Children shouldn’t have jobs. Most people in the 21st century take this belief as a given. Obviously kids shouldn’t have to have jobs, and if they want them, they shouldn’t be doing the same kind of work that grown ups do.
It would be shocking to see a 10-year-old standing next to an adult on the floor of a factory, or taking calls at reception. Kids should be allowed to be kids, and though the world isn’t perfect and sometimes a 10-year-old has to work to support themselves or their family, we have pretty strict laws about the type of work that a minor is allowed to do.
Most of them boil down to the core idea that kids should be treated like kids; they shouldn’t be working eight-hour shifts in the same places that adults are.
There’s one job, though, that most people are okay with and sometimes even excited to see children doing.
Child performers are incredibly common across many different forms of entertainment, and it’s easy to see why. You can’t make Stranger Things without the Stranger Things kids.
There are laws that govern when, where and for how long a child performer can work for. In Ontario, we have the Protecting Child Performers Act of 2015 which sets out minimum requirements for things like hours of work, tutoring, minimum wage, breaks, travel, overtime and more. The requirements differ based on the age of the performer (generally younger children are permitted to do less), and whether the performer is involved in live or recorded entertainment.
Recent stories that have come out of the entertainment industry show us that these minimum requirements are often insufficient and can be worked around in order to keep a child performer working for as long as they need to be.
Demi Lovato was made famous by the Disney Channel. She was in films, on TV, and had a music career. As a teenager, Lovato graduated high school early so that she could work longer hours. In the years since, she has opened up about feeling “overworked,” and all of the struggles that come along with that.
Fundamentally, performing is an adult’s job. The film industry in particular is ruthless when it comes to overworking its child stars. We’re all familiar with the infamous stories of the later lives of child performers. For every adult Britney Spears who shaves her head, there is a child Britney Spears who has been overworked, mistreated and thrust into the spotlight way before they could truly understand how fame would change their life.
It’s more rule than exception at this point; as soon as a child performer grows up and finds their voice, we learn a new horrific story about the entertainment industry. Yet, no matter how harmful we know it is for a child to be thrust into fame, we keep doing it.
Maybe the entertainment industry does genuinely need child performers to play the roles of children, but what it absolutely does not need is for those children to then become famous in their own right.
Fame in and of itself is something that it is worth safeguarding child performers from. The Sprouse brothers were literal infants when they started acting, and Cole has talked about the trauma of being sexualized by the public from a young age. Fame is a form of trauma that is, to some extent, avoidable when it comes to child performers. Nobody needs to know their names. Paparazzi is inherently invasive and non consensual, but it should be a huge taboo and even outright illegal to print a photo of a minor that they had no way of consenting to.
Being 12 years old was an embarrassing experience for most of us, it’s when we’re growing and learning who we are. It’s an age where we make all kinds of mistakes, and do all kinds of stupid things. I know I’m glad that there’s no record of my adolescence readily accessible to anyone with an internet connection.
Family vloggers are a particularly egregious example of this. Parents are literally capitalizing on their children’s images to make money, and in many cases, support the family. No matter how entertaining the content is, there’s no reason to put a kid through the trauma of fame
It’s even more unregulated than the entertainment industry and that’s a real issue. Regulation would help, but so would a fundamental change in the way that society treats childhood fame. It is exploitative and frankly kind of weird to try and make a child famous, the sooner we all realize that, the fewer kids are going to be traumatized by the spotlight.
Bluey is a kids cartoon. Odds are if you know someone under the age of 10, you’ve heard of it. The child actors who play Bluey and Bingo in that show aren’t featured in the credits, and those involved in the production of the show say that no one will ever know their identities (at least while they’re still kids).
So it is possible for kids to perform without being thrust into fame.
If a performer really loves entertaining, the way so many producers and stage parents claim, they won’t need the lure of fame to make it worthwhile.