Just the other day I heard something that perplexed me: “18-year old hospitalized for exhaustion and malnourishment.” My initial reaction was to think that it was just a teenager who had had too much fun in the sun, maybe got dehydrated swimming in the pool all day, maybe some sunstroke or a bad sunburn. Nope, eighteen years old, exhaustion and malnutrition from performances, travel, and appearances. Is this any life for a kid?
I get it, “18” is not a kid, it is an adult, she is free to do what she wants. But with Father’s Day weekend just having passed, my question is “what was her father doing?” How do you let your baby girl become malnourished and exhausted? And it got me to thinking about all of these kids who are being pushed and pushed by their parents or, on the flip side, the parents who do nothing while their children run rampant.
We as parents have many responsibilities. We need to feed and clothe our children, put a roof over their heads, and give them the tools to be productive and self-sufficient adults. Along the way, though, we also need to teach them that it is ok to be children, it is ok to play, it is ok to have fun. Because once they grow up and leave school and start families of their own, the times to be young and crazy will be few and far between and the stress of everyday life will be palpable.
Which is why these parents who push their kids to perform, to succeed, to compete at such young ages really concern me. Look, I know what it was like. I loved playing baseball and, if I could, I would have played it every day twice. I didn’t want to go to school, I didn’t want to go to Hebrew School, I wanted to play baseball. But this was because it was fun. It wasn’t because I thought I could make a career out of it or because this was the only path my life could take. I never placed all of my eggs in the one basket of “Major Leagues or Bust.” And my parents always said that when baseball was no longer fun, it was time to stop playing. They didn’t push me.
I heard a story that Jason Heyward of the Atlanta Braves played on like 4 different baseball teams at one time, one year playing like a couple of hundred baseball games, all while he was 15 years old. Seriously? When did he have time for school? And, more importantly, when did he have time to be a kid???
So when I hear about an 18-year old suffering from exhaustion and having to be hospitalized, it really pains me. And of course, this 18-year old happens to be a superstar, not that you could put it past me, I had no clue who she was, other than that she is dating Justin Bieber (which is a whole ‘nother Oprah.)
But it isn’t surprising. I have been dealing with these types of parents for years because we have represented them. The parents who are living vicariously through their kids, the parents who identify in their kids a talent that they never had and they feel the need to exploit it… for some it is a path to financial security which they so badly crave. But do the kids crave it as well?
Let me tell you this story: mother lived in poverty and ran her daughter from audition to audition because the kid LOVED to act. And finally the kid got a job, and then another, and then another, and became something of a star. So what did the mother do? Well, when the kid disowned the mother and accused her of exploiting her for the mother’s own gain, the mother ran off and had another kid so she could do it all over again! I kid you not… (see what I did there?)
This is real life. You have parents who take their kids to the driving range at 3-years old so that they can be the next Tiger Woods or they privately tutor them instead of putting them in school so that they can go to auditions.
So play it out, what happens when the kid grows up? Well, they do exactly what you would expect them to do. They rebel, they act out, they “play.” They get tattoos (Miley Cyrus), they drink and do drugs (Adam Rich and Todd Bridges and Britney Spears and Dana Plato) or they turn to crime (Lindsay Lohan and countless others). They get to be kids, except the consequences of their play are more debilitating and harrowing– Jail sentences and overdoses and, when the flame of fame burns out, suicides.
At that point, it is too late. These kids are already damaged. My question when I see this, when I see Britney Spears shaving her head or Miley Cyrus on a stripper pole, is “Where are the parents?” Well, by then, the parents have already lost control. The monster they have created (or allowed be created, let’s be fair) has already run away, a la Frankenstein.
There are so many aspects of this “epidemic” that could be addressed. We could write volumes alone just talking about the stress of being on this course of performing. We all know it but we hate to tell our kids-the odds are against their success on the field or on the screen. Few people actually make it, which means that along the way, there will be a hell of a lot of rejection and failure. For what? Our kids already have self-esteem problems because of the perfection they see on the screen. We want to add to it by putting them in situations that will lead to failure!?!
Look, I am not arguing against child actors or playing lots of sports or even competing. These are all important. But the kids need to know that all of these are activities. They are supposed to be fun. And if it isn’t fun anymore, it is time to stop.
You don’t want to be 18-years old and hospitalized for exhaustion unless it is because you ran around Disneyland all day and forgot to grab a Mickey-shaped pretzel…
Have a great week my friends.