Welcome to the world of being the parent to a child actor!

This job comes with many, many responsibilities. It’s important for a parent to realize this at the very beginning. Of course, the most important responsibility any parent ever has is to raise a happy, healthy, well adjusted child. It’s common knowledge that this industry can present unique challenges along the way that we are not going to address here. Nothing is more important than the well being of a child and the parent of a young performer has to be vigilant with their awareness and remain within the families own personal boundaries of behavior.  Here’s how to make that happen:

Girl sitting at a desk

Knowing and Following Labor Laws

In California, and in several other states, a parent who applies for and receives an entertainment work permit is signing under the penalty of perjury that they are aware of, and will abide by, the laws governing child actors – including work hours (.doc format) and working conditions.  Most of these laws can be found in a handy tool called the Blue Book, published by the Studio Teachers, the labor union.  There are two additional laws in California that parents need to understand.  They are  the Krekorian Talent Scam Prevention Act (applies to teachers, coaches, photographers, web designers, publicists, and managers) and the Child Performer Protection Act (applies to anyone that works with children in the industry and requires fingerprints).  Bizparentz also keeps a running list of recently passed and Pending Legislation. 

A parent should always know the laws in the state they are working. Permit requirements and working hours vary from state to state. The best resource we’ve seen is at SAG-AFTRA.  It isn’t perfect, but they do have a state by state summary of the laws pertaining to child actors.  Check your state’s film commission for the most current information.  The penalty for violating child labor laws falls on the parents…not production. The buck stops at mom!

Dealing With Unions

For many child performers their career path will involve one or more of the entertainment unions.  They are SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists), along with AEA (Actors Equity Association) for theater, and AGVA (American Guild of Variety Artists) for live shows and variety productions like circuses. Each of the unions has their own jurisdiction – which means if your child is working on a union radio spot – it will be an AFTRA job. If they are working on Broadway, it will be AEA.

SAG membership cardThe jobs that effect union eligibility and the decision about when to join is definitely something a parent has to pay attention to. SAG-AFTRA membership joining fees are about equal to 3 days of principal work. (approximately $3,000). There is a time in a career path that it’s a reasonable thing to do, however joining the union eliminates a member from working on non-union projects. There are many resources, including this site, which can help you sort out how one earns the opportunity to join the union – and how to plan for that.

An additional parent responsibility related to unions is to ensure that the child follows those agreements of their union and understand the union status of a project prior to accepting employment. That means honoring the commitment to not work non-union after joining one of the unions.

Teaching and Demonstrating Professional Behavior

Parents teach their children most of the behaviors and skills they have. For young performers, a parent is responsible for instilling in their child a professional work ethic, which includes being on time, paying attention, and being prepared. When employed, someone is paying your child for services rendered, and usually paying them quite well. Although everyone is understanding about a child’s behaviors (depending on their age) a successful young performer should understand the expectations of them. Professional behavior also extends to the parent, as well. California state law and SAGAFTRA contracts require that a parent be within sight or sound of their child at all times. Please take this responsibility seriously. Be supportive and always attentive to your child’s needs, but remain professional and appropriate.

Being a Knowledgeable Part of Your Team

We discussed the importance of selecting appropriate members of your “team”. One of the areas that we feel very strongly about is that the parent remains a part of that team. What does that mean? It means that you allow those you are paying to do their jobs, but not that you allow them to relegate you to being a “stupid” parent. The parent who is educated and aware of their responsibilities will nicely compliment the rest of the team. If someone else is intimidated by a knowledgeable parent, that is cause for concern. Always keep in mind who has what primary responsibility (see Parent as CEO). However, please don’t assume that your agent is doing all of your financial bookkeeping for you – or will tell you about every change in the laws. They expect YOU to be aware of your responsibilities.

Hiring Your Child’s Team

While a parent has responsibilities, a successful young performer’s career will include many other adults. A parent must always be mindful of the people they choose to allow to work with their children. Let’s say that one again – they people THEY CHOOSE to allow to work with their children. Every relationship – agent, manager, photographer, publicist, lawyer, teacher, coach – is a choice. The choice to work with someone should be based on many things. Among them, their expertise, their character, their professionalism, their enthusiasm for your child (not to be confused with OVER-enthusiasm), their like-minded vision, and what we categorize as “vibe”.

