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A Childhood Worth Protecting

It’s only post-Industrial Revolution that we’ve taken our children out of the workforce. Child labor laws were discussed in the early 1800’s. In 1836 Massachusetts instituted a law wherein child workers under the age of 15 had to attend school at least three months of the year.

It wasn’t until 1904 that the National Child Labor Committee formed and even with that it was 1938 before laws were passed Nationally.

It’s only in the last century that we’ve guarded childhood legislatively. All through the ages it’s been “women and children”, but when push comes to shove we like to shove our children into the workforce. They have small nimble hands that are good with a sewing machine or assembling Apple computers, and legs that don’t tire easily. Children are also beautiful, they have glossy hair, bright eyes, white teeth, narrow hips and flawless skin.

I live in a factory town. Unlike towns in Asia we don’t assemble Apple computers here, nor do we stitch together tee shirts. My town’s factory churns out entertainment. The prettiest girls from all over the country flock to Los Angeles in hopes of being the next big thing. They are all beautiful, some are more talented than others, some are brighter than others, a few are simply savvier and work harder. Some will drop out of entertainment and go into Public Relations. They will spin tales of luck and overnight success, ignoring the lost years, the nepotism, the surgeries and the heartbreaks.

Parents become managers and costars, siblings become part of the entourage.

Billy Ray Cyrus gave a fabulous interview to GQ. He says:

“Every time something happened in Miley’s career, every time the train went off the track, if you will—Vanity Fair, pole-dancing, whatever scandal it was—her people, or as they say in today’s news, her handlers, every time they’d put me… ‘Somebody’s shooting at Miley! Put the old man up there!’ Well, I took it, because I’m her daddy, and that’s what daddies do. ‘Okay, nail me to the cross, I’ll take it….’ ” As soon as he begins to talk about all this, anguish builds in his voice; the anguish, say, that any father might feel when he can no longer clearly see the right way to guide a daughter or keep her safe, but the kind that is compounded by a cauldron of celebrity and public humiliation and ambition and avarice and hysteria, so that it’s hard for anyone, let alone someone at its center, to maintain any perspective, to be able to distinguish between sensible concern and panic-stricken paranoia, which may be somewhere close to how Billy Ray Cyrus feels right now.

How do parents slide out of their roles as guardians and into the role of co-worker? Also from the interview.

Q: Hannah Montana probably has brought a lot of families together—just not one…

BILLY RAY CYRUS: “Yeah. I know. I know. I know.”

Q: And do you see the show as a big part of what has made things not work in your family?

BRC: “Oh, it’s huge—it destroyed my family. I’ll tell you right now—the damn show destroyed my family. And I sit there and go, ‘Yeah, you know what? Some gave all.’ It is my motto, and guess what? I have to eat that one. I some-gave-all’d it all right. I some-gave-all’d it while everybody else was going to the bank. It’s all sad.”

Q: Do you wish Hannah Montana had never happened?

BRC: “I hate to say it, but yes, I do. Yeah. I’d take it back in a second. For my family to be here and just be everybody okay, safe and sound and happy and normal, would have been fantastic. Heck, yeah. I’d erase it all in a second if I could.”

The list of child stars who suffered addictions, mental illness, public humiliations, arrests and death are long: Lindsay Lohan, Brad Renfro, Dana Plato, Todd Bridges, Demi Lovato, Gary Coleman, Judy Garland, Danny Bonaduce, Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, Scotty Beckett, Robert Blake, Corey Haim, Corey Feldman, Tatum O’Neal, Leif Garrett…. (this list could go on forever)

Lief Garrett from Teen Idol to junky

Leif Garrett in the 70's and after a herion arrest

I can think of one exceptional child star, Ron Howard. That is all.

There are names you will never hear, there are kids being pulled out of class right now to go on auditions for shows they will never land. There are well meaning parents who swear up and down that they’ll be different, and that as soon as it stops being “fun” the kids won’t be auditioning any longer. Those kids suffer too. There’s a lot of rejection in Hollywood’s Factory.

I don’t know what will become of blogger’s kids, but I assume that they too would prefer to not be working. I understand that asking your child to pose for a picture at home, or participate in a video isn’t the same as tromping them all over town (or all over the country), but it does chip away at their very brief childhoods.

It’s fair for kids to want to be kids.

It’s fair to want to make your mistakes in private, particularly when you’re young.

It’s also fair for kids to help out in a household that needs it. After school jobs are a great thing for teenage kids. After. School.

11 thoughts on “A Childhood Worth Protecting”

  1. I’ll admit to being a big Hannah fan, even after the pole dancing and the VF shoot and the bong video- but the kid and the fam have made me sad for some time. I’ve often wondered where her dad is in all this mess, and I can’t decide if him understanding the cost of the carnage makes the trainwreck somewhat redemptive or not.

    You know my personal stance on kids and blogs- my kids are no real names, no pics, and no stories that will ever embarrass them if they someday discover them- and I really see why on days like yesterday, as I tried to coax my camera shy six year old into posing for a Valentine’s photo for her travelling daddy. “Just open up your arms for a big hug and smile!!!” I say, and she throws her arms wide and grimaces. And I sigh and put the camera down and say, “We’ll just call daddy.” Because I want the real kid captured, and I want them to know that their family is a safe place for that to happen- that every funny thing they say won’t be served up for a possible sponsor tie-in.

