TV Roles That Shouldn't Have Been Played By Child Actors

It's pretty common in Hollywood for an actor to play someone much younger than their actual age. Teen Vogue noted that this is especially true for teenage characters, who are often played by people in their 20s. This can often be a bit unrealistic when the actors are clearly older than the characters that they're meant to portray, but it can also be a good thing when the storylines are, perhaps, too intense for a kid.

This isn't always the case, though, and teens are frequently cast in roles that require them to act out plots that are far too mature for their years. Even on shows where the child actors have kid-appropriate storylines, they may be exposed to extreme violence or profanity on set. In other cases, growing up on a television show may prove to be difficult for a young star. Here are some of those TV roles that, for one reason or another, probably shouldn't have been played by kids.

Sasha Pieterse was only 12 when she landed the role of Alison DiLaurentis on Pretty Little Liars

While Sasha Pieterse convincingly portrayed high school-aged Alison DiLaurentis on Pretty Little Liars, in reality she was only 12 years old when she filmed the pilot. Pretty Little Liars is aimed at teens, yet some of the storylines are pretty extreme and include kidnapping, blackmail, and statutory rape — not the sort of thing you'd probably want a 12-year-old watching, let alone acting out on screen.

Pieterse was originally considered for the part of Hanna Marin, but when showrunner Marlene King learned just how young the actress was she changed her mind. "I knew what Hanna was going to do and I was like, 'Do we really want a 12-year-old doing those things?'" she told Variety. Alison's role wasn't quite subdued, but she, at least, had a smaller role in the earlier seasons, giving Pieterse some time to mature a little before tackling tougher storylines.

Pieterse was much younger than her castmates, but she explained to Untitled that this was no big deal. "I didn't have to try hard to fit in," she said.

The kids on Degrassi: The Next Generation dealt with some incredibly adult material

Degrassi: The Next Generation is notable because it emphasizes age-appropriate casting, with most of its actors — including a young Drake — being within a year or two of the ages of their characters. While this is a good thing in terms of realism and relatability, the sheer number of serious storylines brings up the question of whether or not it might have been kinder to have older actors playing the roles. As show creator Linda Schuyler explained to Entertainment Weekly, the show's goal was to be "emotionally authentic" while still being "a dramatic television show," which means its young actors go through a lot.

While the storylines that play out on Degrassi: The Next Generation are all things that do happen to teens in real life, it does seem like the kids who attend school at Degrassi have exceptionally bad luck. With plot points including date rape, abortion, drug addiction, eating disorders, and even a school shooting, it's no wonder that The New York Times noted that the show's "explosive-issue-per-capita ratio is seriously out of whack."

Emma Kenney's Shameless character, Debbie Gallagher, had to grow up too fast

Emma Kenney was just nine years old when she landed the role of Debbie Gallagher on the American adaptation of the hit U.K. show Shameless, a series that is known for its profanity and its decidedly adult storylines. Debbie's storylines weren't too mature in her first years on the show, and, as she explained to Amplify, she wasn't exposed to some of the more adult elements of Shameless, as the show had "closed sets for inappropriate scenes."

By Season 4, though, Kenney's character was growing up, and her story arc included the 13-year-old Debbie (played by a 14-year-old Kenney) dating a man seven years older than her. "Debbie's not mature — her personality's mature, but she's not making mature decisions," Kenney told Vulture about her character. By Season 6, the teenage Debbie is pregnant and thrust into adulthood. 

Like too many child stars, Kenney struggled with her early fame and grew up too fast. "I was running with a really fast crowd," she told In Touch. Kenney eventually sought help, saying she was on "a slippery slope" and "needed to stop it."

Taylor Momsen wasn't even a teenager when she started playing Jenny Humphrey on Gossip Girl

While most of the main cast members of Gossip Girl were of legal age and older than the high school students they portrayed, Taylor Momsen was younger than her character of Jenny Humphrey. Jenny is a 14-year-old high school freshman when the show starts out, but Momsen was only 12 when she landed the role. Momsen had to deal with some pretty intense storylines, including being sexually assaulted by Chuck Bass in the pilot episode.

It's no wonder that, by the time she was 14, Momsen was ready for a change and started her band, The Pretty Reckless. Momsen has since quit acting, and, while she doesn't regret her time on Gossip Girl, she told The Daily Beast that she "wasn't really making [her] own decisions" as a child star.

