There are kids who are just natural performers. You know the ones – they take the opportunity to entertain whenever they can.
For some, that desire to perform is strong enough to get them on the path to a film and TV or singing career. But it's a fraught calling; talent and desire are not all it takes. The entertainment industry is notoriously brutal and fickle – a tough road for even the most resilient of adults, let alone a child, and one strewn with young stars who lit up our screens only to flame out in sad tales of drugs and burnout and mental illness.
If you think your child might have the makings of a successful career as a performer, then chances are you already know it's not something for the faint-hearted. Here are some of the questions you need to consider before letting your child embark on such a career.
Is your child resilient and prepared for rejection? And, for that matter, are you?
Rejection goes hand in hand with the entertainment industry – there is no getting away from it. So resilience is a necessity from the word go – not something you hope your child will develop along the way. "Resilience is fundamental," says psychologist Dr Kimberley O'Brien of the Quirky Kid Clinic. "If your child is facing regular rejection, they need to be able to come back from it time and time again."
"Rejection can seem really arbitrary and you just can't take it personally," explains Sarah*, mother to 11-year-old Riley* who has racked up an impressive array of commercial, TV and film roles over ten years and is auditioning regularly.
Having seen the industry operate up close, Sarah cautions against looking at film and TV work as a good chance for a child to build self-esteem.
"If you're looking for performance opportunities to help your child's confidence, then start with the local drama group or a school musical," she suggests. "If your kid is not confident in themselves to begin with, film and TV work won't help."
She also warns against letting your child's sense of self-worth be based on their work. "Riley is a pretty self-assured kid to start with, but we've always been careful to make sure his acting work isn't his only source of validation," she explains. "School, cricket, family, friends – they are all important sources of esteem-building for him."
Is your child really ready to work?
"It's not play," says Sarah. "It's hard, serious work and TV and film sets are professional working environments."
This is something many aspiring young actors and their parents don't seem to fully appreciate. The burden of this kind of work is considerable – most kids don't have to deal with the demands of being an employee until much later in their lives – and the stress can take a toll.
Dr O'Brien illustrates the point with the example of a young client who was auditioning frequently for roles and travelling to the US for training opportunities with the big studios. All signs suggested she was destined for fame. But the pressure on her was such that she started to develop tics. Triggered by stress and anxiety, the tics would start to happen in auditions and the more she worried about them the worse they inevitably became. The travel, the disruption to school, the knowledge of the expenses associated with it all, the rejections – it was too much.
"Parents need to be mindful of the potential for this kind of thing – sleeplessness, stress, the breakdown of friendships. It can be really tough on a kid."
Is your child prepared to audition for auditioning's sake?
"Fortunately, Riley gets excited by any opportunity to perform and so he really enjoys auditioning," says Sarah. "The buzz of getting to do what he loves is enough for him. Sure, winning the role is fantastic but he doesn't need it to enjoy the process."
This love of performance for performance sake is crucial. "Getting the job should be a great bonus," explains Ian White, Director of Melbourne's Ian White and Centrestage Agencies. "The audition should be the main game. Your child has to like and be good at auditioning because they are going to do a lot of it and most of the time they won't get the job."
Can your child sit quietly for long periods of time?
"Things can happen very, very slowly on sets," explains Sarah. "There is a lot of sitting around and waiting and your child has to be able to deal with this without getting frustrated. It can be a big ask of a little kid."
If your child can entertain themselves – quietly – for hours at a time, this will stand them in good stead and can also be used as a chance to catch up on school work.
Is your child's school prepared to be flexible?
"The reality is that auditions will often take place during school hours," explains White. So it's important teachers know what your child will need in terms of time off and be supportive of it.
"Many schools simply won't allow students to take the time off," says Dr Johnson. "And if that's the case, then parents need to consider enrolling their child in a more flexible school or a specialist school where the child's performance work is nurtured, and work opportunities are accommodated."
Are you prepared to be flexible?
"Calls for auditions can often happen at the eleventh hour, especially for TV commercials which are likely to make up the bulk of a child's auditions," says White. "You have to be able to move fast and be flexible – someone has to get the child to the audition, stay there with them, and then deliver them home or to school."
Similarly, if a kid wins a role on a TV show or film, they will need a parent or carer on set with them. If both parents are working long hours, then this is something that could present real challenges.
It's not an easy life for a child and for parents also it can be demanding and at times upsetting. But if your child has the drive, the talent, the support network, and the maturity to handle the unique demands of the film and TV business, then they might very well thrive. "We want to take on kids who are comfortable in their own skin," says White.
"They don't have to be precocious. But they do need to be likeable and grounded so people will want to work with them."
For kids who like to entertain and perform, but for whom these requirements might be too exacting, perhaps school plays and homemade movies will be enough, and the big and small screens can remain a great source of entertainment rather than a livelihood.
*Names have been changed