Are the Kids Alright? is Yahoo Entertainment's video interview series exploring the impact of show business on the development and well-being of former child entertainers, from triumphs to traumas.
Christy Carlson Romano laughs about it now: that time she dropped a lot of the cash she'd earned, beginning as a teen on Disney shows like Even Stevens and Kim Possible and playing Belle on Broadway in Beauty and the Beast, on a crystal. It wasn't at all funny in the moment, though.
"I think it was like 21 when things started to get really complicated with my finances," Romano, now 37, tells Yahoo Entertainment, "I was making all this money and, rather than invest it in a house or invest it in… you know, passive income and build up my portfolio — like, that was not a concept — I was a little bit spiraling in a way that I was confused about the value of the money that I had. So I didn't really understand when I started seeing a psychic."
While her sessions with the psychic were initially "very chill and very relaxed," they soon began to make her feel like her life depended on her buying certain things. The crystal was one such item.
"It was a big, big mistake. I think it cost like $60,000 or something crazy," she says. "I thought it was a pretty rational decision. And, in doing so, I've realized… it was silly! It takes a long time to learn that when you're in your 20s, that's for sure."
In May 2019, Romano explained more of what led her to that point in an essay for Teen Vogue, which was titled My Private Breakdown. She said that while she had dreamed about going to school after the show ended in 2003, the reality was much tougher than she had envisioned. "A tape inside my head softly began to play, telling me I wasn't good enough in either the normal or entertainment world," she wrote. "My personal value was irrelevant until validated by my most recent accomplishment."
She thought her feelings might change when she started doing theater in college. Instead, Romano found herself attempting to self-harm, scratching at her skin with a fingernail.
"I became a bit harder-edged, binge-drank more at loud nightclubs, and started to accept the transient natures of love, sex, and friendship," she wrote. "Growing up, I entertained thousands of families only to feel completely lonely. People were as replaceable as they had deemed me to be. Imposter syndrome had stiff competition against my self-hatred at that point."
In hindsight, Romano had thought the infamous crystal would somehow heal her after her childhood fame and all that came with it.
As she tells Yahoo Entertainment, "I think that the industry is a workplace for adults. It's not geared towards protecting kids. It's not a kids' workplace."
The struggle in all areas of Romano's life continued for about a decade after the show, until she went back to school, studying and graduating from Barnard College. There, she met her husband, Brendan Rooney. They now have two daughters, 5-year-old Izzy and Sophia, who turns 3 on Feb. 18.
Nearly two decades after the show ended, her résumé also includes narrating audio books and writing books of her own. Her latest, Christy's Kitchen Throwback Cookbook, which comes out this spring, is an adaptation of her YouTube series, in which she prepared food with other former child stars from the '90s and 2000s.
She's had plenty of time to think about what she would have liked to know back then.
"If I could give any advice to young actors today, it would be to set boundaries," Romano says. "These young actors, they want to please everybody, because they're performing and they're getting attention and love. And it feels really good. But when that goes away, who are they? The earlier that any child actor can learn how to set boundaries, the better."
— Produced by Olivia Schneider and edited by Steve Michel