A tale of two child stars: The tragedy and triumph of Amanda Bynes and Lindsay Lohan

The Nickelodeon and Disney starlets dominated children's television until their inevitable public downfalls

By Nardos Haile

Staff Writer

Published March 23, 2024 1:30PM (EDT)

Amanda Bynes and Lindsay Lohan during Nickelodeon's 17th Annual Kids' Choice Awards - Arrivals at Pauley Pavillion in Westwood, California, United States. (Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic/Getty Images)
Amanda Bynes and Lindsay Lohan during Nickelodeon's 17th Annual Kids' Choice Awards - Arrivals at Pauley Pavillion in Westwood, California, United States. (Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic/Getty Images)

Child stardom can be as fleeting as its young stars' rapid, meteoric rise. 

But the price paid for childhood fame sometimes results in long-lasting emotional damage stemming from unspeakable traumatic experiences. Just look at current Netflix rom-com star Lindsay Lohan, a symbol of resilience from the child actor's plight. Lohan survived the Disney machine – ever since achieving acclaim in the "The Parent Trap" remake – and even transitioned to respectable teen stardom in films like "Freaky Friday" and "Mean Girls."

Unfortunately, she then became party girl tabloid fodder alongside starlets like Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie. A string of arrests and DUIs, in addition to public battles with her parents over control of her finances only continued this impression. In adulthood she lost a series of roles, was panned for numerous performances and eventually entered rehab.

Nevertheless, more than a decade after her very public downward spiral, Lohan has rebounded personally and professionally. She is now married and gave birth to her first child. Her comeback has made way for the actress to become a part of the Netflix rom-com universe. Her second movie "Irish Wish" currently sits at No. 1 in the Top 10 movies in the U.S.

However, not everyone has been awarded a second chance after their career came to a halt at 25. This is what the Discovery Investigation series "Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV" explores as the damning docuseries details deeply unsettling and abusive experiences from the sets of Nickelodeon's most popular shows like "All That," "The Amanda Show," "iCarly" and "Drake & Josh." The docuseries underlines that the entertainment industry has done a poor job of protecting children on set, often leading to arrested development and/or self-destructive behavior while making the transition from adolescence to adulthood.

Amanda Bynes' story sounds somewhat similar to Lohan's at the beginning at least. The "All That" and actress ascended the child star ladder starting with her sketch comedy series "The Amanda Show" produced by Nickelodeon's former head honcho Dan Schneider. At 10, the actress was electric on screen with her comedic timing, charming personality and slapstick skills.  Front and center as Schneider's muse, Bynes was a quickly emerging young talent in Hollywood, and Schneider allegedly used that to his advantage. 

Reports on "Quiet on Set" alleged that Schneider would latch on to young, pretty girls he thought were talented, and Bynes was referred to in the documentary as "his new favorite." Not only did Schneider attach himself to Bynes, but former "All That" actor Leon Frierson recalled that Bynes would be absent from the required schooling on set, reportedly spending time with her boss instead. “There would be times where Amanda would just be missing, and a lot of times we would just hear that she would be with Dan pitching ideas and writing,” he said.

Amanda BynesAmanda Bynes during Nickelodeon's 16th Annual Kids' Choice Awards 2003 - Show at Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, CA, United States. (Chris Polk/FilmMagic/Getty Images)Furthermore, the docuseries showed an uncomfortable scene with Bynes and Schneider in a hot tub for a Nickelodeon promotion. The teenage girl was wearing a bathing suit with her boss fully clothed but still sharing the tub right next to her. The clip highlighted an obvious imbalance between a male figure – disingenuously portrayed as a fellow playmate – in a position of power to  a teenage girl. At the time, however, no one dared to voice any objections lest they face Schneider's wrath. It was only recently called out because former viewers, who are also now adults, have perceived the context differently in a post-Me Too era.

