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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.