At this point I will begrudgingly accept that in no way, recording three V/O sessions actually makes me a child star. Nonetheless I have wonderful memories and it was a great experience at a young age.
Recently I met an actual child star - a genuine internet sensation, let’s call her Isabella. Isabella is the face of an international campaign to right some of the wrongs in the world. She has a suite of social channels, an app and considerable merchandising and licensing deals to boot. She is a brilliantly funny, witty, and charismatic speaker. Isabella has been lucky enough to travel the world and rub shoulders with some seriously famous people.
Yet I saw another side of Isabella’s life. I saw pushy parents coaching line-after-line prior to a keynote speech, I saw the panicked look on her face when she misspoke on stage, and I saw her cry whilst being admonished for her ‘performance’ in a quiet corner backstage. Seeing the other side of Isabella’s life stuck with me. I often wonder, is she really happy being on stage promoting a brand?
However it is Isabella’s parents who really interest me. The cynic in me would say that they have monetised their own daughter and created a brand that they directly profit from whilst denying her the chance to be a child. Though one could counter that they have given her experiences and memories that most could only ever dream of.
The benefits of being a child star are immediately obvious, but where is the line between opportunity and exploitation? I’ve worked with children on Television for a number of years and the rules in place in terms of safeguarding are thorough, robust and rigorously enforced. However these rules do not apply to content generated on social platforms. This lack of oversight makes it very difficult to determine a child’s well being.
Recently DaddyOFive hit the news after they lost custody of their children after their ‘prank’ videos were deemed to be child abuse. DaddyOFive is an extreme example but it does highlight issue of childhood being viewed as a monetizable asset.
In the current media landscape we have channels such as Emily Tube, where 3 year old Emily Cozmiuc has a staggering 3.1.million followers and 2.3 billion views. Emily’s parents have quit their jobs to manage the family as a brand full time, with advertising income now in the millions their lives have been transformed.
The line between opportunity and exploitation has never been more blurred. Child stars undeniably bring immense joy to millions of people, their success opens doors to amazing experiences and the lives of families are transformed. However without proper guidance and oversight it will be difficult to monitor those who step over the line. Child stars are still children and need the chance to enjoy their own childhood away from the camera.