Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog

Training & insights for stage and studio singers, speakers, vocal coaches and producers from professional vocal coach and author of "Power, Path & Performance" vocal training method. Download All Things Vocal podcast on your fav app!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Child Stars: Are We Mentoring Heroes or Narcissists?


It takes a village of parents, extended family, teachers, directors, and counselors to grow a young artist into their full potential. I believe this 'village' should not only develop talent, but also mentor the child's maturation into a hero: a person who will make the world a better place. 

There is a 2013 NPR program in which "Matilda" star Mara Wilson talked about why child stars go crazy. The program aired a couple of months before former Disney star Miley Cyrus's shock value performance on the VMA's. It's difficult for me to see any value in that performance, any growing of the heart and soul of the young artist. Listening closely to the 2020 Justin Bieber lament 'Lonely', don't we have to ask if this is what we want for our children? Will money & fame justify the separation and emptiness that sabotages a child's truly prosperous journey? Is his/her musical artistry illuminating the darkness, moving it to the light, in some way making the world better? Those are the questions I want to raise here. What template defines a successful life as a human being... that of hero or narcissist? Because the answer will dictate what kind of mentoring the child should be getting.

No matter how gifted they are, children are not little adults... physically, mentally, emotionally. We who are their mentors need to educate ourselves in child development, and our own self-centered motivations need to be assessed. A self-driven child who loves participating in performance arts will indeed need support as they reach for their goals from loving adults who care, but I believe we must be vigilant at the line between supporting what the child can become and what we all know as 'stage-parenting'. Direction and control must always for the child's well-being, not for primarily parental or instructor aspirations.  

Issues and village actions:

  • The issue: Self-absorbtion.
A child is by nature self-absorbed. It's not evil... it's natural... part of human child development.   
  • What the village can do: 
Young natural self-centeredness must be tempered by encouraging empathy with others. For instance, we can help mold a child's thought processes at talent contests. While doing their best to claim whatever prize, the child can be encouraged to care about and befriend other contestants, and to even redefine how to truly 'win' a contest.  If mentored in this way, the child always 'wins' and can learn how to be an everyday hero to someone else.
  • The issue: Rebellion.
As the child becomes the teen, there is a very natural tendency and need to rebel. Two big problems of the child star are that their 'acting out' is in public (and on Twitter, usually!), and that some in the village are making big bucks on the child or teen's careers.
  • What the village can do:
The young person sometimes needs the opposite of 'friendship' from the village... they need to be held accountable by loving adults who are willing to speak truth and apply tough-love - and if that doesn't work, get the child/teen professional counseling. If that distances the kid for a while, or even a few years, do it anyway for long-run success. I love the old scripture "Train up a child in the way they should go and when they are old they will not depart from it". 
  • The issue: Fame/Failure.
 Fame is a dangerous blessing, especially early. Without staying close to a small trustable circle of accountability to whom an artist will listen, there is danger that phenomenal success and fan worship status can lead them into adult narcissism, personal emptiness and artistic uselessness. Loretta Lynn once said 'you're really in trouble when you start believing your own press'.In this 'American Idol' culture, a talented young person is often lifted up to great heights, and then dropped like a sack of unwanted garbage, with no logical reason, and sometimes with perverse pleasure of watching the fall... and the train-wreck spectacle the young person becomes.
  • What the village can do:
Failure can teach a growing soul the most important things -often better than success can. But a young person needs to be taught how to gracefully and safely fail. We can be the safety net... with the message that a person's worth is not in what they 'do' but in who they 'are'. They need to know that when they 'act out', they will be held accountable with correction and discipline, but also that without a doubt they are unconditionally loved by their village. I would suggest that even with some bullying, failure and public derision, young Taylor Swift and her village turned her into a hero - and rare positive role model - for her demographics. May she stay safe from her own success.
  • The issue: Exploitation.
 Children are easy prey. They cannot be expected to have the skills to protect themselves financially, sexually, emotionally. Especially with 'perfectionist' children who want to please, there is terrible opportunity for exploitation of the young in the performance arts.
  • What the village can do:
We must watch over and train our charges. We must talk among ourselves, reporting any abuse we think we see, no matter what it might cost the child's career. A beautiful shot is one thing, but when a child's album cover approaches soft porn, why are we surprised at the kind of 'attention' it elicits?
  • The issue: Overprotection.
Truly gifted and self-driven children NEED to be able to express themselves creatively. Overprotecting them can hurt their development and trying to discourage them from following their dreams (in a balanced, wise way) can cause depression to set in.
  • What the village can do:  
Listen and observe the child. What do they really need to be able to do to fully develop into the person they were born to be? Nurture their gifts; teach them how to persist and practice for something they've chosen to do or audition for (always watching your own motivations). Help them balance their responsibilities, study and aspirations with play time, daydream-time and laughter. Remember that even if they DO become doctors, lawyers or CEO's, they still need to create in the giftings they have to be fulfilled and happy in life. Music does all kinds of things for the mind and spirit. The arts are not 'extra' .. they are of primary importance to humanity.


