Is Acting the Right Choice for My Child?

Recently, child actors have come to the forefront of the acting community. It’s no longer all supporting roles in romantic comedies or a TV show on Nickelodeon:acting can now be an “official” career for a young person, and it doesn’t have the stigma attached to it that it once did. For example, Beasts of the Southern Wild‘s Quvenzhane Wilson is now the youngest actress to be a nominated for an Academy Award–she’s a serious, well-respected contender. That being said, it’s a serious decision for a kid to go into acting, and it’s not one that’s just up to the little actor themselves. The career of a professional child actor is an entire family pursuit, one where everyone has to make sacrifices and learn to be supportive. This is especially the case when only one child in a family with multiple siblings pursues the craft, because having a professional child actor in a family often changes the entire family’s lifestyle. Since it is such a big undertaking, one may wonder  how to know whether it is a

good decision for your child. He/she is undoubtedly tremendously important to you, and you see a special talent in him/her. It’s important to understand, however, that while your child may love to put on plays for you in the living room,  it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s ready to stand in front of a camera. Here are some tips to help you figure out whether the life of a child actor is the right one for your family:

1. Ask your child how s/he feels:  You know your kid better than anyone else in the world. That being said, it sounds silly to simply say to ask them what they want, but often the children are left out of this discussion. When pursuing acting for your kid, it’s easy to get swept up in the whirlwind –the teacher in your son’s after-school acting class is telling you how talented he is and pressuring you into more lessons, or your daughter’s dance teacher telling you she has “a great stage presence” and should contact their uncle’s best friend who knows an agent. Suddenly, you have validation: y

our son/daughter is special, even more than you thought, and they should be shared with the world! In this situation, a lot of parents can get carried away, and children can get pressured into something they’re not ready for. It’s best to present them with the options, and make sure they understand what it means if they want to pursue acting. This discussion should be done as minimal glamorizing of the profession as possible; pointing your finger at Selena Gomez on Wizards of Waverly Place and asking them if they want to be “famous like her” really isn’t the best way to approach it. They should be aware of the work it’ll take, the lifestyle change, and also should know that if they end up not liking it, you’re not going to love them any less.

2. Know that everyone’s lives will change: Often parents don’t realize until they’ve said “yes” to the acting classes or agreed to meet with an agent the magnitude of what they’re getting into. Pursuit of a child’s acting career takes up a remarkable amount of time, and can create a lot of stress for the family. As such, the family needs to be prepared: be ready to spend an inordinate amount of time with your child actor reviewing material for them to ensure it’s appropriate and that they will be up to the task, to prepare audition material with them (being a personal cheerleader and a scene partner), and hustle them to and from auditions. Money will be spent: acting coaches and headshots are costly, and you will undoubtedly be burning through gas trekking them to all these appointments. If acting becomes a serious pursuit, you may have to consider homeschooling your child in order to ensure they have time to audition, and then later, if they book a job, transition to an on-set teacher. Not surprisingly, both Los Angeles and New York have specialized schools and programs for the performing arts. These schools have curriculums which are specifically tailored for aspiring actors, and are thus very flexible in terms of their academic schedule. If you’re not in New York or Los Angeles, the decision for one of your kids to become a professional actor may involve a complete relocation of your family. It’s important to keep everyone’s feelings and endeavors in mind when you’re considering this as an option, as it involves sacrifice and can easily lead to resentment between siblings. You should tread carefully, and always keep communication open to ensure everyone is on the same page. It should be a positive thing for everyone, and should not be a chore, especially not for your little actor.

3. Know that there will be career hardships: It’s very very easy to get invested in this dream as if it’s your own, and just as easy to get dejected as they are when things aren’t going the way they want it to. Kids grow up quickly and generally play on their age until they become a teenager; often, auditions will come easily during the first few years they’re pursuing the craft (5-10 years of age), and then it may slow down. As we all know from watching plenty of films and televisions, tweens are very often not played by tweens and teenagers are almost always played by 18+. There will undoubtedly be a few years where the auditions trickle to a crawl and it might get frustrating. But don’t lose heart–if your son/daughter is serious about acting, they will push through. Remember, though, that they will need your support to do so: the best you can do is be that rock for them when it becomes ugly, because it will at some point, even if it’s just for a bit.

Finally, the most important thing to being a great parent to a child actor is to always keep their best interests in mind. They look to you for support and confidence, and they want you to believe in them no matter what they’re doing. Remember it’s a commitment on both sides, and that they trust and love you for supporting their dreams.  Being your child’s biggest cheerleader even when they’re being rejected and continuously told this isn’t the path for them, but also giving them the freedom to walk away when it isn’t the right fit anymore, is the best and only thing you can do.

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tara McGrath started her career in entertainment mainly because she couldn't see a life where she wasn't surrounded and inspired by actors in some way or another. After graduating from SUNY Purchase's Conservatory of Theatre Arts and Film with a degree in Screenwriting, she worked for a year at Roundabout Theatre Company in New York. Interning under their casting department with casting directors Carrie Gardner and Jim Carnahan, she assisted in casting such productions as Spring Awakening, American Idiot and Fox's hit show, Glee. From there she moved 3,000 miles to Los Angeles and for the last year has been working for a well-known boutique talent agency in West Hollywood. She has also worked as a reader and marketing assistant for the Blue Cat Screenwriting Competition and has worked on independent features as both producer's assistant and P.A.

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