How Much Is Your Child's Innocence Worth?
Due to my extensive international modeling industry career and my two published books on how to become a model, I am continually asked by parents, "Marie, can you please tell me how I can get my child/teen into modeling?" And because of my decades of experience I feel compelled to be direct and 100% honest about the realities so that both parent and child feel informed and prepared for the journey. As long as they have a clear understanding of the system they can better enjoy their adventure together. Please take my advice below with the love and good intentions that are authentic and true.
Before you begin, each parent should ask themselves the question - how much is my child's innocence worth. I say this because you need to be very clear that IF the random occasion should arise, that you AND your child are prepared to walk away in order to protect your child's mental health. As long as you keep the child's personal best interest in mind and not the potential financial loss, then you're off to a great start.
Working as a model agent I would often ask that very question of parents in order to be sure that parents have thoroughly and rationally thought through the potential endeavor. It's a logical, pragmatic concept for all involved to process. The entertainment industry is an often boundary-less, insensitive business. The people are there to make money and not to entertain the child/teen model. As a result their 'mature' afflictions and attitudes can often spill out onto the sweet, naive innocents. It may not be their intentions and yet it happens.
A model is a freelance self-employed contractor that has very few advocates working on their behalf within the entertainment industry. At times the working conditions could be described as a Hostile Work Environment. This is due to the lack of rules and regulations within the industry as a whole. As a result there are times that children and teens are treated like inanimate objects and are spoken to and about in very inappropriate ways in my opinion. (The drugs, alcohol, foul language and sexually suggestive conversations are too lengthy to get into within this post - perhaps I will in a follow up)
Parents should NOT rely on the agencies entirely to vet every person that they and their child may encounter. The parents should realize that they are accountable in what environment that they bring their child into. They need to do their own due diligence before castings and bookings. All too often parents just assume that the agency is always in control and informed 100% of the time. This is not always the case. As much involvement that the agencies have, they are unable to chaperone each circumstance. Agencies deal with literally hundreds of people and companies on a daily basis. Professional agents work diligently to do as much as they can, however, the reality is that the parent/s have to be just as involved, if not more than the agents, in order to keep the child safe.
If the 'mothers intuition' flares up around a set of new circumstances, then the parent and child should walk away and alert the agency of those circumstances ASAP. Their agent will offer advice about how to proceed. Don't keep the child in a potentially harmful situation all in the name of 'helping their career'. A child's innocence is priceless and can not be reclaimed. The parent and child need to have the understanding that the parent may just have to take control of a situation if deemed seemingly toxic. The child has to trust that the parent is doing the right thing. These conversations need to be had before the parent and model goes to their first casting or booking. Set the ground rules and boundaries in the beginning so that all involved are clear on the plan, should you ever need to implement it. Hopefully it won't ever come to that - but better to be safe, than sorry.
After decades of working within the modeling industry, I'm still continually amazed at what children and teens can be exposed to with insensitive and rude comments. Comments such as, "You're too fat." "Your face is too fat to be a fashion model." "You're not black enough. We need really black looking people for this ad." "You're not white enough." "You're not pretty enough." "You have no talent." "You're not tall enough." "Now it's time to take your top off." "I'd shoot you but you're too young to date." "Too bad your hair is so curly. I hate curly hair." "Your freckles are ugly? Can a makeup artist cover those awful things up?" "You have a space between your front teeth. Are you going to have that ugly thing fixed?" "I'm accustomed to working with New York models. I guess I'll just have to endure having to work with this Chicago model." That is just a quick sampling of the tamer statements that young models and their parents have shared with me after castings and bookings. The list goes on and on and sometimes with more cruelty. Clients and other Creatives will often speak to models as if they were dolls and not the sensitive, fragile human beings that they actually are. This doesn't happen in every studio with every Creative but enough that I'm feeling compelled to post this today and because too many parents don't realize their responsibilities within this freelance pursuit. Yes, there are TONS of amazingly wonderful, loving people throughout the industry. If there weren't, I would not have stayed so long. This post is to address my concerns and not to frighten anyone away.
Understandably, parents can NOT control what others say to or about their children however, they can greatly reduce their exposure to negativity by participating in the process. There are tons of books, free on line coaching, social media research, checking the BBB, speaking with other parents with more experience (it becomes a supportive community - the veteran parents are generally quick to help advise you along the way), going to industry events, asking questions of the agency before a casting, being very alert within the studio - ensuring that your child is having fun and not being disrespected. The list of opportunities to empower themselves goes on and on.
Rejection is also a major concern for all involved. It can be devastating for young people in any situation. The modeling industry can make it seem even more deeper of a rejection because the child may interpret not getting the booking as 'they did something wrong' or 'weren't good enough'. It is not about the child/teen being 'good enough' - it's about IF the child fills the needs of the client and the client's client. There are a great deal of people within each booking that have opinions due to their objectives. Often a client will go through literally hundreds of models in a casting day to cast just ONE model. The other kids that don't get booked are often left with a profound feeling of rejection and it can begin to destroy their self-confidence. I'm not a psychiatrist with a degree - just an agent that has witnessed this outcome for several decades. It's human nature for kids to get all excited to have the opportunity only to then not get the booking and be brokenhearted. So, it's back to the parents continual participation to explain the realities of how it works and how the endeavor is a gambling pursuit. Sometimes they get booked and sometimes they don't. Keeping their young heads level minded to see it as a game and to not be taken SO seriously is critical.
Work Permits - In the State of Illinois, with our Child Labor Laws you need to have a work permit for any child under sixteen years of age. Check with the Illinois Department of Labor for additional information. Your agency will help you begin the process with a Letter of Intent.
Hourly Rates - Each state has different rates for different types of bookings. To keep the math simple within this post - in Chicago it's common for a child to get a booking for $75.00 for an hour. THEN the agency will take 20% commission from that $75.00 hourly booking, the IRS takes their share and then there's the out of pocket expenses for the parents: gas, parking, etc. That $75.00 can quickly evaporate. There aren't a great deal of kids that are paying for their college from that rate and yet some are. It's a gamble as I stated previously. Sometimes gambling can be a fun adventure for the family and sometimes it can have devastating affects. The more common sense you utilize and the more research the parent does, the more empowered they'll be to put that gamble's odds into their family's favor.
Social Media - I could write a book on this topic. Needless to say the parent must have a lengthy discussion with their agency and their child to deem what IS and IS NOT appropriate for their specific circumstances. Remember that when you put your child 'on line' you have literally opened their lives up for the entire world to view.
The conversation of parents pursuing modeling careers (entertainment) for their children is a multi-layered and very complicated discussion. A quick blog post can't cover the variety of critical subjects. The above are just a few factors for you to consider as you explore the complicated venture. I feel that the industry can offer a great deal of benefits to a model as long as there is a loving, patient parent that takes them through each step with empathy and compassion, placing the child's best interest first. This will help ensure that any negativity isn't taken on so personally that it affects the child's mental health and well being.