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Warning: This post mentions sexual assault and harassment.
Many actors and singers who began working at a young age have expressed their regrets. While some US states have legal protections in place for child performers, most of those sadly don't apply to child reality stars.
Here are 13 child reality stars who opened up about the dark side of growing up on camera:
1.On a 2023 episode of High Low with EmRata, Dance Moms star Maddie Ziegler said, "When I was working on the show, I was seen as the lead dancer or the most well-treated dancer. Looking back — and a lot of people have started to say this — it's like, 'Well, she actually had the most pressure on her,' because [Abby Lee Miller] was like, 'You're my golden girl, so you have to lead everyone to victory every time,' which is just not sustainable."
She continued, "When I was doing the show, in the first season, I was 7, [and] there were male producers saying, 'This is what you have to say.' My mom wasn't in the room, so I was like, OK, I just have to do whatever I'm being told. They would say, 'Say you're the best, say you're better than everyone else, say blah blah blah.' And so I was perceived as a little brat in the first season... I remember we watched the first episode at a viewing party for the launch of the show, and I just cried because I was like, Oh my gosh. Everyone thinks I'm this bitch and I'm not. I'm 7! It was so weird. It helped me a lot to be able to be like, I can say no. I can stand up for myself. But being so young, you don't realize all those things."
She also said that her mom recently apologized for putting her through the show.
2.In 2022, Maddie's fellow Dance Moms alum JoJo Siwa revealed that she has a bald spot caused by a "stress rash" she got while on the show. On TikTok, she said, "When I was little, I had a really bad stress rash right here on Dance Moms, and I would pick at it all day long. I damaged every single hair follicle that has ever been right there."
In early 2023, she reacted to a viral resurfaced clip where Abby asked the other girls to list "reasons [JoJo] should not be part of the Abby Lee Dance Company," had them read their lists aloud, then yelled at JoJo for crying.
On TikTok, JoJo duetted the video, adding the caption, "When people try to hate and hurt me but this was my childhood..."
3.The pressure that came with appearing on Dance Moms made Lennon Torres feel she had to "hit pause" on her journey with her gender and sexuality. She told People, "In that environment, I didn't really feel like I was able to grow...and then when I decided to leave the show and go to high school, I realized, 'Okay, I have some growing to do.'"
She also said she felt pressured about gender norms.
She said, "I think the biggest thing I felt was people expected me to contrast my female-born counterparts. As a male-born contestant, I was always intended to be more masculine, stronger at whatever, better at these certain styles...all of these stereotypes that exist in the entertainment industry and dance as a whole... It also didn't help that a lot of the choreographers I worked with there were also perpetuating that stereotype... Although I'm sure a lot of them have grown, at the time it was definitely very detrimental and a lot of pressure for me as a young person to feel, especially on national television."
4.In 2022, Collin Gosselin, who appeared on Jon & Kate Plus 8, told Entertainment Tonight, "I want to believe it was because of TV and what being in the public eye does to a family. I think it tore us apart."
He also said that he no longer had a relationship with his mom, and he hadn't spoken to six of his seven siblings in five to six years.
5.On a 2016 episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Kylie Jenner's older sister Kourtney Kardashian Barker asked her, "What do you feel like you missed out on, like in your childhood?" Kylie replied, "I missed out on being normal...being able to feel like I can, like, get out of the car and nobody's staring at me, do you know what I mean? That's what I missed out on."
Her other sister Kendall added, "Yeah, yeah, totally."
On the episode, Kylie, Kendall, and Khloé were putting on disguises so they could go on a Hollywood Tours ride undetected.
Kylie said, "I realize that it is kinda crazy that we have to go through all of this just to go out and be normal, but it's worth it I think, I hope."
6.On The Kardashians Season 3 finale, Kendall Jenner recalled how paparazzi used to follow and harass her and Kylie as teenagers. She said, "They would say the meanest things: 'Are you a whore just like your sister?' We would be 16 years old. Kylie didn't even have a license. 'Hey little sluts, are you guys going to have a sex tape like your sister?' Like, literally going off on us."
She continued, "I think we grew into really decent people through all the weird, shitty things that we've seen or experienced through our lives, but we just, I don't know."
Wondering what happened to the paparazzi who harassed them, she said, "Shame on that fucking loser. Where are you now, bro?"
7.Alana Thompson — who became known as "Honey Boo Boo" on Toddlers & Tiaras, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, and Mama June: From Not to Hot — struggled with people in public and at school calling her "Honey Boo Boo." In 2021, she told Teen Vogue, "My mama did not name me Honey Boo Boo. My name is Alana... They are completely two different people. I would say that I do like this Alana now, rather than the younger Alana."
She also said, "To be honest, I do not have many friends. At all. Because I feel like folks are so much like, 'Oh, my God, I'm friends with Honey Boo Boo.' I don't trust nobody really, so I don't have friends.”
