Why we're worried about Roseanne star Emma Kenney

There's nothing like a popular television show to shoot a previously unknown actress into the heights of fame. And ABC's Roseanne reboot is no exception. The modern version of the show's first season features 18-year-old Emma Kenney as Darlene and David's teenage daughter Harris. While Kenney wasn't even alive yet when Roseanne originally went off the air (she was born in 1999 and the show stopped production a couple years earlier in 1997), she told Good Morning America that she "binge watched the show" before stepping into the audition for the reboot. "It's been really cool to join an iconic '90s family cast," she said to GMA's anchors. 

However, this isn't the first iconic family Kenney has joined so far in her career. We first met her as Debbie Gallagher in Showtime's Shameless, in which she began starring at only 10 years old. But, despite Kenney's current success, there are a few reasons why we're worried about the young actress.

The child actor curse

It's no secret that child actors often struggle with the consequences of early fame. We've seen pop stars like Justin Bieber and Britney Spears have public mental breakdowns while actors like Corey Feldman and Lindsay Lohan fall victim to drug use. Just searching for 'child star mugshot' offers far too many results. Former child star Mara Wilson described the fall of the child actor in an article for Cracked, blaming parenting issues and the severe pressures of the limelight as just a couple of reasons why child stars seem to have trouble as they grow up.

Now eight years into her career, Emma Kenney's at risk of becoming yet another child actor who's gone off the rails. She has addressed the effects of growing up in Hollywood herself, telling Cliche Magazine in 2017, "growing up in an industry is kind of an experience in itself," going on to call Los Angeles "sketchy." However, she seems to at least be aware of what could go wrong and has come up with her own method of combating it. "You have to work hard to find your inner circle and good people you can hang out with."

Shameless isn't suitable for kids

Fans of Shameless know that despite being based around a young family, the themes in the show definitely aren't fit for kids. Since Shameless airs on Showtime, a premium cable network, there are few limits on things like cursing and nudity. And despite her young age, Emma Kenney has been exposed to all of it since she was only 10.

Fortunately, it seems Kenney's parents as well as the cast and crew did their best to protect the young actress from what was actually going on on set. In a 2016 interview with Amplify, Kenney explained that they'd "have closed sets for inappropriate scenes," and would shield her from nudity by using marks for the actress to look at and then have her pretend that she was seeing something real. "It kind of always went over my head when I was young," Kenney said, also promising Cliche that, contrary to popular belief, the show hasn't forced her to "grow up fast."

She's said #MeToo

In October 2017, a New York Times article detailing rampant sexual harassment in Hollywood at the hands of Harvey Weinstein turned Hollywood upside down. Since then, multiple actresses have come forward to share their stories of sexual harassment. In February 2018, Emma Kenney joined them. "I've been sexually assaulted twice in the past year and a half," she said in an interview with Vice, revealing that she often feels "trapped and alone on set," especially at the thought of having to go into a room alone with a director and nodding when fellow actress Rowan Blanchard discussed how it's become normalized that actresses feel like they need to sexualize themselves in order to get jobs.

While the #MeToo movement has largely focused on adult women, child actors also fall victim to sexual abuse on and off set. The 2015 documentary An Open Secret is just one example the abuse that young actors face in Hollywood. "Sexual exploitation is just part of the package," Wilson wrote for Cracked.

She's lost a lot of weight

Though Emma Kenney has never been overweight, photos on her Instagram page reveal that she's noticeably dropped quite a few pounds. Fans noticed her drastic weight loss in a photo Kenney posted on Instagram in early April 2016. "I've noticed your intense weight loss and just hope that everything is good personal life-wise," one follower wrote. "[You] look like you lost a lot of weight and I thought you looked beautiful before. Please just make sure you're healthy," wrote another.

Unfortunately, celebrities (especially female celebrities) are subjected to comments about their weight day in and day out. It wouldn't be the first time a star succumbed to the unreal body type expectations that plague Hollywood — Demi Lovato is just one example of a female star who's spent years in the spotlight struggling with her weight. We can only hope that Kenney is going about her weight loss in a healthy way and for the right reasons.

She may not have the best circle of friends

A quick scroll through Emma Kenney's Instagram page reveals that, like most young women, she spends a lot of time hanging with friends. One of her best friends is fellow actress Brielle Barbusca, who also happens to be dating Kenney's Shameless co-star Ethan Cutkosky. Since Kenney and Cutkosky spend so much time together while filming Shameless, it's no surprise they've come to run in the same friend group.

However, it appears life is imitating art for Cutkosky, who seemed to pull a line straight from his own Carl Gallagher's script in 2017 when he was arrested for DUI. TMZ reported that police pulled Cutkosky over and caught a whiff of marijuana during the stop. Since Kenney and Cutkosky seem to spend a good amount of time together, it's likely she's around the same kind of behavior that could end up getting her in trouble. Their co-star William H. Macy told TMZ after Cutkosky's arrest that he "worries" about the young actors. "Hollywood is tough on kids," he said.

Is Hollywood getting to her?

As glamorous as fame might seem to those of us on the outside, it's not always easy for those in the depths of it. Most of us forget that acting is a job. And just as our (albeit more mundane) jobs stress us out, actors also struggle with stress and anxiety when it comes to their careers — and Emma Kenney is not immune from that pressure.

In April 2018, Kenney took to Instagram to reveal that she was taking "a break from social media and LA for a minute" on a quest to "re-find…peace [and] happiness." She revealed to In Touch Weekly that she was in need of "a mental sanity break and break from the Hollywood scene" after finding that she was getting caught up in the wrong crowd and dealing with her stress the wrong way. "I just didn't know how to deal with stress, so I would have an occasional wild night," she said. "I would go out to clubs and bars with older friends in Hollywood."

She's already seeking treatment

In April 2018, Emma Kenney told In Touch that she was stepping away from the limelight to seek "treatment for [her] battles." Though she didn't go into specifics about the type of treatment she was going for, she explained that her plan was "to get help and make better choices." 

According to her statement, her decision to receive help stemmed from her connection with "a really fast crowd," claiming that she was involved in things that people under 21 shouldn't be involved in. "It wasn't healthy, and it was making me feel even worse — anxious and depressed," she said, explaining that she recognized the "slippery slope" she was headed down. "Now, in treatment, I will work on finding other ways to cope with boredom, find hobbies and better learn how to deal with stress."

On an episode of The Talk, Kenney's Roseanne co-star Sara Gilbert gave Kenney props for having taken these matters into her own hands. "If I could go back to being 18 and start doing things to better myself at the pace you're doing, I would be a better person today," Gilbert said.