In a perfect world we would be able answer “yes” to this question, meaning that we can absolutely treat child actors with the same respect, kindness, and consideration with which we treat adult actors. However, this is flat out lie. The fact is that celebrities face serious invasions of privacy, increasingly difficult demands from employers, and extreme harassment by media & fans alike.
It becomes an even more concerning truth when applied to young stars, like the children behind the Netflix science-fiction drama hit Stranger Things, which launched them to the peak of internet fame in less than 24 hours. With all of that fame came some truly bizarre responsibilities, like appearing on late night talk shows and taking selfies with strangers, which the kids are of course all too happy to do — until they aren’t. And as soon as they aren’t, they face major scrutiny from those that claim to be their fans. Nowhere in their job description as actors and employees of Netflix does it state that they are required to respond to every fan, to pose for every picture, or to sign every autograph, and yet people are outraged when they don’t.
People certainly express this kind of rage when adult celebrities give them the cold shoulder as well, but the difference here is the fact that the adult celebrities were the ones who made the conscious decision to give up their privacy in the first place. Plenty of celebrities have spoken out about the extreme invasion of privacy in Hollywood, perpetrated by both the media for money and the fans for much more personal reasons, but the general public doesn’t seem to express any sympathy for these concerns. The general consensus regarding treatment of mega stars by fans is “Well, this is what you signed up for. This is the trade off for being adored around the world.” But where is the line between adoration and obsession? And when is that obsession a threat to the celeb’s safety? And should all bets be off when it comes to children?
After refusing to stop for a crowd of people camped outside of his hotel begging him for pictures and autographs, 14 year old Finn Wolfhard (Mike, Stranger Things) spoke out on Twitter, asking people to stop the aggressive behavior:
It’s unsettling (to say the least) that fully grown adults are camping outside of these children’s hotel demanding their attention. It’s disturbing to wait outside someone’s hotel anyway — but these are kids, who likely could not imagine, much less prepare for what fame meant. While an adult looking to become an actor does so in part for the fame (and with the ability to comprehend the consequences of becoming a worldwide phenomenon), children are ushered into it by family, and without the mental capacity to foresee the possible outcomes. Child actors act because it’s a game; Only after a massive success is it a job. This is not the case for adult actors — it’s a job, and a demanding one at that, until you’ve made it big and all the work suddenly becomes worth it. So why are we treating kids the same way that we treat adult who made a conscious decision to devote their lives to this?
And when you grow up in front of the cameras, you grow up rather quickly. W Magazine, a women’s fashion publication, interviewed and photographed 13 year old Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown, and then called her one of the “sexiest” actresses today. The comment was met with massive outrage on social media, stating that the sexualization of these children has gotten out of hand.
Though children of Stranger Things may have agreed to be on the show and were working in show business before, they likely had no idea of the scale of success which the show could actually achieve. I have no doubt that the kids were intelligent enough to understand what being a “TV Star” meant, but we cannot expect them to have been able to truly comprehend the consequences — good or bad — of such a venture. Even adult celebrities that did have the capacity to consider what mega fame would look like and still agreed have stated that it’s exhausting and you never really adjust to it. Imagine choosing that as a child, before you were really able to understand the things you were giving up.
At the end of the day, and despite the fact that they are the stars of one of the most popular television shows today, they are children. They are kids, they want to have fun. They love making the show and they love that people love watching the show, but we can’t expect them to answer to the beck and call of every fan that approaches them, whether online or in real life. Adult celebrities certainly deserve respect as well, and any degree of harassment is unacceptable, but the difference is that the adults are able to think critically about what it means to be famous, understand the consequences, and make a decision about their future and career path using that knowledge. We owe child stars the opportunity to make that same choice.
It is perfectly fine for children to be actors, but perhaps cutting out the media exposure would alleviate some of the problems. Allow them to work as actors, but cut out all of the late night talk show appearances, modeling deals, promotional contracts, and convention signings. Let them see what fame is and then decide if it’s something they really want.