As you may or may not know, Aaron Carter was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence and for possession of marijuana on Saturday. This was already a big deal, but it was made even bigger by claims that Aaron was “arrested . . . by several officers with aggression” who allegedly “revoked his rights to have an attorney” and took advantage of his “celebrity.” Plus, the situation came to a personal head when Nick Carter chimed in to the annoyance of his little brother.
“To my brother: I love u no matter what & if u feel the need to reach for help, I am here and willing to help you get better,” Nick Carter tweeted. “Family isn’t always easy, b[ut] we’re all here for you.”
To which Aaron replied: “If my own blood truly cared about my well-being, why wouldn’t he call me directly and have a conversation instead of making this about him through a very public forum? That’s not cool at all to use me for his PR and kick me when I am down. I love my family despite it through thick and thin.”
Which has obviously led to sincere feelings of “yikes” from anyone who grew up listening to Aaron, Nick, or who feels empathy for someone in dire straits. But outside the realm of familial complications that none of us know the extent of, what’s most concerning is Aaron’s post-child star controversies. This isn’t the first time Carter has been in trouble or exhibited questionable behaviour. In 2016, he used Twitter to claim that ex-girlfriend Hilary Duff was the love of his life (which nobody asked for, especially Duff) and as recent as yesterday, Carter lashed out at Aisha Tyler and Sharon Osborne for claiming he’s an “addict.”
In short, dude is clearly dealing with something bigger than what came to light over the weekend. And arguably, he’s indicative of our own unhealthy relationship with child stars: mainly, that we continue to be shocked whenever someone spends their adult years battling. Even though it’s not rare for that to happen.
Aaron Carter is hardly the first example of a former child star who ended up growing into turbulence. We know countless stories of tragedy and of police run-ins and addiction and death and whatever it is we seem to be watching Justin Bieber actively try to avoid since he began acting out in 2013. Unless we’re aware of what they’ve been doing as grown-ups (and even then, sometimes that doesn’t make a difference) we talk about former child stars like they stopped being people upon being adults, particularly as we use their ages as a means of measuring our own mortality. And then, when they struggle, we throw shade. As though being continually defined by a childhood catch phrase or starring role in a nineties movie wouldn’t be the most frustrating type of legacy to deal with.
Which isn’t an excuse for a DUI or for violence or harassment. “Aw, but so-and-so was a child star” is not a justification or an excuse in any capacity. But it is an avenue down which we should have the opportunity to practice empathy to some extent. In Aaron Carter’s case, he is obviously in the midst of something much bigger than career-induced entitlement or a mistake. He boasts an extensive history of behaviour we can categorize as concerning (at the very least). And while he is in no way a reflection of all child stars — again, let’s make this very clear: not even close — he is an example of the way we continue to be surprised when an industry that’s toxic to adults has a negative impact on young people that grew up with it.
So what do we do? We don’t turn self-destruction (or addiction or mental health issues or, or, or) into a side show. We pay attention, yes, but we don’t splash screen caps across Twitter alongside our commentary. (You know, like we did with Amanda Bynes a few years ago.) But most importantly, we recognize that we don’t know these people, and that while we may have known their work once upon a time, we certainly don’t know them as people. So then we shut up. Because unless we’re engaging in helpful conversations about mental health, we’re not helping anyone.