Gossip Girl would end up being Momsen's last acting credit, and we can't blame her. "The thing that made me the happiest is when I finally quit and I could focus on my true passion, and the thing I really always wanted to do with my life," she told Metro.

Claire Danes as Angela Chase made out with a 21-year-old on My So-Called Life at age 14

My So-Called Life is remembered as a classic of teen television, even though it aired decades ago and lasted for just one season, wrapping in 1995. While its protagonist, Angela Chase, was played by an actual teenager, not everyone on the show was a high schooler. Claire Danes was only 14 when she appeared on the show, while Angela's love interest, Jordan Catalano, was played by 21-year-old Jared Leto.

That's a big age gap for someone so young, especially someone who has never kissed anyone before. Danes revealed on The Howard Stern Show (via W) that Leto "had to try to teach" her how to make out, adding, "It's ridiculous!"

While Danes said that Leto was always kind and respectful to her on set, there's still something very creepy about a grown man kissing a child, even if it's just for the cameras. Danes hinted that she felt the same way. "He seemed ancient," she said. It probably would have been better for an older actress to play Angela — or for a younger actor to have played Jordan.

Game of Thrones' Arya Stark was a violent character for a 12-year-old actress to play

Even if you've never seen a single episode of Game of Thrones, you're probably aware of the reputation that the show has for sex and violence. It's not the kind of show that you'd want young children to watch, let alone grow up on its set. Maisie Williams was only 12 years old when she landed the role of Arya Stark on the show and spent her formative years playing the role.

Playing the part took a toll on Williams, but not in the way you might think. She said that she was fine with all of the violence and the fact that her character is a trained killer. "It's not scary when you're there shooting it," she told The Australian (via FanSided). She did, however, admit that "the sex was just quite ­embarrassing and awkward."

Williams may not have been scarred by the adult material on Game of Thrones, but she did struggle with child stardom. "I was living the life of an actor ... but not actually ever feeling like I had lived a day in my life," she told The Guardian.

Leelee Sobieski's character Joan of Arc got burned at the stake

Leelee Sobieski was a shining star in Hollywood in the late 1990s and early 2000s. With roles in films like Never Been Kissed, Deep Impact, and The Glass House, it came as a big surprise when she retired from acting and became an artist. Her withdrawal from acting makes a lot more sense, though, when you take a look at some of her roles, such as that of the titular character in the 1999 miniseries Joan of Arc.

Sobieski's character is burned at the stake for the role in a scene that would give anyone nightmares, let alone a 16-year-old girl. The role was so intense that she had trouble returning to her normal life afterward, and she told the Chicago Tribune that it was difficult to connect with her friends. "It's sort of like, not that I'm at another level, but that I've experienced a little bit more," she explained.

Sobieski would later go on to question the ethics of child stardom. "I don't know why it's legal for a child to act unless they can sell oranges or whatever legally too," she told AnOther.

RJ Mitte was only 15 when he started playing Walter White's son on Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad was an instant hit when it premiered in 2008. The show centers on Walter White, a high school chemistry teacher who begins to cook meth after learning he has cancer. Most of the people in Walter's life are adults as are the actors who portrayed them, with the notable exceptions of Walter's son, Walter White Jr., and Walter's infant daughter, Holly White.

While the young actresses who played Holly were too young to remember their time on the show, Walter Jr. was played by actor RJ Mitte, who was 15 years old when the show hit the airwaves. Considering just how gory the world of Breaking Bad gets — there's more than one murder on the show — it was not really the best environment for a teenage boy. 

Like his character, Mitte has cerebral palsy, although his case is more mild than Walter Jr.'s. His Breaking Bad role made him revisit some of his past traumas, such as the difficult time he had at school. Like Walter Jr., Mitte told the Daily Mail that he "was a prime target for bullies."

Evan and Ryder Londo shared the role of the "troubled" Abel on Sons of Anarchy

Described on Rotten Tomatoes as a "drama about a Northern California motorcycle club whose members try to protect their hometown from rival gangs while running guns themselves," Sons of Anarchy is far from kid-friendly.

