Little Girls Lost – No Fairy Tale For Disney Princesses

GeekMom TV and Movies
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Demi Lovato in concert, Image: CC by karina y via Flickr

As the mother of a tween I know more than I ever wanted to about every Disney Channel and Nickelodeon teen star on the planet. I know who’s been in what movie or TV show, if they have a new album, what their unique fashion style is, if they’ve highlighted their hair recently, and of course, who is dating whom in the Hollywood social scene of young stars.

Demi Lovato happens to be one of my daughter’s favorites. As a brown-eyed brunette like Demi, my daughter directly identified with her realistic yet adorable physical image, but also her spunky, creative, and friendly attitude. Where other Disney stars’ personas seem to revolve around snappy comebacks and snark, most of Demi’s characters projected a team player attitude, set off by good humor and humility.

Tweens everywhere cheered for Demi when she announced she was dating Joe Jonas at the beginning of 2010, and they were devastated with her when the young relationship fell apart. I remember my daughter remarking at the time that she “knew it wouldn’t last.”

Indeed Joe Jonas has, in a relatively short amount of time, developed quite the reputation for himself as a breaker of young women’s hearts. Taylor Swift had rather choice things to say about the way in which she found out that they were over. Rumors of his breakup with Demi suggest a young man who has trouble ending relationships as smoothly as he’s entered them. (Don’t we all?)

Certainly his decision to invite his new girlfriend, Ashley Greene (Alice in the Twilight Movies) on tour with his brothers and Demi Lovato seems ill advised. If the new flame’s presence on the tour contributed to Demi’s breakdown, and subsequent decision to seek treatment for emotional and physical issues, we can’t know for sure. But I suspect, it certainly didn’t help. What adult could handle such a sticky situation perfectly? Let alone a young woman who’s been working, supporting her family, and in the public eye since the age of seven?

None of us can know the truth of what really goes on in the lives of these young people. I remind my daughter of that every time we sit down to discuss the latest sordid personal tragedy of a young Hollywood star. Unfortunately in the past few years, we’ve had quite a few of these conversations. Between Lindsay’s troubles, Britney’s meltdown, her younger sister Jamie Lynn’s pregnancy, Vanessa Hudgens‘ nude photo scandal and others, I’m getting rather sick of having these conversations. I’m not the type to forbid my daughter from television or media access.

I’m not offended or overly concerned about my daughter’s knowledge of these situations. In fact they’ve led to many healthy and informative discussions. Rather I’m sick of having these conversations because I’m scared for these young women. My heart breaks for them. And I’m sick of the silence and the lack of responsibility on the part of the companies and individuals profiting from these talented young people.

I realize that it’s easy to sit here in front of my computer and comment on a situation that I’m no part of, and have no real information about. But I’m going to do it anyway. Because there are some absolute truths in the world. Raising children is hard. Raising creative, artistic children can be especially challenging. You must temper your pride at their achievements and their passion to perform with realistic expectations. Greed and vanity have no place in parenting.

If I were to let her, my daughter — a natural performer since the age of two — would be on the next plane to Hollywood in two seconds. She’d show up bright-eyed and shiny at the Disney offices ready to try out as the next Disney star. I will never allow it. Why? Because she deserves a childhood. She does not need to bear the burden of such extreme failures and successes at such a young age. It is not her job to support our family; it is ours, her parents. It is not her job to raise herself. It is our job, the adults who run her life, to guide her on the path to healthy adulthood.

These children, like Demi and Lindsay and the rest, are being failed by the parents and the adults who run their lives.

According to reports, Demi Lovato went for treatment in part due to an addiction to cutting herself. Two years ago she showed up in several highly publicized photographs with cut marks on her arms. At the time her publicist said the marks were from Silly Bandz. What a load of baloney. Any parent of a tween girl who wears those bracelets knows they leave no such marks on you.

