The child entertainment star is fresh-faced, adorable, and endearingly precocious.
He or she stays that way, for as long as the window of time the child star spends in our TV or movie consciousness.
It's when you are forced to add the word "former" to the front of "child star" that things often go sideways.
Lindsay Lohan stares at us now in her mug shot, dressed in the requisite orange jumpsuit of the jailed. The eyes are baleful, the facial expression wry.
She's looked better.
Lohan, the actress who not that long ago was a freckle-faced pumpkin of the silver screen, is about to spend the next 90 days behind bars, as terms of the violation of her probation.
She was placed in handcuffs today in a Beverly Hills courtroom and hauled off to jail.
Lohan was "cooperative" as she was booked into the Century Regional Detention Facility about an hour later, according to Los Angeles County Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitemore.
Funny how the cooperation often comes a tad too late.
The cautionary tales of the ne'er-do-well "former child stars" of the past would make a book as thick as a New York City phone directory.
It's been going on ever since motion pictures themselves, just about: children as featured players who turn into wayward sons and daughters.
There seems to be three stages of being for these TV and movie tiny tarts: 1) cute; 2) former; 3) troubled.
Because their stardom came so young, the "former child star" can be washed up by his or her high school graduation---had they attended school, that is.
But that's just one variety of the troubled star. Those would be people like Todd Bridges, Dana Plato (both from "Diff'rent Strokes"), and Anissa Jones ("Family Affair").
Another type is the one like Lohan, who saw some success past puberty and who was on the verge of making the transition from child to grown-up actor with little drama.
Then she started acting out and one thing led to another.
Lohan is 24 years old and already it's time to wonder if she's through as an actor. Which means it's also time to wonder if she can make it in life as a former actor.
That word again---"former."
Part of the terms of her parole violation is that Lohan must enter a substance-abuse rehabilitation program within 24 hours of leaving jail. She may not end up serving all 90 days of her sentence; the sheriff could release her sooner if there's overcrowding.
The actress was ordered to serve 90 days in jail for missing alcohol counseling sessions in violation of her probation. She was also sentenced to spend 90 days in the drug and alcohol rehabilitation program after her jail term is completed.
Lohan is 24 but is a 14-year veteran of acting, having started at age 10 on a soap opera.
The last few years of her life have been pocked with destructive behavior.
Lohan was arrested twice in 2007 on charges of driving under the influence, and in the second incident she was charged with cocaine possession. The first arrest came after Lohan lost control of her Mercedes-Benz convertible and struck a curb in Beverly Hills.
Just two weeks after checking out of a Malibu drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility, she was arrested again in July 2007 after a woman called Santa Monica police, saying Lohan was trying to run her down with a car.
So today Lohan starts her 90 (maybe) days of incarceration.
Only time will tell if she can be one of the few to buck the trend of the former child star, and blossom into a fine adult.
The odds are against her, which is sad but true.