Evan and Ryder Londo, who shared the role of Abel on the series, also had some grisly storylines, like the one in which the 5-year-old finds out his mother had been murdered — by his grandmother no less — and turns to self-harm to cope with his emotions. It's no wonder that People described the character as "troubled," but the twins' dad, Tom Londo, swore to the outlet that the boys were well-adjusted. "It's never really affected them whatsoever," he said. 

Be that as it may, the Londo twins seem to have quit acting shortly after Sons of Anarchy wrapped in 2014, so the role may have taken more of a toll than their dad realized. The twins shared the role of Gene Draper on Mad Men from 2014 to 2015, but that was Ryder's last role. Evan only has one additional acting credit, a small part in 2016's Rules Don't Apply.

Hayden Byerly wasn't sure if he was too young to play Jude on The Fosters

The Fosters brought a lot of important subjects to the screen, particularly LGBTQIA+ issues, but could get pretty intense in its exploration of topics like domestic abuse and sexual assault.

Hayden Byerly played Jude, who explores his sexuality on the show and receives a lot of pushback for doing so. Byerly admitted to KSiteTV that he was apprehensive to take on the role because of his age. "My mom was a little scared about me being so young ... and I was a little scared about me not necessarily knowing everything about myself at such a young age," he said.

Byerly made television history when Jude and his friend, Connor, share a kiss in the show's second season. The characters were 13, making it the youngest same-sex kiss in TV history. Byerly, who was born in 2000, was just 14 when the episode aired. The scene drew a lot of controversy, noted TheWrap, but co-creator Peter Paige told the outlet he felt it was important to stay true to the character. Still, that's a lot to put on a 14-year-old's shoulders.

Jackson Brundage's character, Jamie, went through the wringer on One Tree Hill

One Tree Hill was one of the biggest shows of the 2000s, and somehow we all ignored the fact that many of its storylines were implausible. Jamie Scott, played by Jackson Brundage, was introduced after the show's Season 5 time jump which aged the main cast from high school students to 20-somethings. Things get even wilder from there, and Brundage, who was just 6 years old when Season 5 of One Tree Hill aired in 2008, was swept up in all of it. Among the bizarre — and terrifying — storylines Brundage had to act out were being kidnapped and hunted down by murderers. 

Brundage was also pretty isolated, as he was the only kid on set for most of his run on the show. Brundage's older castmates did their best to make him feel included, though. "We hang out when we're not working, but we also have tons of fun during work," he told Smashing Interviews in 2010. That's still a rough lifestyle for a little kid, though, especially considering that the Los Angeles-based Brundage had to reside across the country in North Carolina while filming.

Freya Allan's The Witcher character, Ciri, had a "brutal" storyline

At 17, Freya Allan was nearly a legal adult when she was cast on The Witcher as the princess Ciri. However, considering what Ciri experiences, it might have been better if someone a couple years older played the role. The Witcher takes place in a medieval fantasy world, after all, so you can imagine how dangerous it is for a young girl. To top it off, The Witcher has quite a bit of violence and sex — which doesn't make for the sort of set where you'd want to see a kid. Showrunner Lauren Hissrich told Entertainment Weekly that her own children can't watch The Witcher, saying, "It's a very adult show."

A particularly intense storyline sees Ciri's home, Cintra, invaded in a traumatic event for the princess. Filming the scene wasn't easy, but, as Allan told ComicBook, she "had wanted a challenge."

Mila Kunis had some pretty racy storylines as Jackie on That '70s Show

The producers of That 70s Show were only planning on casting people who were 18 or older, but 14-year-old Mila Kunis lied about her age to get the audition and did such a good job that, even when her true age was revealed, she ended up being cast as Jackie. "I told them I was gonna be 18, which is not technically a lie, cause at one point... I was gonna be 18," she told Jay Leno (via Cheat Sheet).

This bit of TV trivia is a little disconcerting when you realize some of the storylines Kunis had to act out. From all the weed smoking on the show to the sexual situations with her on-screen boyfriend, Kelso (played by Ashton Kutcher), it's easy to see why the role was meant to go to an adult. Kunis ended up having her first-ever kiss on the show with Kutcher, who is six years older. "I was so nervous and uncomfortable," she told People.

Kutcher, for his part, found the kiss "nerve-racking," saying, "I mean, here's this little girl and I have to kiss her." Fortunately, this real-life married couple eventually found love when they were much older.