Child Stars

Entertainment or exploitation?

Through the recent publication of her memoir, “I’m Glad My Mom Died,” Jennette McCurdy, accounts her struggles as a child actor. She spoke out about the strict calorie restrictions imposed on her by her mother as well as the anxiety and shame experienced because of her mother’s need for her to become a child star. While being a child star may be a dream for some—Fame? Money? What’s not to like? However, in reality, the harsh, extremely competitive environment and mental fortitude needed for popularity is absolutely not meant for minors. Stardom may seem appealing, especially with the current rise of social media sites such as TikTok, Instagram and YouTube; however, the amount of revenue generated is extremely little compared to child acting, which is objectively worse for both physical and mental health.

Even though social media generally allows more freedom in terms of both scheduling and content, content creation at a young age should be kept as a side hobby, not a main source of revenue. The toll of content creation as a main job is extremely unstable and generally unviable unless the channel is already established and still growing or maintaining high levels of engagement.

Children should focus not on online popularity or an acting career, but on truly being a child. Whether it be studying for exams, learning basic life skills or simply playing with friends, the relative normality of growing up should be a standard among the population. There is a reason why so many child stars leave acting, get into legal trouble or even die. The mental stress of acting leaves a toll on their less developed brains and permanently changes their lifestyles, which can lead to erratic behavior. As they get used to the attention they grew up with, that fame eventually begins to fade, and actors often break down, as they no longer receive the same attention as they once had. Even though there are explicit child protection laws for young actors, the entertainment industry is not meant for children. According to the Library of Congress, ones such as the Jackie Coogan Law ensures financial earnings, mandating at least 15%  of earnings must be put in a trust fund. However, because they grew up with attention, they never realize how they could fade out of relevancy, and tend to realize their poor choices later on. John Taylor Thomas, an actor who played on “Home Improvement,” told People Magazine in 2013 that he disappeared from the industry, coming back after attending college as acting did not let him focus on his academics. Child actors tend to be on the spectrum of being essentially forced into acting from financial aid to their parents pushing on their careers. Even basic things like education on-set are questionable for many actors and are often confusing and some tutors may not even receive background checks. Adelina Anthony, a child actress even spoke out against her studio, saying that her “certified teacher” never even had proper teaching credentials.

Not only this, but the mental pressure put on by both parents and producers are far too harsh for any child. It has already been established that many child star parents could abuse their child’s position for monetary gain. For example, Macaulay Culkin even sued his parents so he could remove them as legal guardians and have control over his own money. Even large-budget movies like “Slumdog Millionaire” barely pay their workers. Actor Rubiana Ali was allegedly only paid little over $550, and Azharuddin Ismai, was reportedly paid $1,900 for a year’s worth of work. Even though the children were given education and basic living costs were covered, the actors themselves were woefully underpaid for the work they did. Even though the child stars are meant to keep their entire share of the money, this has been proven untrue in many situations and even if they do, many children are underpaid.

Even though many rules have been put into place to specifically protect children and give them more legal rights in terms of acting, the less-developed brains of young child stars being forced into long hours and exploitation whether by parents or producers has absolutely no place in the entertainment industry. The exposure to drugs and alcohol, as well as the fact that the children have their entire livelihoods on the line, and the pressures of acting are simply not meant for minors.