Protecting Our Children in the Performing Arts

It’s an accepted fact that children are used in the creative industries. Whether they are modelling for commercial advertising or make up part of the West End cast for the latest musical. I of all people encourage children and young people to follow their dreams encouraging them to audition and seek opportunities that excite them. In doing so I have seen many children and young people grow as individuals. But every time I speak to a parent who has a child wanting to audition for something, or an opportunity lands on my desk or inbox that fits the profile of a child in my company, alarm bells ring and questions are asked:

What is expected of the child?
Who will the child be working with?
What is the overall feeling of the performance, TV programme, film or advert?
Who is producing it and what is their reputation?

And the most important one….

How will this child be affected psychologically if they don’t get the part, or, sometimes worse, if they do get the part?

I truly believe that as adults working in the industry we have a responsibility over the children that we work with and for. It is not only the parents responsibility to make sure that their children are not being exposed to circumstances that they can’t cope with. But as the ones producing, directing and working alongside the next generation of artists it is also our responsibility to make sure we are not corrupting and damaging them. In A Mind Apart, we have a strong ethos of coaching and mentoring, and never send children and young people to auditions without being available to coach and mentor them before and after the audition and during them carrying out the work itself. Where necessary we work hard to make sure that the rights of the child are put first and that they only work the legal hours allowed, and child protection and safeguarding are always put first. Where a child is carrying out some work, but seems particularly tired when we see them, we work with the parents and casting directors/producers to make sure that their needs are put first.

Having worked and trained in the industry over ten years in varying capacities I know all too well how easy it is to be abused and used for someone else’s purposes. I myself will not take professional performance work under a particular standard or fee. So why do we think this is ok for our children and young artists? We need to realise that it is our responsibility to make sure we are not exposing them to things too early or taking away their childhood.

Recently, here in the UK, a popular reality TV show X-Factor has lowered their auditioning age limit to 14 from 16 years old. Such advocation is not ok! We have seen so many adults fall and fail emotionally, psychologically and in some cases take their own lives from the pressures of the industry. If an adult can not deal with such stress, why do programmes like this think a child can? Not to mention that in many cases on such shows, individuals have never even performed professionally or have the knowledge within their family or from people around them on how to deal with the industry, when to know they are being exploited and what is and is not acceptable.

It’s all too easy for shows like X-Factor to exploit these children and destroy amazing talent and individuals. As a society we are already robbing the childhood of too many children and  young people, without putting a 14 year old on a stage dressed as a 21 year old. It is too easy to turn these children into sex objects to get the votes and the numbers..And what for? To line the pockets of producers who already have too much money. Imagine an older man turning on their TV to such an image and thinking that the 14 year old is 21…And then we have the audacity to scream about the sexual exploitation in the industry. It isn’t that sexual exploitation should not be shouted about, but we do have a responsibility to not add to the issue or use younger boys or girls as sex objects in the media and performing arts!

Next time you allow your child to take part in a modelling shoot, a performance or audition for X-Factor (which, by the way, I advise all of the A Mind Apart children and parents NOT to do) please consider what they will be representing, how they will be portrayed in the final edits or photos and whether or not your child has the mental capacity to deal with the piece of work. Finally, ask yourself the question: Do I want my child to be seen as a sex object?..Because the likely-hood is that once the cute factor wares off, sex is the next big seller.

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