Find me

Follow englishwithjo on Twitter

Subscribe to me on YouTube

ESL Debate – Child Performers

Monday, July 30, 2012 @ 06:07 AM
posted by Jo

Should young children be allowed to work in the performing arts or professional sports?


Child performers (actors, singers, figure-skaters, gymnasts etc.) often form an exception on the ban on child labour existing in most countries. Provided with on-set or on-pitch tutors they can train or perform for many hours each week on top of their schoolwork. For some this results in Olympic medals or multi-million dollar movies before they reach adulthood. Others are less lucky, gaining little success for their hard work and suffering physical or emotional damage that hampers their later life. There are many high profile cases of child actors, like Drew Barrymore who go off the rails with drink and drugs and equally high profile are the dancers, gymnasts and skaters who struggle with eating disorders. However, successful young football players like Wayne Rooney often attribute their prowess to training from an early age. Some say removing payment or limiting hours would provide a means to limit the pressure on child performers while others argue that only an outright ban can truly protect their rights.


Pros Cons


If children are working they are not spending their time in formal education. Regardless of what kind of work they are doing this deprives them of something so important that we make it compulsory for all children. Although the minimum legal requirements can often be provided by tutors on the set or sports academies it can be hard to keep performance and education in proper balance when one appears to bring so many immediate rewards both in terms of fame and money. In the end, education is designed to prepare children for their adult lives and careers. Working in a profession like acting, or training as a football player may be a better preparation for some children’s future than school-based learning. Provided they fulfil legal minimum levels of education why shouldn’t they start their career early? After all, almost every country allows parents to opt to home-school their children even if they have no teaching qualification. Almost all child performers have well-qualified tutors and some child stars go on to achieve high grades in university (e.g. Jodie Foster).


Children are less able to make decisions for themselves and to represent their interests. This leaves them at risk of exploitation in the workplace. While parents can represent their children’s interests to their employers but there is always a danger that parent’s interests do not align with their children’s. Discrepancies in interests can arise when the child’s earning power far outstrips that of the parent or the activity fulfils the ambitions of the parent more than the child’s. Simply banning child performers will not prevent the possibility of exploitation, merely place it out of reach of scrutiny. At the moment, child performers are official employees and as such their pay, hours and conditions are all monitored by government departments (i.e. the Inland Revenue, Education Ministry, Health and Safety, etc.) and as such must conform to specified standards. When children become amateurs, part-timers or are completely banned there is an incentive to push these limits and hide the extent of children’s involvement. This is only likely to reduce the conditions for children involved.


Stage fright and the pressure of performance can be difficult to handle for even the most experienced adults. It is therefore irresponsible to place these pressures on children at anything but the lowest amateur level. Once children come to realise that financial and competitive success depend on each performance the expectation can become too much. While the child may enjoy it to begin with as the pressure mounts they may feel it’s too late to back out.


Children feel pressure to succeed at an early age, be it in exams, on the school football beach or singing a solo in the choir’s Christmas concert. While the stress may be greater for a professional child performer this increase is usually proportional to their talent and aptitude giving them a greater ability to deal with the pressure.
Young bodies are not well protected against the rigors of regular physical training. Children’s bones are softer than adults and therefore more prone to stress fractures and disfiguration. The desire to stay small and light for acrobatic moves can lead to eating disorders. The effect of this malnourishment is particularly severe among teenage girls can result in early onset of the brittle bone condition osteoporosis. Not only are these risks uniquely acute among the young but children are also in a poor position to correctly assess and accept risks. If they feel unable to stand up to their coach or parents when feeling ill or over-worked they are at more likely to compound existing injuries by not reporting them and continuing to train. Just as certain scripts call for the casting of children, particular tricks require long light bodies to perform. While no one would encourage abuses of the body (such as eating disorders) why shouldn’t smaller, lighter and often younger competitors use these qualities to their advantage? Similarly early well-regulated training can help to condition a body for a life time of rigorous use. Training while young can help build strength and muscle development into an athlete’s body that will improve their performance and protect them from injury in later life. Similarly by professionalising and regulating training you give the child access to a whole range of support staff from physios to nutritionists that should prevent the worst abuses.


Allowing children to perform pushes them to grow up too soon. They are exposed to levels of responsibility, sexuality and temptation (e.g. drink, drugs) without the maturity to cope, and it is no wonder that so many child stars go off the rails. At the same time, child performers lose out on a normal social life and may find it very hard to adapt once their brief career is over. Many young sporting, stage and musical starts have "burnt out" by the time they reach twenty and are left with little education or money (which has often gone to agents, parents or been wasted), and few prospects.


Modern attitudes to children are a recent cultural development; for centuries children had to go out to work and were treated as adults from a much younger age than today. We should not impose this cultural bias upon those with exceptional talents and supportive families, providing the law prevents them being exploited. Ultimately we must trust loving parents to know best for their own children. A few scare stories should not be taken as representative of the happy and successful performing careers of many talented young people.

Debate topic © International Debate Education Association (http://idebate.org), used under Creative Commons license.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Diigo

2 Responses to “ESL Debate – Child Performers”

  1. esltesl15 says:

    It is our responsibility to not only educate, but to protect our children. To many talent agents, entertainment lawyers and especially the parents, who see a child with a special talent, they see dollar signs over their heads. As a result, these child TV and child sports stars are then subjected to so many things that a child should not have to endure. When these children grow up into adults, they tend to have a lot of issues; concerning drug problems, alcohol problems, and various mental issues; such as depression, anxiety, and problems with the law. All in all, children should be allowed to just be children. Therefore, the entertainment industry and the sports industry should not cater to young children.

    • Jo says:

      Hi esltesl15, thanks for sharing your opinion. I agree with you. I think too much pressure is placed on children to perform. The entertainment and sports industry allows this to happen and even encourages it. However, some children show a natural aptitude and enjoyment of certain activities and in those cases, if it is the wish of the child, I think it is ok for them to train for a particular goal. But it is a very ‘fine line’. I think some regulations should be introduced to prevent the exploitation of children in these industries.