My daughter asked me how on earth anyone could not have noticed these cut marks on Demi’s arm, and not be horrified and deeply concerned. How indeed! Clearly this situation has been going on for sometime. And clearly for whatever reason, the adults around Demi Lovato have let her down. Part of that team is her employer. And as much as they might want to deflect blame on the parents, the agents, the publicists, they still have a responsibility to this young woman. They have a responsibility to all the young people they work with, and to all the young people to which their product is marketed.

Can these networks that that have worked so hard to promote the idea of tweens and teens as just younger, hipper versions of adults, actually take some responsibility for the situation they’ve created? I think they can. And I think they can make it better. If they want to.

This won’t be a popular opinion in the accounting offices of major children’s networks, but here’s a thought: why not cut back on the programming some? Does every young star have to be in a dozen movies, a TV show, cut an album, go on tour, and record regular promo spots for these networks? Not to mention all while being hounded by the media. How about putting some real focus on the mental health of these kids. Can we establish an independent evaluation system to monitor their emotional well being? Can we make it a federal crime for paparazzi or media outlets to invade the privacy of a minor?

And here’s another thing. Can we have a little transparency with our audience? Let me tell you, my daughter and her friends know all about the latest rumors and scandals, and they wonder why Disney doesn’t do something about it. They aren’t looking to Disney to punish anyone, but rather to step up, in a real way, and take an active role as the guiding star of good, and yes, morality, that Disney has put itself in the position to be. It’s a role that they embrace when it serves them, but shrink away from when the reality of child stardom gets a bit too dark and becomes a potential liability.

Disney has come out and said they support Demi and her decision. That’s great. Good for them for saying they support a young woman’s decision to seek help to stop cutting herself. How about a little more? I’d love to see Disney actually confront these issues in a series of specials on their channel. I’d let my daughter tune in to a program that talked about why high school girls shouldn’t take nude photos of themselves and email them to their boyfriends. I’d love to see them talk about the real pressures of working as a child star, and address the rumors of bullying and grudges between the cast members. I’d like to see them talk about body issues, anorexia and bulimia. I’d love to see them explain what cutting is, and why you shouldn’t do it, and why if you do, you should seek help.

But maybe Disney thinks these issues are too heavy, too intense, too grown up, for their demographic to deal with. If that’s the case then I say to Disney – Yeah, exactly.

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36 thoughts on “Little Girls Lost – No Fairy Tale For Disney Princesses

    1. I think these girls are set up for evenual failure how many of these girls do we know actually make it past 18 with a career other than maybe a couple?They are under awful pressures by all and i lame parents and the companys it is too bad demi is one of the more natural girls.Also Joe jonas needs to learn how to treat women maybe he needs a talk from his Dad about discretion with his relationships not good Joe!

    1. I think these girls are set up for evenual failure how many of these girls do we know actually make it past 18 with a career other than maybe a couple?They are under awful pressures by all and i lame parents and the companys it is too bad demi is one of the more natural girls.Also Joe jonas needs to learn how to treat women maybe he needs a talk from his Dad about discretion with his relationships not good Joe!

  1. Excellent blog, Brigid.

    This should be required reading for any parent of a tween – and ANY executive of a company that uses young talent commercially. There is so much truth in this, and it seems like it would just be plain common sense, but these young folks are stumbling and falling and no one seems to be interested in picking them up so long as the money keeps rolling in.

  2. Excellent blog, Brigid.

    This should be required reading for any parent of a tween – and ANY executive of a company that uses young talent commercially. There is so much truth in this, and it seems like it would just be plain common sense, but these young folks are stumbling and falling and no one seems to be interested in picking them up so long as the money keeps rolling in.

  3. Disney is not the same company that Walt set up. They have always had teen stars, but how those stars are handled has taken a decidedly darker turn in the past few decades. But as long as they are making oodles of money off of these young people I don’t see them changing their habits any time soon. They are really reminding me of the old movie studios in the 40’s and 50’s. If they make you money then exploit the hell out of them, if they cause problems dump them so fast their head spins.

