Young, talented and in trouble

The experience of being famous and wealthy at a young age can be great but also dangerous.

Cape Town-based child psychologist Lungisa Jacobus says many child stars such as Sipho Ngwenya and Somizi Mhlongo have depended on their talent until adulthood.

Jacobus said life as a child celebrity was not all about playtime as many people think.

"Growing up in the spotlight means maintaining an A-list image. This insane amount of pressure to be perfect often leads to psychological problems for kids who grow up in the spotlight," says Jacobus.

"Many child stars go through several highs and lows during their career. This sometimes has a direct impact on their future."

Young celebrities Mshoza, Msawawa and Mzambiya are a few that have had a bitter taste of their own fame.

They have hit local tabloid headlines for imbibing unholy substances and bunking classes.

Some of the child stars have been cast into the sea of forgetfulness and their careers have been buried.

Do you still remember Ricardo of I Love You Daddy fame?

He vanished into thin air. Stories of drug and alcohol abuse always followed him.

Mandisa Manaka, former Yo! TV presenter, shocked all when she fell pregnant at 16.

We later learnt about Carly Field's out-of-wedlock pregnancy and the sudden end of her TV career.

Thobi Mkhwanazi who started in showbiz when she was only 11, said she had mixed feelings about her childhood spent in the spotlight.

"Though life as a child celebrity was exciting because of all the limelight, it had its depressing moments.

"I had to cope with adult situations that I was not ready for," said Mkhwanazi.

"My childhood was cut short because I had to spend 90 percent of my time with adults."

She said: "At school, teachers and schoolmates were jealous of me.

"They used to make nasty comments if I did not do my homework."

Unlike many child celebs who either shooed out of the spotlight or volunteered to exit it, Mkhwanazi's career continues to soar.

Since she started with Gllooby And The Gang when she was only 11, her star has never dimmed.

She attributes her success to the support that she received from her parents.

"Were it not for my parents I would not have made it this far," said Mkhwanazi.

Jacobus says children who are put under the pressure that goes with show business, seem to do better when they have a solid foundation within their families.

He said celebrity children unlike their peers were not only concerned about doing their homework, but also about making lots of money, using their talents.

Celebrity kids, he said, were also lucky because they are adored by strangers who always stop them on the street asking for autographs.

"An average child can only rely on their own family members to give them such attention," Jacobus said. "That is why celebrity children are different from their peers."

Jacobus said celebrity children need management and more importantly require support and love from their families to survive in the cut-throat show business world.

Linah Ngcobo, who is the mother of Amaponi, the four children who are making waves in showbiz and are known for their good behaviour, agrees with Jacobus.

"The media and public attention, coupled with immense wealth, can have a negative effect on young stars, especially if there isn't a parent to guide them," said Ngcobo.

"I have taught my children to respect. This has had a big impact in their lives."

Successful singer and choreographer Somizi Mhlongo who also tasted fame at a young age says he attributes his success to good behaviour.

He said being a child star is not a walk in the park.

"Though being financially independent at a very young age is liberating, it has its disadvantages.

"The loss of privacy and gossip are devastating. Without family support, child stars crumble and end up nowhere and with nothing. I have seen this a lot in the industry."

Mhlongo said: "These child stars spend a lot of time around powerful, influential adults, whereas other children their age only spend time with teachers and family members.

"Children who spend most of their time with adults, more especially celeb adults, pick up their habits.

"That is why you find celebrities drinking alcohol and having sex at an early stage because they pick up these habits from adults in the industry."