Topic: Sports & Entertainment

The Ethics of Child Stardom, Part 1: Rewarding Irresponsible Conduct

The continuing exploitation of child actors, which over-burdens them with adult expectations and responsibilities while still children and simultaneously freezes them in emotional immaturity as they approach adulthood, is predominantly the fault of their parents. But our celebrity obsessed culture now provides a deadly assist.

Some parents manage to allow their offspring’s talents to blossom without using them as meal tickets and turning them into attention-crazed social misfits, but far too few. Why does having an adorable child who can sing, dance, or cry on cue turn parents into child-labor scofflaws and obsessed task masters who see only dollar signs when they look at their kids? Because an ethically-stunted society sends a clear and toxic message: the duty of the parent of a talented child performer is to make that child a star, no matter what it takes. Raising the child to be emotionally secure, able to form stable relationships, well-educated, sensitive to the feelings of others—well, heck, anyone’s kid can achieve those things: what’s the accomplishment in that? But raising a child who can earn a couple million a year, fill a concert hall or star in “High School Musical 8”—now that’s parenting! The crime would be letting that God-given talent “go to waste,” you see.

So Britney Spears’ mother, as one daughter hovers on the edge of insanity and emotional collapse and another becomes the poster girl for unwed teenage motherhood, is actually offered the chance to write a book about raising young celebrities. Then there is Dina Lohan, whose oldest daughter, tabloid queen Lindsay, is a drug and alcohol abuser hell-bent on destroying her once promising singing and acting career, not to mention her reputation, before she turns 25. Not content with one celebrity party-girl daughter, Mother Lohan is in the process of creating a Lindsay clone out of her other daughter, Ali, a precocious 14, by selling her as the star of a Lohan family reality TV show soon to debut on E!. With any luck and some concerted effort by her Mom, Lindsay might have Ali around to keep her company in rehab within a few years. That disturbing prospect, however, is not among the reasons Dina Lohan will be honored this Mothers Day by the organization “Mingling Moms” as one of Long Island’s Top 20 Mothers.

Allow that last phrase to roll around in your brain for a while. “Long Island’s Top 20 Mothers.” What has Dina Lohan accomplished to be called a “top mother”? Why, isn’t it obvious? She’s raised a celebrity! “We’re just honoring celebrities’ moms on Long Island,” a spokesperson from Mingling Moms told OK! Magazine. “It’s something for Mother’s Day. It’s a list of mothers from Long Island who have raised superstar children.”

Never mind that Lohan’s “superstar” child has received most of her recent notoriety for 1) hitting the Hollywood party scene regularly despite being “committed” to her post-rehab sobriety 2) posing semi-nude in New York Magazine and 3) being the third member in the unholy trinity of trainwreck party-girl celebrities, along with Paris Hilton and Spears. Lindsay’s famous. What more could a mother do for a child?

The frightening thing is that an astounding number of Americans actually believe this. Certainly “Mingling Moms,” a social networking organization, does. Its list of “top mothers” doesn’t include those with children who get good grades, work hard, help others, and grow up to be productive citizens who have never been arrested for DUI or drug possession. That’s nice and all, but it can’t compete with raising a sexy starlet who has money, looks, fame, a posse of paparazzi and a police record.

The popular culture makes it clear that mere fame and wealth, no matter how they are acquired and no matter what the ultimate price, is what Americans value most, over education, responsibility, stable family, health or public service. As long as this remains true, too many parents with talented children will neglect their moral, emotional and intellectual development in pursuit of celebrity status. The incentives are overwhelming: not only is this lucrative for the parents, the culture has decreed that success validates their parental skills and choices.

Are there responsible parents who raise their budding young actors and singers to be stable and admirable adults? Of course. But as long as a mother with the track record of Dina Lohan can be honored for her parenting skills, the disgraceful exploitation and destruction of child performers in America will continue.

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