular kids to become drug or alcohol dependent, a sad statistic that signifies that the problem lies beyond the actors themselves.
It's hard to say exactly why the likes of Lindsay Lohan, Brad Renfro, and Brian Bonsall from Family Ties end up on their dangerous trajectories, but it's clear to anyone who has ever watched a show like Dance Moms that constant pressure to perform and succeed is a lot for a kid to handle. Hitting the big time at age 9 might sound like a dream, but it may also send a kid careening into a premature existential crisis by puberty.
There's also the issue of constantly being in adult company, namely the company of showbiz types, which may expose child actors to grown up themes early and without explanation, while isolating them from non-famous peers.
The ones who made it out alright seem to be the child actors who either took a break from acting to be a kid for a while, or quit entirely to do something else. Tia and Tamera's little brother Taj who started acting at age five and starred in his own sitcom Smart Guy told Ebony magazine that he quit acting in 10th grade to play football and ended up with a full scholarship to Savannah State. He went back to acting instead, but maybe what's kept Mowry out of trouble is having had an experience outside of acting and the knowledge that he has other skills.
The biggest, and perhaps most surprising, child actor success story is Jonathan Taylor Thomas. He achieved superstar heartthrob status on Home Improvement, but didn't let it go to his head.
The still-hunky JTT told People that he never took life as a child actor too seriously: "It was a great period in my life, but it doesn't define me. When I think back on the time, I look at it with a wink. I focus on the good moments I had, not that I was on a lot of magazine covers."
Instead of acting, Thomas wanted to travel and go to school, so he went to Harvard, Columbia and St. Andrew's University in Scotland. Now, he's focusing on writing rather than acting, though he did make an appearance on show dad Tim Allen's sitcom Last Man Standing. Meanwhile, his on-set brothers have run into some hard times: Zachery Ty Bryan got tased by hotel security and Taran Noah Smith married a much older woman at 17, started a vegan cheese company, lost it all, and got arrested on suspicion of DUI. JTT remained above it all, and here's hoping today's crop of child stars will follow in his footsteps.