  4. Disney is not the same company that Walt set up. They have always had teen stars, but how those stars are handled has taken a decidedly darker turn in the past few decades. But as long as they are making oodles of money off of these young people I don’t see them changing their habits any time soon. They are really reminding me of the old movie studios in the 40’s and 50’s. If they make you money then exploit the hell out of them, if they cause problems dump them so fast their head spins.

  5. Well said. My tween daughter adores Demi and the other Disney/Nickelodeon stars. I am using Joe Jonas and the young women he has left in his wake to teach my daughter that when she starts dating she must realize that in any relationship she is and equal and important part. My husband and I show her that daily in our relationship but using examples involving people younger than us helps her relate to the situation. I want her to feel empowered and not be worshiping another person.

  6. Well said. My tween daughter adores Demi and the other Disney/Nickelodeon stars. I am using Joe Jonas and the young women he has left in his wake to teach my daughter that when she starts dating she must realize that in any relationship she is and equal and important part. My husband and I show her that daily in our relationship but using examples involving people younger than us helps her relate to the situation. I want her to feel empowered and not be worshiping another person.

  7. Great post. I’ve always found disney a source of fantasy. Nobody gets hurt except villans or in order to be rescued for a happy ending. But we have a problem if we ask Disney to change their sugar coating. Then we have to make sure that if there is an episode that is “real” we are there to talk and while I assume that you and many parents here do so regularly, I want to regulate when I want to talk about those things. Im not blind I talk frankly with my kids but disney targets kids younger than tweens do we want to have them deal with the worry of cutting and such at 7 unless it comes up? Its a hard balance to let our children have innocence but be open with them. Im glad others see the “coverup” and talk to their kids. Maybe having a time later at night to have the after school special episodes would be a solution

  8. Great post. I’ve always found disney a source of fantasy. Nobody gets hurt except villans or in order to be rescued for a happy ending. But we have a problem if we ask Disney to change their sugar coating. Then we have to make sure that if there is an episode that is “real” we are there to talk and while I assume that you and many parents here do so regularly, I want to regulate when I want to talk about those things. Im not blind I talk frankly with my kids but disney targets kids younger than tweens do we want to have them deal with the worry of cutting and such at 7 unless it comes up? Its a hard balance to let our children have innocence but be open with them. Im glad others see the “coverup” and talk to their kids. Maybe having a time later at night to have the after school special episodes would be a solution

  9. You have read my mind. I too would let me daughter watch a show. You didn’t mention Miley in your article but her recent behaviour and decisions have led to several discussions in our home about growing up too quickly.

    I hope your article wakes someone up over at Disney that need to take responsibility for these kids that they turn into mega stars.

  10. You have read my mind. I too would let me daughter watch a show. You didn’t mention Miley in your article but her recent behaviour and decisions have led to several discussions in our home about growing up too quickly.

    I hope your article wakes someone up over at Disney that need to take responsibility for these kids that they turn into mega stars.

  11. Why is Disney not responsible? Because Walt is dead and it is the parents who are the enablers. I’m sure money has something to do with it as well.

    Please read up on the history of one of their first tweens: Hayley Mills.

  12. Why is Disney not responsible? Because Walt is dead and it is the parents who are the enablers. I’m sure money has something to do with it as well.

    Please read up on the history of one of their first tweens: Hayley Mills.

  13. Maybe there should be an advocate employed by Disney for each child/tween/teen (underage) star – similar to the type of advocates that are employed for children in the court system. An advocate that looks out for the minor’s health and well-being… not an agent that books them to the eyeballs… someone to act as a buffer between them and the industry and even between them and their parents (if necessary) because these kids shouldn’t be used and abused in such a way that can potentially damage them for life.

    Your suggestion for shows dealing with the various “issues” reminds me of all those after-school-specials that I remember growing up.

    Thank you for writing what you did. It was needed.

