“Family is family but sometimes they hurt you. They don’t mean to but they can.” These are words spoken by a woman who, from a young age, had very few and very stark options in the people who surrounded her.
Former US pop singer Tiffany Darwish, now appearing on I’m a Celebrity… Get me Out of Here!, spoke of being forced to file for emancipation from her mother at 16. She said her mum had problems with alcohol and was incapable of managing her career.
When Darwish left the apartment where her mother and sisters were living in Los Angeles, the police department declared her a runaway and released an alert to the public.
Darwish, who rose to fame rapidly in 1987 following the release of an album and a nationwide tour of shopping malls, was 16 and living with her grandmother awaiting the Supreme Court’s decision regarding her emancipation.
She refused to take interviews at the time but on Tuesday night, speaking on I’m a Celebrity… Get me Out of Here!, the 46-year-old said the media made it seem as if “I hated her”.
“My mum was trying to get sober, and I’m having to record and being told I had to make a choice at 14 or 15. The choice was: you either be like them or cut them loose,” Darwish said on the show. “All I said was, ‘I want to go live with my grandma’. But my mum depended on me and wouldn’t let me go. So I had to go to court.”
“It came out that I hated her… I was getting too big for my britches, and then the alcoholism came out, too. It was not my intention, it was a mess.”
— #ImACelebrityAU (@ImACelebrityAU) February 6, 2018
In the end, the court ruled against the 16-year-old’s petition for emancipation, denying Darwish’s claims that her mother was hindering her career. She was, however, permitted to live with her grandmother full-time.
Now looking back, Darwish appears to have empathy for her mother and forgiveness for the dark shadow cast upon her adolescence and rise to fame.
“You know, my mum was an alcoholic. She didn’t know how to speak up for herself,” Darwish said. “She got her kids taken away. My sisters were taken away. She had to work to get them back.
“When I got my record deal my mum was still struggling a little bit so the entertainment industry took advantage of that.”
Darwish is one of many childhood stars with a similar story.
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Sometimes, the strain arises over finances.
Home Alone star Macaulay Culkin was 15 when he – and his fortune – were caught in the middle of his parent’s divorce. He filed to remove both parents as legal guardians and to be given complete control over his $11 million fortune, according to The Sun. He won the fight and his accountant was given control over his finances, Business Insider reports.
Corey Feldman, who had appeared in Stand by Me (1986), The Goonies (1985), and Gremlins (1984), successfully divorced his parents in 1987 at age 15 after realising they’d been mismanaging his earnings.
In 2015, a 29-year-old Mischa Barton, whose career-defining role in The O.C. began when she was 17, filed to sue her mother, who’d been her manager for more than 20 years, Business Insider reports. The lawsuit, which was later dropped, alleged Barton’s mother stole money from her daughter and worked to undermine her career.
The laws around a child star’s right to their earnings vary from state to state in the US.
In some states, 15 per cent of a child’s salary is immediately deposited into what’s called a ‘Coogan Account’. According to the law firm Bonnie J Wallace, this account is blocked and only accessible to the actor when they turn 18. Even with this protection, 85 per cent of a child’s earnings can be manipulated by their parents or managers, and not every state enforces Coogan’s Law.
And then, there are the child stars who aren’t as concerned with money, as they are with abuse.
There is an apparent common thread of pressure and toxicity from some parents who push their children into show business. These habits can escalate alongside growing success, as seen in stories like those from Ariel Winter and Drew Barrymore.
Winter, 20, best known for her work in the television series Modern Family that started when she was 12, successfully fought to have her now-39-year-old sister named as her legal guardian between the ages of 14 to 17.
Before Winter was 18, she had completely emancipated from her mother, alleging physical and emotional abuse.
Speaking to Ellen in 2016, Winter said her mother forced her into show business at age four and, though she doesn’t speak publicly about what happened between them, neither she nor her sister speaks to their mother at all.
“It has been very sad for me, but at the same time it’s been much better for me emotionally and physically to be on my own and have a better, safer household and support system,” she said.
Finally, the story of movie star Drew Barrymore is perhaps the most tragic.
The Charlie's Angels star, now 42, was born into Hollywood the daughter of actor John Drew Barrymore and aspiring actress Jaid Barrymore.
At 11 months old, Barrymore was put to work. She starred in a dog food commercial and, from there, she started her acting career, soon landing a role in ET, The Extra-Terrestrial at age seven.
Her mother didn't take her to school, instead to the studios and drug-fuelled parties of Hollywood. Barrymore had no choice but to become an actress and the pressure and exposure took its toll.
At 11, Barrymore developed a drinking problem. At 12, she was addicted to drugs. She was hospitalised at 13 after a suicide attempt and, she knew, the only way to end the cycle was to seek emancipation from her parents. She successfully filed to be an adult at age 14.
"When I turned 14 and wanted to start my life over, I wanted to do things on my own terms. I felt so sad, but too much had happened," Barrymore wrote in her 2015 book Wildflower. "At the end of the day, the judge looked at me and said these words, which stuck with me: 'I can turn the clock forward, but I can never turn it back. Are you ready for that?'"
Barrymore said 'yes' she was, and was pronounced by the courts as an adult. She lived alone in an apartment, away from her parents and slowly rebuilt her life.
Darwish and Winter and Barrymore, like so many others, faced extreme financial and emotional pressure from their parents, all within the boiling pot of teenagehood and newfound stardom.
They were forced into adulthood long before they were ready and, hearing their stories, it's clear that only with immense strength and ferocity did they survive.
It's not a way to grow up, forcibly removing yourself from childhood. But these children-come-adults were given no choice.