    But, I have lots of blogger friends tha tread that line with more openness than my fam is comfortable with, and do it gracefully and with kids that seem ok with it- but mine and my hubs are all unsuited by temperament- I’m the only over sharer in this tribe.:)

    Thought provoking as always…

  2. Welllll… pretty sure that Shirley Temple Black managed to overcome her childhood star status. Sarah Chalke seems to be keeping it together fairly well despite being “Second Becky” on the Rosanne show. There are actually *more* examples of child stars being just fine than there are the other sort. Ask yourself why you don’t hear about Emily Osment or Mitchell Musso imploding the same way Miley Cyrus did – despite being on the same show, having the same temptations, and being part of the Disney machine?
    Sorry – but in this case, it’s Billy Ray Cyrus and his wife that are to blame. They stopped being responsible parents years ago. “Those people” don’t get to make decisions about your child unless you let them. Just as Lindsay Lohan’s parents have sacrificed her on the altar of vicarious fame, Billy Ray saw a chance to revive his career through his daughter. Now that she’s a catastrophic mess? It wasn’t his fault… Sorry, I call B.S.
    Tabloids don’t cover the dozens and dozens of child stars that don’t implode for every one that becomes a drug addict, makes horrible choices, and ends up being fantastic train wrecks. That doesn’t get readers. The reason you can only think of Ron Howard is because he has succeeded so publicly. Shirley Temple was arguably the biggest child star *ever* to hit Hollywood – and despite a crazy stage mother? She ended up as a U.S. Ambassador. Those examples will get coverage because they went beyond the average – just as Miley, LiLo, and Brittany get coverage because they fall on the other extreme.

    That said – I disagree with the idea that somehow Billy Ray Cyrus is absolved of his responsibility to actually *parent* his daughter some time in the past 4 years. “Her people” are to blame. He “never made a dime off of Miley.” At what point would a sane parent have said “you know what? No. We’re done. She’s still a minor and this lifestyle and decisions are inappropriate.”

    I’m sorry – I believe 100% in protecting your child’s childhood. I have never blogged about her – I have in the past blogged about *me* trying to come to terms with parenting a digital native as a digital immigrant. But her name, her picture, her life? Those were off limits.
    However, when she came to us last year and said she wanted to audition for a play for the Summer production run? Sure. That was her desire. Rules were she wasn’t allowed to fall behind in school. She had to memorize the monologue, audition, and if she got and accepted a part? Show up for every rehearsal and every performance – as she had committed to it and others were counting on her. For the first time at 7, she was suddenly public. Her name was in the promotional materials and on the cast. Her picture was part of the media for the play and the theater.

    Did she have rules that she had to follow? Yes. That’s part of the parenting deal. She wanted to spend her Summer acting, okay. As long as the role is age appropriate, the play is age appropriate, and it does not negatively impact her childhood? I’m good. But just saying “I didn’t make any money off of her” doesn’t absolve me of *my* parental responsibilities.

    Conversely, the ability to make money at her expense doesn’t absolve me – or anyone else – either. You have children? You are responsible for parenting them.

    I’m with you strongly on the secondary point about bloggers’ kids. But there is a line as well. My kidlet gets frustrated because she sees other peoples’ kids spread all over Facebook and the Internet. She asks me why I don’t do the same. I reply usually with “for the same reason I didn’t allow you to pierce your ears before the age of 10 – because it’s my judgment as a parent. When you have your own kids? You can make your own parenting mistakes.”

    I’m really actually still stuck on the Billy Ray thing. He’s playing the victim heavily in that interview. Maybe it’s time for him to grow up and own his choices. It doesn’t always make you right, but it does help you to see that you are the one making them. Victimhood is all about being helpless. Children are helpless. Adults who perceive themselves as such? Just haven’t grown up yet. :

  3. My son’s birth was front page news, and I often wonder in what ways that will shape him, even though he will never be recognized as he grows up. I write about my son, but I hope that my blog serves to capture memories I might not have otherwise more than is a place of exploitation.

  4. I know many exceptional children. Being a star isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

    There are many who make it big in Hollywood who aren’t all that. Talent-wise or otherwise.

  5. Not b/c I think child labor is a good idea…but think about it…

    Out of all the last 2 centuries of young adults…which ones are the ones not going to outlive their parents…and aren’t going to be able to afford to retire? Umm…Just this one. The one where child labor isn’t even a dim memory in most families past. Maybe there’s something to working hard to survive. I love that I don’t have to send my kids to a factory just so they can afford to eat…but maybe if I put my 7 yr old out in the yard with a rake & a mower she’d be a little less whiny about having to put her clothes INTO the laundry basket instead of on the floor next to it. ;)

  6. I love this. It just isn’t worth it. It’s one thing if kids want to chase dreams once they are old enough to make those decisions-but it’s a completely different thing to force them into it. All the money or fame in the world isn’t worth my family. Period.

  7. Ron Howard, Jodi Foster, Brooke Shields, Natalie Portman, Christina Ricci, Leo DeCaprio, Niel Patrick Harris, Fred Savage, Kirsten Dunst, all 3 stars of Harry Potter, Kurt Russell, Jeff Bridges, Kirk Cameron, Christian Bale, Alicia Witt, Elijah Wood, Diane Lane, Anna Paquin…

    I mean come on…you could only think of ONE?

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