  14. Maybe there should be an advocate employed by Disney for each child/tween/teen (underage) star – similar to the type of advocates that are employed for children in the court system. An advocate that looks out for the minor’s health and well-being… not an agent that books them to the eyeballs… someone to act as a buffer between them and the industry and even between them and their parents (if necessary) because these kids shouldn’t be used and abused in such a way that can potentially damage them for life.

    Your suggestion for shows dealing with the various “issues” reminds me of all those after-school-specials that I remember growing up.

    Thank you for writing what you did. It was needed.

  15. Well said! It’s a shame that there’s such pressure on talented young people. Hopefully this will reach many parents of tween girls and will result in more open dialogue like you share with your daughter. Now, if only Disney executives would read this and make some much needed changes there could be a positive outcome to Demi Lovato’s tragic tale.

  16. Well said! It’s a shame that there’s such pressure on talented young people. Hopefully this will reach many parents of tween girls and will result in more open dialogue like you share with your daughter. Now, if only Disney executives would read this and make some much needed changes there could be a positive outcome to Demi Lovato’s tragic tale.

  17. Thank-you Brigid for writing about this important topic.

    I agree with you that what is happening to these children is completely unjust. They are naive pawns pranced around by the greedy, and our laws should protect them better. Why does this kind of exploitation not qualify as abusing their rights as children?

    In turn, however, the machine that exploits them needs you and your child’s interest for it to function, though I give you credit that you’re writing about it, which, of course, is great. However, one of the adults that is letting Demi down is you. Show Demi the respect you say she deserves by encouraging your daughter and her friends to turn her off. Why not suggest your daughter start a Facebook campaign? (It seems that some parents who commented here might encourage their kids to join it.) Surely you wouldn’t let your daughter watch porn. You do, I expect, draw the line somewhere, so why let her watch this kind of exploitation?

    If you’re discussing the problems with what you see Demi and the others experiencing, why not discuss the solution? Let’s teach our children that, unlike these exploited teen stars, they don’t have to passively accept everything that comes their way. They can choose what media they engage with, and they can have a voice.

    Social media can be a powerful thing. 🙂

    All the best to you and your family.

  18. Thank-you Brigid for writing about this important topic.

    I agree with you that what is happening to these children is completely unjust. They are naive pawns pranced around by the greedy, and our laws should protect them better. Why does this kind of exploitation not qualify as abusing their rights as children?

    In turn, however, the machine that exploits them needs you and your child’s interest for it to function, though I give you credit that you’re writing about it, which, of course, is great. However, one of the adults that is letting Demi down is you. Show Demi the respect you say she deserves by encouraging your daughter and her friends to turn her off. Why not suggest your daughter start a Facebook campaign? (It seems that some parents who commented here might encourage their kids to join it.) Surely you wouldn’t let your daughter watch porn. You do, I expect, draw the line somewhere, so why let her watch this kind of exploitation?

    If you’re discussing the problems with what you see Demi and the others experiencing, why not discuss the solution? Let’s teach our children that, unlike these exploited teen stars, they don’t have to passively accept everything that comes their way. They can choose what media they engage with, and they can have a voice.

    Social media can be a powerful thing. 🙂

    All the best to you and your family.

  19. I always wonder where child labor laws are on these cases. Are the producers finding loopholes or what? And if child labor laws simply allow for this, maybe we need to reform them and get them better teeth.

  20. I always wonder where child labor laws are on these cases. Are the producers finding loopholes or what? And if child labor laws simply allow for this, maybe we need to reform them and get them better teeth.

  21. I could not agree more with you on these issues. But there is also the problem Leighj adressed, that 7 year olds sit at home watching this channel, so specials on cutting, eating disorders etc. wouldn’t really be appropriate. Then again, is this really targeted on 7 year olds? My sister is 7, and repeatedly she’ll use phrases that aren’t really supposed to come out of a 7 year olds mouth, just because Alex or Miley (Wizards of Waverly Place/Hannah Montana respectively) says them. So maybe Disney should reach out to their actual demographic, tweens, and do a good job there, instead of trying to include a bit for everybody.
    Of course you have the option to do what every other channel do, simply air the appropriate shows in the timeslot their demographic watches TV.

