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Are our child stars doomed?

Are our child stars doomed?

Amanda Bynes is back in the press this week and Justin Bieber, Lindsay Lohan and One Direction regularly grace our headlines with news of their shocking antics. Whether at the root of celebrity feuds, drink driving charges or rumours of drug abuse, the stories continue to be churned out as the world spectates at the downward spiral of our child stars. This pattern of erratic behaviour seems to occur all too often and begs the question, are the pressures of fame too much to deal with as a child?

Amanda Bynes rose to fame with The Amanda Show on Nickelodeon aged just thirteen and from there went on to star in Hairspray, feature on the front pages of Vanity Fair and win numerous TV awards. However, over the last few years her increasingly strange behaviours have hinted at psychological problems, all of which have been well documented by the media. There were the celeb twitter spats which saw her comments become more and more outrageous, rumours of drug addiction and most recently shoplifting charges. Having looked a little further into her story, I have found one of the saddest aspects to be the fact she is now estranged from her parents. In a time when they are needed the most, her family support network has broken down.

Image Courtesy of Amy Wood, flickr. com

Image Courtesy of Amy Wood, flickr. com

Justin Bieber recently came under scrutiny for a series of seemingly racist videos which showed him singing offensive songs, aged 14. The media went into a  frenzy and he was blackmailed as people tried to extort him and make a quick buck out of his poor judgement. Photos were also leaked of Justin smoking weed that saw him taken swiftly off his ‘role model’ pedestal and then there were mentions of speeding and car crashes in his £150,000 Ferrari. With a loyal fan base of ‘Beliebers’, JB has a wealth of youngsters looking up to him.  The downside of this, is that aside from his talent for singing, his every mistake will be read about all over the world and we all know that negative headlines sell.

Aged 20, JB is supposedly one of the current most hated celebrities in the USA. It seems he has burnt most of his bridges in the celebrity world and alienated himself from the paparazzi. Although he has grown up with the pressures of his celebrity status, he needs to take some responsibility for his disrespectful actions, of which there are countless. His story thus far has an element of self-destruction and he almost seems to be setting himself up for failure. Other similar examples include Lindsay Lohan, who spent time in prison and battled an eating disorder, and Britney Spears who famously had a meltdown in 2007 which involved shaving off all her hair whilst supposedly being addicted to amphetamines.

This year, the UK X Factor has lowered its entry age from 16 to 14 to draw in ‘fresh talent’. The decision has come under much scepticism and judge Cheryl Fernandez-Versini has been vocal about the fact she thinks this is too young. I am inclined to agree, given that the audition process sees candidates publicly ridiculed for poor performances whilst the judges make cutting remarks. Furthermore, numerous candidates have already been rejected for ‘not being ready’, so the change seems a little counter-productive.  Past winners of the show have gone on to be dropped by their record labels and have failed to maintain their success after being told they are the ‘next big thing’. I don’t feel it would be fair to face a 14 year old with this level of disappointment and inconsistency, especially when a school education may be at stake.

Reality shows such as X-Factor can literally catapult people into the limelight overnight and this combined with the rise of social media, means fame and

Image Courtesy of Catherine Laight, flickr. com

Image Courtesy of Catherine Laight, flickr. com

celebrity status can be obtained more quickly than ever. One Direction are one of X Factor’s most prominent success stories, with 122 awards between them, a world record and millions of pounds to their name. However, with the media waiting in the wings to make or break these stars, it was only a matter of time before band scandals started surfacing as we have seen.

So, what is the solution? These young stars need a strong network of people around them to support, ground and manage expectations. A reliable agent, publicist and accountant that aren’t only in it to make money, and have genuine concerns for their wellbeing are necessities. Kris Jenner’s family tie to her Kardashian clan may be the reason they have all been able to deal with the trials and tribulations of fame despite being one of the highest profile families on the planet. In times of crisis, reputation management PR may prove essential but preventing these scenarios from arising in the first place should be the priority.

