The phrase “child actor can be applied generally
to any child acting in movies or television, but is also used to describe
adults who, as a child, had an acting career. Sometimes these adults
are also called a “former child actor.” “Teen actor”
is another term used to describe child actors.
There are certain things that a child actor is not allowed to do:
· A child actor is prohibited from risking his or her physical
· A child actor is prohibited from exposure to morally compromising
· A child actor is prohibited from appearing nude or partially
· A child actor is prohibited from engaging in overt sexual acts.
Education laws specify that a child actor must be enrolled in school,
private, home-school or public. The child actor may not be disrupted
while working on school assignments and must do schoolwork under the
supervision of a teacher while working on an acting set.
A child actor’s work hours are limited. The younger the child
actor, the stricter the time limits generally become. The regulated
work hours are lifted when the child actor turns eighteen years of age.
Regulation of Child Actors
The activities of child actors are regulated by the governing labor
union, if any, and state and federal laws. Being a minor, a child actor
must secure a work permit before accepting any paid performing work.
Limitations imposed by laws are not uniform across the states or beyond
national boundaries. Longer work hours or risky stunts, prohibited in
California, for example, might be permitted to a project filming in
British Columbia. Some projects film in remote locations specifically
to evade regulations intended to protect the child actor.
Issues Involving Child Actors
Ownership of Earnings
Using children in motion pictures has been criticized as exploitation,
particularly since some prominent child actors never got to see the
money they earned. Some child actors have earned millions while still
a children but the money may have been spent by parents.
Some have defended this saying that the child directly benefits from
the lifestyle the earnings made possible or that the child would not
have achieved stardom without a significant investment of time and effort
by the parents. Others argue that it is unfair for the child to have
to support the family when the parents are capable.
In 1939, California weighed in on this controversy by enacting the
Coogan Law, amended at various times since, which requires a portion
of the earnings of a child actor to be preserved in a special savings
account called a blocked trust.
Some people also criticize the parents of child actors for allowing
their children to work, believing that more “normal” activities
should be the staple during the childhood years. Others observe that
competition is present in all areas of a child’s life—from
sports to student newspaper to orchestra and band—and believe
that the work ethic instilled, or the talent developed accrues to the
The child actor may experience unique and negative pressures when working
under tight production schedules. Large projects which depend for their
success on the ability of the child to deliver an effective performance
add to the pressure.
Many child actors have had successful careers into adulthood including
Ron Howard, Roddy McDowall, Tommy Rettig, Bill Mumy, Alyssa Milano,
Jodie Foster, Kurt Russell, and Christian Bale. Others transitioned
to non-acting careers, for example Peter Ostrum, who, after a starring
role in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, is now a successful large-animal
While tragic and well publicized examples certainly exist where a child
actor falls into self-destructive behavior, scientific studies have
shown that child actors are at no greater risk than the population at
large of growing into unhappy or dysfunctional adults.