'Modern Family' 's Ariel Winter on Growing Up in Front of Millions: 'I Don't Think It Was Ideal'

"I do think that growing up on TV and growing up in front of millions with social media is a little rough," Ariel Winter tells PEOPLE

Throughout her 11 seasons on Modern Family, Ariel Winter went through all the awkward stages of growing up — and did it in front of millions.

In this week’s issue of PEOPLE, the actress, 22, opens up about the struggles of growing up on a television show, why she’s grateful for the experience, and how her TV family has helped mold her into the woman she is today.

“It’s not very easy, just because people think that just because you’re on TV, they’re entitled to your life,” Winter, who has portrayed Alex Dunphy on the ABC series since she was 11 years old, says of growing up on television. “It’s even worse with social media, because people can just say anything they want. So that was rough because I feel like I got on social media right at the start of it becoming big, and I was really young, and people were just figuring out how to bash people online. It was rough going through all of my awkward stages, all of my different stages, because I really changed a lot over the course of 11 years.”

“It was definitely not favorable to have millions of people feel like they’re entitled to comment on how I look or what I’m doing or anything like that,” she adds. “So I don’t think it’s ideal. I’m obviously grateful that I do what I do and I got to do what I did, but I do think that growing up on TV and growing up in front of millions with social media is a little rough.”

ABC's "Modern Family" - Gallery
Ariel Winter as Alex Dunphy on Modern Family, Season 1. Bob D'Amico/Walt Disney Television/Getty

From family drama to people attacking her physical appearance, Winter has faced plenty of hardships throughout the years, but says she’s better for it.

“I think you learn so much over the course of 11 years, but you learn so much when you are thrust in the life of the public eye and have people’s opinions on you at every moment and people watching to catch every mistake you make or literally anything you do,” she says. “I think it kind of builds a thicker skin.”

“I think as a woman in this industry, and also just in general, it is important to be able to build that sense of confidence and sense of self,” she shares. “Obviously, it’s different for everyone, not everyone has the same experience of getting to that, but I think that, for me, it’s been very helpful to get to a place where I feel confident and comfortable with my own opinions, my idea of myself.”

  • For more from Ariel Winter, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday
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And she credits her onscreen family for helping shape her into the person she is today.

“Being on the show for 11 years, it’s such a blessing as an actor to be able to be employed at all, but especially be employed for that long, and to be employed with such wonderful people and to learn from such incredible actors and incredible people,” she says.

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Bob D'Amico/ABC via Getty

“You learn how to treat others based on what we see. Over the course of 11 years of being in a completely different environment with the majority of adults and public opinion and everything, I think it definitely forces you to grow up and mature a little bit faster, and I think maybe turned me into a woman a little bit earlier than I would have,” says Winter. “But, in this industry, I feel like it’s par for the course, and I feel like it’s also helped quite a bit in who I am.”

Modern Family premiered in 2009 and has won five Emmys for outstanding comedy series. In February 2019, ABC announced that the 11th season of the hit sitcom is the series’ last, with the finale airing on April 8.

Modern Family airs Wednesdays (9 p.m. ET) on ABC.

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