It seems unsurprising that growing up in the limelight can lead to a premature mid-life crisis- how can anyone be expected to know what the fame package comes with in their early teens? Although success clearly has many benefits, this downward pattern repeats itself all too often and the power that comes with money and fame cannot be taken lightly. The future of 1D, Justin Bieber and this year’s young X Factor hopefuls remains to be seen but regardless, they need to be prepared for what could lie ahead. Although talent can shine from a young age, fame comes with a lot of baggage and a child is not equipped with the maturity and life experience to deal with this single-handedly.

Impossible is nothing (when you break the doping rules)

Adidas last week announced it had suspended its sponsorship of the USA sprinter Tyson Gay after he and Jamaican Sprinter Asafa Powell failed a drugs test.

When the great Adi Dassler first started to produce his own sports shoes in his mother’s laundry room, he would probably never have dared to consider that those very shoes would one day contain the feet, veins and blood of an athlete contaminated with illegal performance-enhancing drugs. Well, not those exact shoes.

Making it very clear that it does not want to be associated with Tyson Gay after he broke the most sacred law in athletics, ‘the brand with the three stripes’ has set the benchmark for other names whose sponsored party may find themselves in the spotlight for the wrong reasons. The public’s mind works in illogical ways; if a sports star behaves poorly; their sponsor is somehow debauched as well. But however illogical, modern-day brands have learnt to prepare for this type of reaction.

In a PR nightmare for both athlete and brand (not to mention athletics itself – the credibility of which is now in temporary tatters thanks to two of the biggest names in sprinting), the priority for the athletes’ representatives will be to uphold positive media relations while the case is investigated. As is often the case with these stories, they make headlines and break hearts for a day or so, only to be usurped in the mainstream news agenda by a football transfer shock (or a Royal Baby!) Headlines are soon forgotten but that does not negate the need for the damage to be repaired behind the scenes.

Already though, Gay has provisionally lost his lucrative deal with Adidas, which is steering clear of the public relations struggles that will inevitably surround the athlete over the coming weeks.

Both Gay and Powell are insisting that they have never knowingly taken illegal substances and that they have been let down by someone else. In this instance, I am inclined to believe both of their stories to an extent, but whether this belief stems from what seems a logical explanation or rather a desperate wish on my part for both athletes (especially ‘good guy’ Gay) to be found innocent, remains to be seen.

Either way, it will be interesting to see whether the IAF’s anti-doping programme is perceived to have been enhanced or weakened each time such a high profile athlete is caught by a drugs test.

On one hand, there will be those who query how such athletes can compete for so long before being caught and, on the other side, there are those who believe it is a small victory for the sport every time the IAF is able to detect and remove an athlete who breaches the rules. Then, of course, there are those individuals who will defend the two sprinters, buying the athletes’ assertions that they are the victims in this story.

This latter point, however, begs the question of who exactly, if anyone, is doping these athletes and how are they able to roam so freely in and out of hotels and changing rooms, seemingly under the radar? The obvious suggestion is the athletes’ own personal trainers. Surely not. This somewhat cynical assumption of mine comes partly out of frustration at how easily this whole problem could be resolved by the introduction of a simple list that states what, and what not, an athlete is permitted to consume under the rules of athletics. This would leave no athlete ‘in the dark’ about supplements, while trainers and nutritionists would have far less scope to stretch the boundaries of what is legal in their eyes.

This latest revelation does, however, at the very least, dilute the argument that the authorities are inept in their approach towards catching drugs cheats. The system seems to be working and it should be praised, even if it results in the integrity of an event that encapsulates the Olympic Games being diminished further each time a naïve attempt to beat the system is thwarted.

Regardless of the above, it is so important that the 100m – such an integral part of world athletics – remains the exhilarating spectacle that we have come to expect, with no strings attached. Any issues which threaten the future of the event will now, no doubt, continue to be addressed with the highest priority and rightly so.

A hefty task of crisis management for teams Gay and Powell will now take place alongside the investigation, which overshadowed the otherwise successful weekend at the British Championships in Birmingham where there was an impressive performance from British sprinter James Dasaolu, who ran a new personal best in the 100m.

Gay and Powell meanwhile, the fastest and third-fastest men in the world this year respectively, have written themselves into the history books for the most shameful of reasons on a day that will forever be remembered as one of the most damaging in the history of athletics: 14th July 2013.

Image source: www.britishathletics.org.uk