top of page

Quiet on Set: Uncovering the Unsettling Cycle of Abuse

By Sabina Bellisario-Giglio

News Editor

Via Investigation Discovery

Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV is a docu-series directed by Mary Robertson and Emma Schwartz detailing the hostile, and often abusive environment on the set of Dan Schneider’s popular television series’ on Nickelodeon from 1990’s to 2000’s. I sat down with Marie-Pierre Gosselin, the profile coordinator for the Psychology program at Dawson, to talk about the way abuse has effects on the development of a child as well as how abuse at a young age could trigger a cycle of abuse to form.

The docu-series focuses on the pattern of profiles for these abusers, producers, vocal coaches, trusted people on set, something that Gosselin agrees is not uncommon when dealing with child abuse. “You're always likely to be abused by the people who are closest to you… somebody that has some kind of power over you,” she commented, noting the lack of regulation or safeguarding rules regarding the presence of adults on set. Former child actor Alison Sweeney also commented on the documentary in an interview with Fox News, explaining that “parents are really intimidated by production schedules and directors.”

Gosselin reiterated how, unfortunately, this intimidation that keeps parents compliant and children unprotected leads to harsh problems cognitively. “We see lower IQ… attention problems… all the structures that are involved in memory,” she explains, highlighting the way executive functioning and self-control are severely affected. However, she points out that every abuser, as well as every victim, are different. While Amanda Bynes’ story is told by those who were surrounded by her at the time, Drake Bell relays the emotions and aftereffects of his abuse directly in the series, stating, “I think [Brian Peck’s abuse] led to a lot of self-destruction and a lot of self-loathing. I would try and just escape with alcohol abuse, substance abuse, really just anything to escape.”

The depiction, or rather trope, of former child actors with substance abuse issues has been around since the Golden Age of Hollywood. Actors from different cinematic spheres, from Macaulay Culkin to Amanda Bynes have dealt with drug addictions. Paul Petersen told the Toronto Star, “Fame is a hard drug and when you are removed from the things that make you famous, you begin to seek alternatives. You’re looking for that high and drugs are a cheap and ill-considered means to gain that high.”

Child actors are often susceptible to these harmful coping mechanisms due to their unstable family environments. Shauna Springer, a licensed psychologist, told Complex that parents of child actors who rely on their child’s income for financial stability can cause these issues to arise. She explains, “exploitation by a legal guardian — financially or emotionally — can lead to mental health or substance abuse challenges in a child star. The worst kind of abuse would be for a guardian to then take these challenges as evidence that the child needs to be managed by the very person who betrayed their trust in the first place.”

The issues that arise when looking into abuse, especially in children, is the idea of comorbidity. Gosselin noted the globalization of research pertaining to abuse makes it difficult to pinpoint symptoms, whether they manifested at the time of the abuse or afterwards, are due to their experience or other factors. Therefore, the abuse that these child actors face could either mimic, or enhance, symptoms that they may have already been experiencing prior.

Despite the individuality of these situations, childhood trauma, especially abuse, could have an impact on relationships formed into adulthood. Psych Central reported different ways this could manifest, whether it be “attachment styles, trust issues, communication styles,” or mostly notably, “trauma reenactment.”

Gosselin provided an interesting perspective into the cycle of abuse when discussing the situation of Drake Bell. In 2021, he pleaded guilty to child endangerment after a fan allegedly claimed he groomed her from ages 12 to 15. Regardless of pleading guilty, he still denies these claims, however it provides an interesting point of view into how these abusive tendencies sometimes manifest into those who were previously victims. In a study with The National Library of Medicine, it was concluded, while understanding that every situation is different, “having been a victim [of childhood maltreatment] was a strong predictor of becoming a perpetrator, as was an index of parental loss in childhood.” These distressing traumas, as seen in the docuseries, are life-altering and could unfortunately manifest in self-destructive behaviours for the victim and sometimes those around them as well.

While Robertson and Schwartz highlight as many voices as they can, detailing stories from inappropriate jokes, sexism, racism, and abuse, the docu-series still begs the question of whose story this is to tell. Amanda Bynes reportedly denied appearing on the documentary, yet a focal point of the series are her peers talking about her experience on set. It’s imperative to speak out in order to break the cycle of abuse, but is it our place to go out of our way to speak on behalf of someone else’s story?

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page