There are certain things about kids that never cease to amaze me. Like, the way my kids always reach into a full refrigerator and decide to snack on the main ingredient for my dinner plans. Or the amount of times my kids can walk over a pile of clothes on the floor of their room without noticing (or tripping). Or the way that everybody always acts surprised when a child star goes into a dramatic emotional free-fall toward rock bottom. Yeah, that's the one that really amazes me.
If you live within Hollywood's Thirty-Mile-Zone and have a "cute kid with personality," you will be approached regularly by casting directors, agents, managers and/or representatives of alleged schools who guarantee your child will be a star if you purchase their complete line of products and services. Having three cute sons with personality -- and living in the heart of the entertainment capital of the world -- I got so used to being approached that I would stop them before they finished the first sentence. Why? Because I have been around long enough to see the ways that the entertainment industry robs children of their wonder years and destroys their potential for a normal life.
The downward spiral of Angus T. Jones is currently playing on a screen near you. According to imdbpro.com, Angus has been working since he was 4 years old. He has spent the past ten years -- more than half of his life -- co-staring on "Two and A Half Men," one of the most commercially successful series in the CBS line-up. I was at the taping of the pilot of this series and attended many other tapings throughout the years. What I observed was a child who was treated extremely well by a cast and crew that respected his age. I also noted that there was always a friend by his side when he was backstage. So, where did things go wrong?
No matter how anybody wants to spin it, Jones has never had a normal childhood. He may have attended a private Christian school when the show was not in production, but he could never be a normal student at any school where everybody was aware that he co-starred on a series his classmates were probably not allowed to watch. Jones has always lived in a world where strangers say "YES" to him. The coolest clothes and electronics magically appear in his life -- gifts from brands that hope he will be photographed with them on a red carpet. His handlers can't let him act out and rebel the way normal kids (yes, even mine) act out in public. So when the pressure cooker explodes, it never ceases to amaze me that everybody seems so surprised.
Even more amazing is the annual western migration of stage mothers and their offspring, arriving from every corner of the nation in time for pilot casting season. They settle into the Oakwood and other temporary housing communities, often exhausting their family's savings in order to follow an impossible dream that most will never achieve. It would be comforting to think that Jones' public burnout might serve as a deterrent, but the more likely reality is that it won't make any difference. Murmurs of denial will echo throughout the city as stage mothers assure themselves nothing like that could ever happen to their cute kid with personality -- just like the parents of Angus T. Jones most certainly once assured themselves. Yet, the lure of success is so seductive that this kind of parent is willing to stretch the boundaries of what is age-appropriate until the point where the boundaries are no longer recognizable. Which is why it is necessary to note that the Mom and Dad Jones read the script for the pilot of "Two and A Half Men" and KNEW the situation they were putting their sweet, little 9-year-old Christian boy into from day one. Mom Jones recently told the press that she is concerned about her son's involvement in what she describes as a religious cult. However, the "cult" she refers to -- the Forerunner Christian Church -- describes itself as a Christian ministry that follows the teachings of Jesus. I will refrain from comment on that debate.
To any parent who is considering joining this year's western migration, I urge you to watch my interview with former child star Paul Petersen. Petersen has devoted decades to A Minor Consideration -- a support and advocacy group for child actors. He's been there, done that and lived to tell the tale. If watching this interview saves one "cute kid with personality" from the tragedy that befalls so many child stars, it could be the most important hour you spend on behalf of your child.
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