Assuring the Well-Being of Your Child Performer

Recently, two industry powerhouses, Sally Gaglini and Alan Simon, had the opportunity to engage in a Twitter discussion on the topic, “Assuring the Well-Being of Your Child Performer.

Alan Simon is the founder and President of Location Education, co-chairperson of the SAG-AFTRA Performer’s Committee (New York Branch), and a member of the Young Performer’s Committee of the Actors’ Equity Association. Sally Gaglini is the author of Young Performers at Work: Child Star Survival Guide and a legal advisor with twenty-five years’ experience working with young performers.

If you have a child in show business (or your family is thinking about getting into the biz), you will learn a lot from the discussion. As Sally says, “Empowering parents with essential information gives children their best hope for protection and success.” If you missed the Twitter discussion, or you’d like to revisit what was shared during the live discussion, we are reprinting the transcript below:

How can parents discern a legitimate opportunity in entertainment vs. a scam?

Sally Gaglini (SG): References, references, references.  Parents must do their homework.  Also, seek out experienced parents for referrals and perspective.

Alan Simon (AS): Be mindful that real agents / managers NEVER ask for money up front. They are paid on commission. Agents, by law, receive 10% of gross earnings. Managers should receive no more than 15%. Agents are regulated by the state in which they work. But managers are NOT regulated. FYI: Agents can submit clients for projects; Managers are not.

SG: A good rule of thumb is, if a deal sounds too good to be true, it generally is. Do not be pressured into signing something NOW. Your child counts on you to make an informed decision for him or her. If you are tempted to sign something, seek out an experienced attorney first and pay her for one consultation. There are also voluntary lawyer organizations and reduced fee panels that can help. Check state regulations also, some states, like Massachusetts may regulate managers.

AS: It’s worth noting that a Polaroid or school picture will suffice as an introductory head shot. Hundreds of dollars NEED NOT be spent. Mall solicitations are all about spending money. Avoid them like the plague!

Young performers sometimes experience a loss of privacy or loneliness. What can parents do to prepare them for this?

SG: Before that occurs, you must assess if your child can handle it. Learn how much work is involved before signing your child up for a career in entertainment.

AS: Remember the word BALANCE: it's what helps families navigate the business.

SG: True. Balance age appropriate social events with friends alongside school and the work. Balance is bliss. Keep a cell phone charged & your child’s friends' SKYPE ready. Stay looped with birthday parties and other rites of passage. You can actually negotiate time off for “PROM” with advanced planning.

AS: Maintain a world away from the job. Remember who your friends are. Children have TWO jobs: one professional (the job), one educational (school). Both need to be balanced.

SG: Ask yourself if it will be worth your child's loneliness & loss of privacy. If not, explore another outlet for fun.

Rejection is inevitable when pursuing a career in entertainment. How can a parent help their children cope with this?

 AS: When the audition is over, go out for ice cream, change the subject.

 SG: There are far more “NO” responses than YESes. If your child cannot handle it, explore another outlet for fun. Determine in advance how much rejection you will allow your child to take before you push the escape button. Then stick to it!

AS: Before even getting involved in this world, honestly evaluate talent & intention. Know your "type." Also, don't want the job more than your child does.

SG: Good point, Alan.  Listen to what your child is saying. Pay attention to their body language. If they’re uncomfortable, let the dream go. 

AS: Encourage your child to follow simultaneous passions, not just show business. Stay active in sports, religious training, clubs, to name a few.

SG: Focus on the FUN FACTOR of the process. Place emphasis on experiencing the JOURNEY. If your child is cast, it’s a bonus.  

AS: Oh, and don't listen to know-it-alls in the audition waiting room.

What are some considerations for a family when working in their home location (NY vs. LA) as opposed to traveling on a national tour?

AS: To start, determine who travels with the child.

SG: Ask, "can our family afford this financially?" Decisions should be made carefully, strategically, & methodically. Also ask, “can we afford the time loss as a family?" If one parent stays behind to work/pay bills, then the other parent & child may be far away.

AS: Exactly. Consider the impact on the PARENTS' dynamic. Consider the needs of other children at home. Don’t forget to also consider schooling, specifically extended absences, when on tour for 6 months to 1 year.

How does a career in show business affect the family dynamic?

AS: Travel will test a strong marriage... as it will a weak one.

SG: Take a thoughtful approach with ALL of your children in mind, not just your working child.

AS: If the child is the major bread winner, consider the implications on the adults in the household.

SG: Right, if the child is out-earning their parent(s), how will that affect that the child when grown and his or her relationship with you? How much money will the family be needing of your child’s earnings? What impact will that have on the family now and in the future?

AS: Don't let the rumor mill run your life. No one knows more than you do.

SG: Build in family time, even if this means that you meet half way. Keep separate records: What you spend on show biz jobs vs. your own resources. Remember that you generally maintain obligation to support your child as long as he or she has not been declared emancipated. 

How does one handle schooling when professional commitments arise?

AS:  Athletics, school plays, traveling teams: these are the norms. Schools know how to handle these types of activities. But the fact is, not every school supports a professional performer.

SG: Learn who in your district makes decisions about curriculum and days absent. Loop your child’s teacher(s) into prospective opportunities well in advance. The goal is to assemble a supportive offense.

AS: In public school - Make friends with the principal and the superintendent, so you can know local absentee policies. In private schools - ensure that your tuition payments allow for extended absences. (Don't assume!)

SG: Advocate for your son or daughter to receive the right studio teacher for him or her.

What safety issues can a parent realistically affect regarding their child’s performance on set or stage?

SG: Secure your child’s domain name.

AS: Parents need to limit online access, from both fans and predators.

SG: Right, and be cautious with your child’s image. Understand the difference between personal information and private information. And fight to protect what is private. If you see something suspicious, speak up!

AS: Get to know the performers' unions and how they protect your child's working conditions. Also, ask if due diligence (background checks) have been done for those in contact with the children.

SG: Ensure coverage of work-related insurances paid by employer/producer, like workers' comp, liability, etc. Keep your eyes and ears on your child “on set” or “on stage” at all times.

Learn more about these topics in Sally’s book Young Performers at Work: Child Star Survival Guide, as well as in previous On Location Education articles. On Twitter, you can follow Sally and Alan here: @SallyGaglini and @OnLocationEd.