Like Lohan, Bynes also transitioned into teen rom-com stardom with "Agent Cody Banks," "What a Girl Wants" and "She's the Man." However, behind the scenes, the star's home life didn't reflect her larger-than-life characters and her movie's traditional happy endings. For years Bynes struggled with a turmoil-filled relationship with her parents who were also in charge of her career. According to the docuseries, Bynes reportedly ran away from home after a contentious fight with her parents.

Bynes' home environment was so troubling that she attempted to emancipate from her parents.

In a long apology YouTube video apology released March 19, Schneider addressed his close relationship with Bynes. He recalled the day she had allegedly run away, "The phone rang, I answered. It was Amanda and she was upset, she was in distress she had had some conflict with her parents — I think her father — and she called me," he said.

"I was immediately concerned about her safety. I called someone who I knew was fairly nearby. That person was able to go and pick her up, then I knew she was safe . . . she ended up being taken to the police."

Bynes' home environment was so troubling that she attempted to emancipate from her parents when she was around 16 or 17. However, the attempts were not successful and were axed by a judge. Schneider said the young actress turned to him and others for help. "We supported her, she tried to get emancipated. It ended up not working out and she didn’t."

Following years of successful big-screen comedies and the WB series "What I Like About You," Bynes hit a wall in adulthood and her career. Her last recognizable role was the hilariously quotable Christian mean girl, Marianne opposite Emma Stone in the 2010 cult classic teen movie "Easy A." Shortly after the success of "Easy A," Bynes dropped out of the 2011 movie "Hall Pass" and quit acting altogether. 

In her 2018 Paper magazine interview, Bynes revealed that she "abused Adderall" around the time of "Hall Pass" and that it left her feeling “scatterbrained.” Then it led to her inability to focus on her lines and memorize them. When Bynes left the industry altogether, she said she got “really into my drug usage, and it became a really dark and sad world for me.”

The starlet suffered through a string of public woes. Bynes was arrested multiple times for DUIs, reckless endangerment and drug possession. However, the run-ins with the law led the actress to be placed on a psychiatric hold, leading her mother to become her temporary guardian over her finances and estate, known as a conservatorship. After years of mental health treatment and a new life as a college graduate focused on fashion, Bynes requested the end of the nine-year guardianship. In 2022, a judge terminated the conservatorship. As controversial as conservatorships are, Bynes' attorney said it was "a collaborative effort with her parents. There was no fighting between her and her mother or father. Everyone was working together, including Amanda."

Similarly to Bynes, Lohan also suffered the same issues legally fighting with her parents over her finances. Her addiction and dependency issues then led to infractions with the law and eventually, she served 90 days in jail. But despite the tumultuous years spent in a toxic cycle of addiction and self-harm, Lohan not only survived her struggles but thrived. She's in what Netflix has dubbed "The Lindsay Lohan-aissance!” 

Irish WishLindsay Lohan in "Irish Wish" (Netflix)

In comparison, Bynes has taken a more quiet approach to her life after her string of arrests and battles with her family. We may never know what happened to Bynes as she was put through the child star wringer at Nickelodeon, and that's OK. Her experiences are hers to divulge or not. She has spent most of her adolescent life under the perpetual public microscope evaluating and dissecting her worth based on her looks, personality and talent.

If what was alleged in "Quiet on Set" is true, the adults, Nickelodeon and many more authority figures in Bynes' life failed her — just like they failed Drake Bell. While the docuseries helped reframe the plight of Bynes and other child stars, it's crucial to remember that she doesn't owe perpetual outsiders watching her life anything. It's a shame that her onscreen talents won't continue. A resurgence in her acting career like Lohan's might sound like a Cinderella story for us as long-time fans but that may not be true for Bynes. Not everyone's journey is the same. Most importantly, we don't get to tell Bynes who or what to be after so many years of control by others. She gets to decide. 

By Nardos Haile

Nardos Haile is a staff writer at Salon covering culture. She’s previously covered all things entertainment, music, fashion and celebrity culture at The Associated Press. She resides in Brooklyn, NY.

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