  22. I could not agree more with you on these issues. But there is also the problem Leighj adressed, that 7 year olds sit at home watching this channel, so specials on cutting, eating disorders etc. wouldn’t really be appropriate. Then again, is this really targeted on 7 year olds? My sister is 7, and repeatedly she’ll use phrases that aren’t really supposed to come out of a 7 year olds mouth, just because Alex or Miley (Wizards of Waverly Place/Hannah Montana respectively) says them. So maybe Disney should reach out to their actual demographic, tweens, and do a good job there, instead of trying to include a bit for everybody.
    Of course you have the option to do what every other channel do, simply air the appropriate shows in the timeslot their demographic watches TV.

  23. As a culture, we like chewing up our celebs and spitting them out.

    How long before his death had Michael Jackson imploded? But no one cared because he wasn’t a person anymore … he was a commodity.

    Who was it who got out of rehab just in time for all of the party rags to start fighting over who got to throw her 21st birthday party in Las Vegas?

    The parents, agents, producers, and execs … and fans and parents of fans! … are responsible for the destruction of these kids’ lives, all because they can make some bucks in the meantime.

  24. As a culture, we like chewing up our celebs and spitting them out.

    How long before his death had Michael Jackson imploded? But no one cared because he wasn’t a person anymore … he was a commodity.

    Who was it who got out of rehab just in time for all of the party rags to start fighting over who got to throw her 21st birthday party in Las Vegas?

    The parents, agents, producers, and execs … and fans and parents of fans! … are responsible for the destruction of these kids’ lives, all because they can make some bucks in the meantime.

  25. * What steps may or may not have happened before this from Disney or her parents or managers etc we don’t know.

    * Demi Lovato is not Lindsy Lohan…hopefully her family structure is much more..sane.

    * Looking at Walt as some golden age provider of morality ignores that he was a racist and anti-semite.

    * Disney is not the sweat shop that it’s critics like to portray it as.

    All that said, I think some specials on topics like bullying, inappropriate texting, and so on would be a wonderful thing. They do PSA’s on Disney about such topics, about eating healthy, being green, and so on, but a series of specials, perhaps done and made available to schools as was once done, would be great for them to do.

  26. * What steps may or may not have happened before this from Disney or her parents or managers etc we don’t know.

    * Demi Lovato is not Lindsy Lohan…hopefully her family structure is much more..sane.

    * Looking at Walt as some golden age provider of morality ignores that he was a racist and anti-semite.

    * Disney is not the sweat shop that it’s critics like to portray it as.

    All that said, I think some specials on topics like bullying, inappropriate texting, and so on would be a wonderful thing. They do PSA’s on Disney about such topics, about eating healthy, being green, and so on, but a series of specials, perhaps done and made available to schools as was once done, would be great for them to do.

  27. You hit the nail on the head. There is a long list of Disney girls that have imploded: Miley, Lindsey, Britney, etc.
    My daughter is six and unlike most of the girls she goes to school with she is not allowed to watch things like High School Musical, Hannah Montana and the like. She is not a tween or a teen and I strongly dislike that they market these shows to the younger kids AND that the parents let their children watch it. I have no problem limiting what she is allowed to see. After all I am her parent NOT her BFF.

  28. You hit the nail on the head. There is a long list of Disney girls that have imploded: Miley, Lindsey, Britney, etc.
    My daughter is six and unlike most of the girls she goes to school with she is not allowed to watch things like High School Musical, Hannah Montana and the like. She is not a tween or a teen and I strongly dislike that they market these shows to the younger kids AND that the parents let their children watch it. I have no problem limiting what she is allowed to see. After all I am her parent NOT her BFF.

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