CHILD STARS: MENTORING HEROS OR NARCISSISTS?
By Judy Rodman
It takes a village of parents, extended family, teachers, directors and counselors to grow a young artist into their full potential. I believe this 'village' should not only develop talent, but also mentor the child's maturation into a hero: a person who will make the world a better place.
Earlier this year, I listened to an NPR program where "Matilda" star Mara Wilson talked about why child stars go crazy. The program aired a couple of months before former Disney star Miley Cyrus's pornographic performance on the VMA's. Like Justin Bieber and the parade of child stars that fell before, Cyrus is now more famous than ever and seems to be unaccountable to anyone or anything but her own desires, but does that mean she's on a satisfied/successful/prosperous journey? That is the question I want to raise here. What template defines a successful life as a human being... that of hero or narcissist? Because the answer will dictate what kind of mentoring the child should be getting.
No matter how gifted they are, children are not little adults... physically, mentally, emotionally. We who are their mentors need to educate ourselves in child development, and our own self-centered motivations need to be assessed. A self-driven child who loves participating in performance arts will indeed need support as they reach for their goals from loving adults who care, but I believe we must be vigilant at the line between supporting what the child can become and what we all know as 'stage-parenting'. Control must also be part of the equation... but always control for the child's well-being, not for primarily parental or instrutor aspirations. I know... ouch.
Issues and village actions:
A child is by nature self-absorbed. It's not evil... it's natural... part of human child development.
Young natural self-centeredness must be tempered by encouraging empathy with others. For instance, we can help mold a child's thought processes at talent contests. While doing their best to claim whatever prize, the child can be encouraged to care about and befriend other contestants, and to even redefine how to truly 'win' a contest. If mentored in this way, the child always 'wins' and can learn how to be an everyday hero to someone else.
As the child becomes the teen, there is a very natural tendency and need to rebel. Two big problems of the child star are that their 'acting out' is in public (and on Twitter, usually!), and that some in the village are making big bucks on the child or teen's careers.
The young person sometimes needs the opposite of 'friendship' from the village... they need to be held accountable by loving adults who are willing to speak truth and apply tough-love - and if that doesn't work, get the child/teen professional counseling. If that distances the kid for a while, or even a few years, do it anyway for long-run success. I love the old scripture "Train up a child in the way they should go and when they are old they will not depart from it".
In this 'American Idol' culture, a talented young person is often lifted up to great heights, and then dropped like a sack of unwanted garbage, with no logical reason, and sometimes with perverse pleasure of watching the fall... and the train-wreck spectacle the young person becomes. I am rather ashamed of how many times I re-watched, mouth agape, the Cyrus video.
Failure can teach a growing soul the most important things -often better than success can. But a young person needs to be taught how to gracefully and safely fail. We can be the safety net... with the message that a person's worth is not in what they 'do' but in who they 'are'. They need to know that when they 'act out', they will be held accountable with correction and discipline, but also that without a doubt they are unconditionally loved by their village. I would suggest that even with some bullying, failure and public derision, young Taylor Swift and her village have turned her into a hero - and rare positive role model - for her demographics. May it continue:)
Children are easy prey. They cannot be expected to have the skills to protect themselves financially, sexually, emotionally. Especially with 'perfectionist' children who want to please, there is terrible opportunity for exploitation of the young in the performance arts.
We must watch over and train our charges. We must talk among ourselves, reporting any abuse we think we see, no matter what it might cost the child's career. A beautiful shot is one thing, but when a child's album cover approaches soft porn, why are we surprised at the kind of 'attention' it elicits?
Truly gifted and self-driven children NEED to be able to express themselves creatively. Overprotecting them can hurt their development and trying to discourage them from following their dreams (in a balanced, wise way) can cause depression to set in.
Listen and observe the child. What do they really need to be able to do to fully develop into the person they were born to be? Nurture their gifts; teach them how to persist and practice for something they've chosen to do or audition for (always watching your own motivations). Help them balance their responsibilities, study and aspirations with play time, daydream-time and laughter. Remember that even if they DO become doctors, lawyers or CEO's, they still need to create in the giftings they have to be fulfilled and happy in life. Music does all kinds of things for the mind and spirit. The arts are not 'extra' .. they are of primary importance to humanity.