Do you have a talented child? If you were you a child who performed publically... what helped/hurt you? How do you think we can help mentor heros instead of narcissists? Hit 'comment' and give us your thoughts!

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  • At September 3, 2013 at 1:38 PM , Anonymous E. Don Harpe said...

    Very good blog, Judy. Some great points here. I think, more than anything else, we need to somehow get away from the "whatever makes you feel good about yourself," mentality, and get back to the "here are some guidelines you need to follow," way of thinking. I don't believe this will stifle anyone's creativity, and I actually believe that when a child understands that there are boundaries, not to their creative selves, but to their moral selves, they will find a way to become more creative, simply because they must work within the confines of good taste and age appropriateness. Coloring outside the lines is much easier than coloring inside them, because it doesn't matter what you do. It is much more difficult to show that you can do something inside the lines that makes you different from the rest who are also in there. And at least as good is not better than those who are outside, because they are, more often than not, just making lines and not creating anything at all. I am all in favor of allowing a talented child the room to become what he or she actually thinks they are, however, I also know that not everything a child wants to become is what they should be allowed to do. The fact is many of them have not reached the maturity to understand that much more than feel good emotions go into making us the person we will eventually be. Guidance and love from the adults in their lives often means the difference in the world they will influence in the future.

  • At September 5, 2013 at 12:33 PM , Anonymous Lynn Bryant said...

    Since 1999 I have been active with children's education through my non profit, The Learning for Life Foundation. You have supported our efforts, Judy, in helping the children build a strong personal foundation by speaking to the children about song writing, the importance of lyrics (motto we wrote for the children: Your Voice has a Heart, Your Life is Your Song), giving them voice lessons and giving of your time and extraordinary talent in concert to benefit the kids. You touched their hearts and minds!

    As you are aware, my motto to elementary school age children has been and is DREAM BIG, LOVE BIGGER. The children understand this to mean: As you go for your dreams, reach out and help someone else along the way.

    It is so important to teach children the importance(what you state in your article) of giving while striving.... Not taking while striving for your dreams. It has been a personal mission of mine and through the Foundation to teach young children the importance of building a strong personal foundation, teaching them skills and the importance of choosing friends who build you up, not tear you down. The strength that comes from a positive attitude and the defeat that can result from a negative attitude and so much more...

    Your article is needed, your points very well made and written by a wise woman who has already impacted countless lives with more to come!

  • At September 5, 2013 at 12:40 PM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Many thanks, Lynn, for all you do for children. There is no telling what your efforts have done for them, and will continue to do as they grow up. It is my great pleasure to have contributed my small part. You rock!

  • At September 5, 2013 at 12:42 PM , Anonymous Susan Passi-Klaus said...

    Sometimes those who have a talented child also have the added challenge of nurturing a son or daughter who feel like they are different—not so much because of their talent and gifts, but because of many of the quirks creative people are saddled with…high sensitivity, perfectionism, low self-esteem, anxiety issues, addiction issues, introvert vs. extrovert issues, etc.

    I have a beautifully talented daughter who has great potential to be a very special artist—but she feels and actually is, misunderstood, has always been held back, is out of place as an introvert in an extrovert’s world, being forced to make a living instead of make her true life, and has to work extra hard every day to manage the emotional rollercoaster that is her life.

    Please those kind of “talented” kids in mind too. - See more at: http://blog.judyrodman.com/2013/09/child-stars-mentoring-heros-or.html?showComment=1378402884722#c6881016314769678041

  • At September 5, 2013 at 12:50 PM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Susan... your comment illuminates the very important issue of the double-edged-sword-nature of the highly creative mind. All the more reason the village around your child needs to be informed, empathetic and connected to her. I believe she needs to know that though she may feel 'different' but even as an 'eagle' (instead of a bird that fits easily into flocks) that she is not alone and that her contributions are in fact quite valuable. Thank you for bringing up this vital component of mentoring these children. And may God organize a great village for your sweet girl!


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