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Hope the best for new era of child stars

“I whip my hair back and forth, I whip my hair back and forth, I whip my…”

This song has power. And by power, I mean the same control that Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face,” The Village People’s “YMCA” and Shaggy’s “It Wasn’t Me” possess: Once you hear it, it’s not getting out of your head.   

“Whip My Hair” is a tune by 10-year-old Willow Smith. As if being the daughter of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith isn’t enough, she has come out with two pop singles, the most recent named “21st Century Girl.”

“Whip My Hair” has been certified platinum (one million downloads) by the Recording Industry Association of America, and the song’s music video has received more than 44 million views on YouTube. Willow’s young career is seeing nothing but success. But as much as her song gets stuck in our heads, how long will Willow herself remain there?

Child stars have a bad track record — I don’t have to reach far for examples. Judy Garland, who played “Dorothy” in “The Wizard of Oz,” passed away of a drug overdose at the age of 47, Danny Bonaduce of “The Partridge Family” represents anything but a stable man and Lindsay Lohan faces felony charges for allegedly stealing a $2,500 necklace.

These futures seem hard to imagine for cute Willow, who wins fans over with her lil’ diva attitude. But at the same time, who would have predicted bad endings for these other child stars?

I’m not hoping Willow’s career ends in a wreck. I hope the opposite. There is undoubtedly a connection between child stars and sad endings, but there are many exceptions.

Although Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen have disappeared from our television screens, they are busy with pursuits in the fashion world. Natalie Portman, who made a debut at age 13 in “The Professional,” just won the Academy Award for Best Actress. Kirk Cameron (“Growing Pains”), Neil Patrick Harris (“Doogie Howser”), Raven-Symone (“The Cosby Show”) and Kristen Stewart (“The Panic Room”) all continue to do well.

Perhaps the extreme cases make child stars seemed doomed, but many turn out fine. Just like all children, the home environment and family are the biggest predictors of good or bad endings. Michael Jackson’s father, Joe Jackson, for example, was known for physically and emotionally abusing his children.

But if parents are willing to sell their child’s talents for income, how stable can they be? I can imagine most parents who do this see nothing but dollar signs. I think this is how Willow’s case is different: Her parents aren’t interested in the fame or money — they already have it.

Willow has the greatest chance of making the transition from child star to adult fame because of her family. Her mom and dad are sure to understand the challenges that come with fame. And Willow has been around that atmosphere her whole life, joining her family on the red carpet and even doing a little bit of acting alongside her father in “I Am Legend.”

The surprise of instant fame won’t be the demise of Willow, she just has to make it through that creepy transition every child star makes to adulthood. What does that mean? Remember how disturbing it was to see that Dustin Diamond, who played “Screech” in “Saved by The Bell” had grown facial hair? A part of us will always remember Diamond as simply “Screech” no matter how hard he tries to shake it.

Despite having parents that could pay for Willow to have a career, she actually has talent and looks to be enjoying what she does. I hope she beats the stereotype of child star disasters, and I’m sure her parents put consideration into the risks of Willow’s career. Let’s just hope she stops making songs like “Whip My Hair.” I don’t think I can survive having another song like this stuck in my head again.

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