teens

Bernard Tomic and the curse of having everything you want at 16.

This week, Australia got a front-row seat to exactly what happens when a cocktail of fame, youth and intense pressure is shaken up, consumed and swallowed.

Bernard Tomic, the young man who once had big dreams to star on centre court, who once had big dreams to hold up a Grand Slam trophy, all but told the country that he wasn’t OK, that he hasn’t been OK for a while now.

After appearing on and swiftly departing from the I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here jungle, Tomic admitted he is “depressed”, that he doesn’t “love” tennis and that he needs to go home.

The public were as loud as they were divided. Some walked down the hard-nosed cry-me-a-river garden path and others sung from the he-needs-help choir.

For the ensuing days, public conversation centred around where it all went wrong for the tennis golden boy. So much skill, so much potential, so much opportunity.

Of course, the conversation was, in large part, fruitless. After all, he had told us what the problem was all along.

Jessie Stephens on Bernard Tomic: “Often one of the biggest symptoms of depression is being unlikeable.” Post continues after audio.

“You guys have got to remember that I didn’t have a childhood, I didn’t have a life since I was eight [or] nine years old. I didn’t come from anything,” he told fellow contestant Josh Gibson this week.

“It’s been there since I was eight years old, and now I’m 25. I can’t do anything else. I haven’t studied to be a doctor or finished my degrees. I knew only one thing, to play tennis,” he said.

Did he wish he never got into tennis to start with? “Yeah, probably,” he told Carrie Bickmore on Sunday. “The grind with everything, you know, it’s taken 18 years already and it’s stressful. It’s not easy. It’s a big job.”

And therein lies the greatest curse of the child icon: The inability to grow up without intense public scrutiny.

To be, at the age of just 15 or 16, on the receiving end of waves of attention and expectation is desperately dangerous. No teenager is equipped with the tools necessary to navigate the waters of fame and attention, and so, later on, when great levels of scrutiny attack, resilience doesn’t come in spades.

No matter how adult they may look or adult Tomic’s skills may have seemed, being a teenage icon renders it almost impossible for him to be a resilient adult.

Across the seas, and across industries, young teenagers are idolised everywhere.

Image: Getty.
ADVERTISEMENT

In LA lives 16-year-old supermodel Kaia Gerber, the daughter of Cindy Crawford and a teenager universally celebrated as the most in demand and talked-about model of the moment.

Since her breakout year - modelling in every major show across every major city's fashion week - news of Gerber's every move is immortalised online. At 16, there are online pieces debating her frame (or more specifically, why her followers are skinny-shaming her), news outlets asking for her tips and tricks to "stay in shape" and others incessantly speculating the state of her love life.

Kaia Gerber is years off being an adult. In her home state, she's five years off having a drink. In most countries, she's not yet allowed to drive. Kaia Gerber, across the globe, is not even trusted to take part in the democratic process. And yet, for some reason, we consider it entirely appropriate to talk about her, online, like she's not even there: her size, her face, her sexuality. All of it's on the table, let's just quietly close our eyes and forget we're profiting off a child.

Not far from Gerber stands 13-year-old Millie Bobby Brown, the world-renowned star of Stranger Things. When rumours surfaced she may, in fact, be dating internet personality Jacob Sartorius, some dubbed the duo a "power couple". Some months earlier, W Magazine included Bobby Brown in a feature about the "Hottest TV Stars." On the magazine's cover, a single sub-head read: "Why TV Is Sexier Than Ever." The inference was a disturbing one. Bobby Brown, still a child - but one in the public eye, was now both hot and sexy. Bobby Brown's name sat alongside Nicole Kidman's, Alexander Skarsgård's, James Franco's, Claire Foy and Brit Marling.

Last year, Millie Bobby Brown wasn't yet a teenager.

Back home, we have 25-year-old Tomic at breaking point. He hasn't, like the Gerbers and Browns of the entertainment world, been sexualised or objectified. He has, much like the Gerbers and Browns of the world, been the subject of scrutiny and expectation and pressure at an age we should expect very little of teenagers.

He was treated like a man when he was only a boy.

And now, when the young teenagers of the spotlight grow up, we're dumbfounded when they're not the people we want them to be. Even though, all along, we'd set them up to fail.

Listen to the Mamamia Out Loud team debate whether or not we set up teen icons for failure below.

00:00 / ???