Is the pursuit of Childhood stardom worth it?
BY HAILEY HUDSON SEPTEMBER 2019
For many parents and children alike, it’s a fond dream: to see the child’s name in Hollywood under the lights, or at least for the child to appear in a local commercial. But while the professional world of acting and modeling is definitely exciting, it’s not always the best place for children to be.
Just think about the Olsen twins, the two girls who played the adorable Michelle on popular sitcom Full House—their childhood of stardom backfired, with Mary-Kate entering rehab for anorexia in 2004 and both girls now living private, reclusive lives. So although modeling and acting can be a great experience, parents need to make sure to approach it the right way.
Here are the pros and cons of child acting and modeling, plus how to get started if it’s something your family wants to pursue.
THE PROS OF CHILD ACTING AND MODELING
“Professional acting is a demanding field,” says Sylvia Haynie (Academy of Performing Arts, artistic manager at Macon Little Theatre, director of theatre at Stratford Academy), who has been teaching theatre since 1979. “It used to require families relocate, kids stay out of touch with regular school, etc. But the wonderful thing in today’s film and television industry is the accessibility for many more actors to find opportunities to work as an adjunct to their regular school and home life. It’s still a challenge, but more actors can give it a try—find out if they are cut out for this type of work and then pursue it more vigorously if it fits!”
She recommends that families with young actors should know what they’re getting into before they commit to an agent or agency. On that note, here are some of the good things about professional children’s modeling and acting careers.
It teaches poise.
Acting and modeling are great life experiences for children because they spend time with so many different people, many of whom are adults. This will give kids a sense of confidence, helping them feel comfortable around all kinds of people and in all kinds of situations.
It instills a good work ethic. Young actors and models are getting on-the-job experience, realizing the importance of being on time, being prepared, and acting professional. When they begin working as an adult many years later, they will already have the skills they need to succeed.
It provides public speaking experience. Child actors, whether they’re on stage or in front of a camera, regularly practice public speaking. Strong public speaking skills translate into good communication skills in general, which will be important for the rest of your child’s life. And in addition to speaking experience, children learn memorization skills as they practice their lines, which will come in handy for school.
It’s fun and offers a sense of belonging. “Kids who are invested in this type of acting enjoy the chance to be in something bigger than themselves!” says Haynie. If your child is truly passionate about acting or modeling and if you find them a safe and reputable place to pursue those talents, they will truly enjoy what they do every day. And tucking some money away in the bank for college certainly helps as well.
THE CONS OF CHILD ACTING AND MODELING
Although child acting and modeling has many good points, it could also have detrimental effects. Here are some more things to know before going in:
It’s a big time commitment. Child acting and modeling takes a lot of time. As Haynie pointed out, things aren’t as bad as they used to be—there are more opportunities to be found nearby, and thanks to technology, children can keep up with their classmates in school. But a professional career in modeling or acting is still going to require a big time commitment and result in not as much time spent with friends. And as a parent, you’re probably going to have to make that commitment, too, spending time driving your child around and chaperoning them on auditions or jobs.
It can reduce a child’s self-esteem. Oftentimes, child modeling and acting can increase a child’s self-confidence—but sometimes, it can do exactly the opposite (especially for child models). Being too focused on what their body looks like isn’t good for children; it can lower self-esteem and even lead to issues with depression. And in the modeling industry, the focus is too often placed on what someone’s body looks like—whether it’s “skinny enough,” “pretty enough,” or “good enough.”
It causes stress and pressure. Children shouldn’t be stressed; their days ought to be filled with friends, toys, and homework. But both the modeling and acting industries can produce high levels of stress and frustration. Long days on set, miscommunications with new coworkers or directors, and pressure to get the take or the shot just right can wear a child down and cause lots of unnecessary stress. At the end of the day, your decision on whether or not to pursue professional acting and modeling will likely depend on your child’s personality and what they really want to do.
HOW TO GET STARTED
If your child is interested in acting professionally, the first step is to lay a foundation of acting skills.
“Take a theatre class, be in a play, study music, sing in a choir, READ!” Haynie says, listing the things that aspiring actors should do. “Reading for interest, characters, reading aloud to smooth that out—just read! Then go see theatre, go see films, meet with other actors and ask [them] questions.”
She explains that if you’re waffling between helping your child train for the stage or screen, don’t—training for both can be a big plus.
“Although the acting styles of stage and screen have some differences, training in both only adds to the skills level of any age actor. After all, the biggest asset for an actor is versatility! So if a young performer develops skills for stage, they can translate that to work for the screen. I encourage kids to develop all areas of performing by taking a multi-faceted approach.”
Is your child interested in professional modeling? If so, contact a local agency, do some online research to make sure they’re legitimate, and then apply. “Parents should be skeptical of anyone who wants to be paid up front to ‘represent’ their child. True personal agents get percentages of the work and don’t charge a fee up front,” Haynie advises.
What else is involved in child modeling? Your child will need some simple professional headshots that you can submit to agencies, and the agencies may call you in for an interview.
Regardless of whether your child pursues acting, modeling, or both, Haynie lists a few big things parents shouldn’t do: “You don’t have to spend huge amounts of money! You don’t need a professional agent when you are just starting out. Don’t get your feelings hurt by rejection—keep moving forward.”
She also explains that for film and TV, it’s all about the “look;” a director will often be in search of a specific look, and even the best actor in the world might not be the right for the part. “Be patient,” Haynie says. “Your child’s time will come.”
Finally, work on raising a child who is pleasant to be around. Genuine kindness will increase their chances of success: “Kids who are well-mannered, polite, friendly, and really happy to be in the moment are the ones who directors will want to work with and who garner a good reputation which translates to more work down the road.” #