How do you balance that subjective “vibe” with real world facts?  Research is absolutely essential.  Read a step-by-step guide for Researching the People You Work With here.

Protecting Your Child’s Image and Privacy

No one cares about your child’s future more than you do. There is one thing you cannot get back once it is gone…your child’s privacy. It is the parent’s responsibility to market them (or supervise the marketing) appropriately and to make sure your child is safe from predators. A good rule of thumb is to consider, “how will my child’s daughter feel if they saw this in 30 years?”. This means being conservative in where you put your child’s picture on the internet. It means carefully considering the kinds of roles you choose to allow your child to do (this isn’t the agent’s responsibility—it is yours!). You are the guardian of your child’s future. There is much more about how to protect your child’s safety in the Safety section of this website.

Understanding Contracts and Legal Papers

The professional young performer will encounter many, many contracts, agreements, and employment documents throughout their career. It is a parent’s responsibility to understand these contracts and to act in the best interest of their child. Contracts include those between agents, managers, employers, photographers, etc. Critical components to agent/manager contracts include length of time, commission %, what work is commissionable, and the “out clause” to end the contract, if necessary. Contracts with employers are usually reviewed by the agent, but it is still the parents ultimately responsibility in the end. Legal papers include I-9 (which now requires a government issued photo ID of the child,  no matter what their age) and W-4 documents related to employment. Be sure to have the appropriate documents available on set and complete W-4’s accurately.

If you don’t understand something, ask an expert. Sometimes BizParentz can help, sometimes it is wise to hire an entertainment attorney. As guardian of your child’s business, it is your job to learn what you can, and know when to call in the experts! Signing contracts that affect your child’s future is a very serious thing!

Making Sure Your Child Has an Education

In all 50 states, it is required that a child attend some sort of school. State laws vary, but choices could include public school, private school, home school programs, charter schools, etc. Pursuing an entertainment career should never mean sacrificing your child’s education. If you child is successful in the industry, they will need an education to be able to handle their success as adults (contracts, etc), and if they decide to grow into another career they will need an education outside of showbiz. Do not think that a trip to Hollywood means a vacation from school. You could end up being charged with truancy! Make sure you are making good choices that are right for your child’s learning style and that you are legally schooling according the laws of your state. Schooling on set is law in California, a requirement in most union contracts, and it is always negotiable even in places where education is not required.

Handling Finances

This is a huge area of responsibility for a parent. HUGE. Until the time, if ever, that your child’s career has become so lucrative that they need a business or financial manager, that responsibility falls to you. In California, New York, Louisiana, and New Mexico there are laws related to trust accounts for child performers. You will find other documents on this site related to specifics of what the parent responsibility is in that regard – but generally – a parent is responsible for doing research about banking options and opening an appropriate account, monitoring the withholdings from employment and matching them to deposits made into a trust account, communicating with employers past and present about accurate account information, and seeking alternative investment opportunities that are allowable by law.

Day to day decisions should be made with good financial sense. In California, the child actually OWNS all of their earnings, which is a distinction from every other state where those earnings are considered family money. Although it is certainly appropriate for their earnings to pay for their expenses related to employment – it is a parent’s responsibility to show good financial judgment. This includes not repeatedly paying for over priced photo sessions and similar optional business expenses. It is very easy to quickly whittle away past earnings in pursuit of other employment. Be prudent and mindful of those expenses.

In many states, including California, minors are eligible for unemployment compensation. There is a very comprehensive article on our website about Unemployment in California. It is a parent’s responsibility to determine if their child is eligible for benefits, and if they wish to apply for them. The biggest financial responsibility that parents are often not aware of concerns Income Tax. Federal tax law indicates that a parent is liable for a minor’s tax liability – so don’t make the mistake of thinking they don’t expect a child to file Income Tax returns. Minors pay taxes just like every other wage earner. There is a very detailed article on this site related to the specifics of Income Tax.

Lastly, it is a parents’ responsibility to ensure wages are received and that commissions, bills and union dues are paid.

The next time someone wants to think there’s not much involved in being a showbiz parent – send them here! We founded BizParentz for the purpose of being a reliable source of information to help parents understand the myriad of responsibilities that are briefly outlined here.

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