When child stars grow up

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SHIELDS. Has starred in hit sitcoms, written a book about her battle with depression, and become one of the acting profession’s leading lights.

Kids on the big and small screens are special creatures—blessed with good looks, talent, and enough cuteness going for them to initiate a group sugar rush and diabetic attack in viewers. They’re popular, sometimes earn more than bank presidents, and have the run of the stellar sandbox that is the entertainment arena—until they grow up.

That’s when their pluperfect dream world dissipates and disintegrates, and reality rears its pointy head. What do you do if you’re no longer young and super-cute? You take a deep breath and start living—and surviving—in the real world, where nobody has the option to yell, “Cut!,” and do a Take Two.

Of late, bad, sad and sometimes mad stories of former child stars gone sour and wrong have hugged the headlines, presenting a decidedly downbeat view of their young-adult prospects.

The poster child in this regard has been Lindsay Lohan, the pert and perky girl who so winningly and effectively played twins in “The Parent Trap” (1998). Now decidedly in her jaded 20s, Lindsay has had more runins with the law than 10 non-celebrities put together, but some fans still wish her well, because they remember what a bright comer she once was. Her breaking-news antics include DUI arrests, rehab, shoplifting charges, gender-bending—etc.!

Problems

DICAPRIO. Has gone further and deeper in the biz, thanks to the challenging mentorship of top directors.

Does she still have it in her to turn her young life around? Her parents could help—but, they have their own problems to deal with, so Lindsay will have to do it alone. We hope she eventually succeeds, because her talent is worth reclaiming and fighting for.

Happily, some other ex-child celebrities have successfully licked the “curse” of precocious stardom. Chris Atkins of “Blue Lagoon” fame and/or notoriety, is now an environmentalist. His leading lady, Brooke Shields, graduated from Princeton, has starred in hit sitcoms, written a book about her battle with depression, and become one of the acting profession’s leading lights.

Jason Bateman (“Little House on the Prairie”), is now a producer-director. Ditto for Soleil Moon Frye (“Punky Brewster”), who has also opened a shop for baby products and services.

Justin Henry, the kid Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep fought over in “Kramer vs Kramer,” is a business development specialist for new media. Anna Chlumsky (“My Girl”) writes about food.

Sara Gilbert (“Roseanne”) co-hosts “The Talk” and has outed herself. Fred Savage (“The Wonder Years”) directs children’s shows for TV. Jeff Cohen (“The Goonies”) is a successful entertainment lawyer.

BARRYMORE. Adult lead player with kiddie-star cred.

The best news of all is that some ex-child stars are still doing really well in the acting profession, this time as young-adult or mature players. They are paced by Leonardo DiCaprio, who used to specialize in playing troubled children and youths, but has gone much further and deeper in the biz, thanks to the challenging mentorship of top directors like Martin Scorsese.

Drew Barrymore (“E.T.”) is another popular adult lead player with kiddie-star cred, as are Elijah Wood, Scarlett Johansson, Hilary Duff, Claire Danes, Tobey Maguire, Natalie Portman, Kirsten Dunst, Christian Bale—etc.!

They may stumble on occasion, but they’ve generally proven that it’s possible to grow up in the sometimes stultifying world of show business—and still emerge relatively unscathed!

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