'Everyone has a responsibility towards protecting child star,' says a psychiatrist.
Right now, Ahmed has to be the most popular 12-year-old in Nigeria. The latest addition to Wizkid’s Starboy Entertainment is a young rapper who is yet to undergo puberty, but he has a record deal from one of Africa’s greatest musicians.
Child stars have always been a touchy issue in Nigeria, with questions asked about exploitation and how they can manage the fame and their education. Google all the stories about child actors and singers, and you will discover that people generally think it is negative for a young child to be thrust into the world of showbiz.
But what are the professionals saying about this? How does it medically and psychologically affect a child when they are thrown into the world of entertainment?
The good people of DJbooth reached out to a child psychiatrist for a breakdown on what happens. Her name is Dr Judith Fiona, M.D., MBA and she has a lot of things to say.
Types of Child Fame
Dr. Joseph began started by explaining the different classes of child fame: children born into fame versus children who attain a certain level of fame. There’s a marked difference, she details, between the coping mechanisms developed by a child like North West, the daughter of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian West, and a child star who has been thrust into the spotlight. Namely, North West will begin to develop effective coping skills and manage stress early on in her life, while a child like Ahmed, who just signed a contract with Starboy this year, Joseph explains, “may not have the coping skills, or have developed the tools to deal with this major life adjustment and may run into problems as a result.”
One huge reason for this problems is the role of social media, she says. It positions users to be in a constant state of rejection. When you are able to see what your peers are up to every time, it creates feelings of loneliness and isolation. “One might feel like they weren’t invited [to a party] because of some personal deficit,” Joseph explains.
While adults feel this strongly, children react in a special way because it activates the pain centers of their brain. This feeling is emphasised on child stars. This is because with the spotlight from social media, there’s an increased fear of failure and humiliation, and the shame that comes with it.
Speaking further Joseph explains that social media has also changed the impact of child fame, extending it from the child to the fan. “The concept of social media stardom may lead more young people to believe that fame is more easily achievable than it actually is,” Joseph explains. This leads to complications, with people fantasizing extensively about things that they shouldn’t.
Still speaking with DJBooth, she explains the repercussion of this: “I’ve treated several cases of patients where [the fantasy] actually hurt them because they spent hours each day working on posting things and missed out on the real world. It can also be quite stressful to remain relevant on social media because posts can take hours of preparation and in order to maintain a following, you have to post frequently. I’ve actually treated cases of kids having breakdowns requiring hospitalizations for mental stabilization because they felt compelled to post and could not keep up with their fanbase demands.”
She also puts into consideration that while some kids can make decisions for themselves, many others can’t. “Some children fully understand the risks versus the benefits versus the alternatives to decisions and can make informed decisions," Joseph says, "However, there are other kids of the same age that are not capable of this.”
According to her parents, adults and industry professionals have a role to play here. They have the responsibility to see beyond the child star, understanding their strenghts and weaknesses, while also bringing on the right set of experts “to determine which choices their children are capable of making independently” and what types of stress they are capable of overcoming.
Parents can also be their number 1 fans, cheering them as they pursue their dreams, and ensuring “that the child or teen is intrinsically motivated to pursue their talents and not necessarily just extrinsically motivated by money, making friends, or feeling pressured to meet other people’s expectations.”
They should also give them an atmosphere of love and care outside of stardom, and treat them as humans first, before the stars that they are or seeking to become. What this means is that while a child like Ahmed can go to video shoots and press conferences, when he returns home, he should not be treated differently, but rather be given the same treatment required to nurture him in crucial growth and development as a person.
And as for the fans, Joseph believes that they should obey the golden rule: “Treat other people the way that you want to be treated. Just because a person is famous doesn’t make them any less of a person.”