Does your child want to be famous?
How many kids fantasize about starring in a Disney Channel show, appearing in the pages of fashion magazines or singing onstage in front of thousands of screaming fans?
Think about it Mom and Dad. Your immensely talented kid could be adored and idolized for her artistic gifts. He could be raking in big money that can help support the rest of the family. All of you can rub elbows with the rich and famous.
Don’t you want your kid to be famous?
Thousands of those kids are pursuing those dreams right now. Well, let’s rephrase that. Mom and Dad are pursuing those dreams right now by uploading their kids’ videos on YouTube, shelling out thousands of dollars for the right headshots, moving to California so their child can be closer to the action, and spending hours in acting, singing and dance lessons.
All in hopes that their child will be the next Miley Cyrus or Justin Bieber.
Lord have mercy! Why on Earth would you want that for your kid?
BBC radio recently ran a segment on “Would you want your child to be famous” * and invited a children’s talent agent, mother of an aspiring teen rocker and an American culture and parenting blogger to discuss the issue. (Spoiler alert: I was the blogger.) Despite the recent headlines, many parents still pursue this for their children and swear/hope/pray their child will never let fame go to their head or act out in infamous ways. The other radio guests talked about “supporting their dreams” and being the voice of reason for them. I applaud these parents for wanting to help their kids attain these goals, but I could never do it. My children, who are entering their teens, are too immature to grasp the ramifications of some dreams, and as their mother, I sometimes have to protect them from themselves. I also have serious doubts any parent can be a “voice of reason” when their talented child is surrounded by entourages made up of agents, photographers, directors, producers and others in the entertainment industry.
As history has shown us, the child entertainers who make the successful transition to well-balanced adult are few and far between. For every Justin Timberlake and Natalie Portman, there are dozens of others who fall victim to drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, brushes with the law, outrageous behavior or diva-mentality – and it often starts while they are still in their teens. Even under the so-called “watchful eyes” of their parents and handlers, Drew Barrymore was snorting cocaine at 13, Demi Lovato developed an eating disorder at 8-years-old, and Joe Jonas smoked pot with Lovato and Miley Cyrus at 17.
Well-intended parents are encouraging their children to join a brutal business without understanding how it really works. I’m a veteran stage actor and video talent, and I can attest all is not bright in the spotlight. Auditions are grueling and time-consuming, and very few of them actually lead to anything; however, you keep trying in hopes that you’ll be the perfect fit for another project. If you’re not the perfect fit, you have to endure a producer or director ripping you to shreds over personal traits such as your voice, body, skin, height or weight. People in the business understand actors, models, singers and dancers are commodities that are bought, sold and packaged to meet a particular need, and those needs constantly change.
Performers tend to be highly creative and sensitive people, and it takes a lot of emotional strength to maintain the thick skin that is needed to survive the constant rejection and critiques. Most adults don’t have that kind of inner strength and stability, and yet stage parents expect an emotionally developing child or teen to have it. Without those traits, both child and adult performers can easily develop problems with insecurity, depression or narcissism.
For the rare performer that does “make it,” fame can be a fickle beast. Adored one moment and forgotten the next. It can be tough on adults, but even worse on a young person who isn’t mature enough to understand or deal with the changes. How will he react when no one is there to cater to their every need and offer endless praise, when the entourage leaves because the money runs out, or when good feelings can only be found in drugs or alcohol? How will his parents react?
For those parents who are encouraging their children’s fame dreams, I have no doubt your child is immensely talented, but I beg you to consider the real costs of fame – pressure, criticism, strained families and growing up way too fast.
They’re children for only a little while. Hollywood can wait.
This article was originally published in February 2014. As of the summer of 2017, both Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber have taken tremendous steps to put their old ways behind them. I wish them great success.
What do YOU think?
Would you let your child pursue an entertainment career? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.
*You can download the BBC’s “World Have Your Say Segment” at http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/whys. Look for the Thursday, Jan. 30 WHYS link. The fame discussion is in the middle of the program. You can also get their podcasts off iTunes.