8.In her memoir Counting the Cost, Jill Duggar Dillard alleged that, until she took her parents to court, she wasn't paid for appearing on 19 Kids and Counting or Counting On. She also alleged that her father exercised control over her in regards to their show into her adulthood.
She told the LA Times, "I think there was a lot of unknowns on [the network and producers'] side. As kids in the lifestyle that we were reared in, we were the perfect victims. We weren't going to push back a whole lot. We weren't going to speak up and say no. So when the contract was set before me, they were probably like, 'Oh, any normal adult would have read what they were signing.' I don't know if they were turning a blind eye to signs and symptoms they saw popping up. At the end of the day, they have a show to make. But I think that there should be more accountability in place."
She also said, "Having grown up on reality TV, I feel like kids should have more protections in place... I can't say that kids should never be involved in reality TV because I think parents should have a say. But I think networks should have more accountability in place to make sure that kids are being protected, and that they're getting the education they need, that [the TV show] is not taking priority and that their rights are not being violated. There were very vulnerable moments, like I point out in the book, where I wish I didn’t have to be on reality TV, but I had to."
9.In early 2023, Jill's younger sister, Jinger Duggar Vuolo, told Us Weekly, "I look at those years, and I'm really grateful for the opportunities that I was able to have. Like, we traveled the world, things that we wouldn't have been able to do as, like, a large family. At the same time, I can say I saw also those challenges. Like I just mentioned, walking through the hardest seasons of my life in the public eye and needing to give an answer. That was tough."
She chose to keep her own children out of the public eye, but she allowed them to watch her family's shows.
She said, "I think because it was such a huge part of my life. I spent most of my life on TV. So even in this [book promotion] process, I've had a couple crews come in the house, and my 2-year-old will be playing in her playroom, and she'll see cameras and be scared... I thought how interesting. That was my childhood. Like, that was all I knew. I play[ed] with the boom mics and all of that, but she's just so not used to it. So it's kind of interesting to see."
10.Anjay Ajodha, who appeared on Kid Nation, told the AV Club, "We weren't abused, We weren't hurt in any way. But it was definitely a lot more exploitative than I remember it being back then. The thing is, we weren't fully formed people. We were kids... Things were edited to play up certain [events] that I didn't realize were happening when we were being filmed. So you learn about how your words can get cut, misused, reused, and changed to make a story that you didn't think was possible."
He also said that stereotypes played into his casting. He said, "I'm sure there was an element of 'Oh my God, we found a brown nerd. We can put him on TV and typecast him so hard.' I mean, I had a bowl cut and transition lenses. I didn't really have a chance at not being typecast."
11.Olivia Cloer, who was also on Kid Nation, told the AV Club, "Ironically enough, I was bullied a lot before I went on the show, so the fact that the show portrays me as a bully was shocking for me as a kid. The thing about reality TV is that they only show the footage of you that's consistent with what they want the audience to believe about you. They wanted to make me a villain, so they showed all of my worst moments and very few of my good ones. There are still thousands of people who have never met me, but they claim to hate me."
She continued, "People have posted death threats and rape threats directed toward me. I was a child."
12.Jay Perry, who competed on the musical competition show S Club Search, told the Guardian, "At first, it was a lot of fun...[But after winning and joining S Club Juniors], it started to dawn on me that this was actually work, and then it became less fun. There would be times when I would think I would rather be doing anything right now, but working…we couldn't go anywhere without being 'on.'"
During filming, he realized he was gay, which added an extra layer of stress. He said, "You're learning so much about who you are as a person [at that age], and it's hard to do that when you're spending half your life on TV. Going through struggles with my sexuality without knowing how to express that, while being in the public eye, was so difficult."
13.And finally, in 2021, Brielle Biermann, who appeared on The Real Housewives of Atlanta alongside her mom, Kim Zolciak, told the Guardian, "[The first time I was recognized in public was July 2008. I was sitting outside a restaurant with my mom and sister. This couple next to us said, 'We saw you on TV last night!' We thought it was so weird. At that age , you don't understand what is going on. You just think that people are following you around."
She also said, "I was bullied in my freshman year of high school on social media. I actually got beaten up. People weren't nice. It took them about two weeks to figure out who my mother was. [On social media] they were saying, 'You think you're hot shit, your family is so fake.'"
She also said that it impacted her grades, adding, "There was no point trying to succeed when I didn't know if I'd be able to go into school the next day. I spent most of my time in the counselor's office."
If you are concerned that a child is experiencing or may be in danger of abuse, you can call or text the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-422-4453 (4.A.CHILD); service can be provided in over 140 languages.
If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault, you can call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673), which routes the caller to their nearest sexual assault service provider. You can also search for your local center here.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline is 1-888-950-6264 (NAMI) and provides information and referral services; GoodTherapy.org is an association of mental health professionals from more than 25 countries who support efforts to reduce harm in therapy.