The recent explosive advancements of technology have brought about some new situations that parents and all those assisting young performers in their career need to be aware of. Pedophilia, website squatting, social media imposters, stalkers, the selling and trading of photos on eBay and the Dark Web, identity theft, extortion and the discussion of child actors (famous and not) on social media are now common. Professional child performers are by definition in a high-risk group. The anonymity and global reach of the internet has greatly increased the ability of those with ill intentions to prey on children.
Danger exists, both for the child as a person and for their long-term career. While your child may not be “famous” right now, as a parent, you must develop an aggressive safety strategy in case they DO find success later. Of course, we can’t hide our children in a closet, nor would we want to. But we can make smart decisions, weigh the risk vs. the benefit of each situation, and reduce the risk.
The most important single concept to keep in mind is that the internet is not a small community, and information there can be accessed, transferred, manipulated and preserved forever. Be very careful of the details you provide on the internet, be it on casting sites, or within message boards.
Here are 12 strategies to reduce the risk for your professional child performer no matter where they are in their career:
1. PREDATOR-PROOF your world, like you once child-proofed your home. Do a sweep of everything written and on-line…resumes, online casting, websites, audition sign-ins, size cards, etc. Delete home addresses (use a P.O. Box or your agent’s address), home phone numbers (use a cell phone for business), social security numbers, child’s personal email address, or hometown identifiers such as the name of a school or church, or the name of the sports team they play. Don’t give a potential predator a clue as to where they might find your child at any given time. Limit information that could make a stranger sound like a friend.
2. HEADSHOTS AND PHOTOGRAPHY It has become more common for headshots to be sold on the internet, or displayed on sites without permission. It is important to know that when you upload a photo or video to social media, 99% of the time, the Terms of Service to those sites declare that you have given the platform the rights to your photos. Don’t upload anything you don’t expect to be shared. A parent should be aware of the rights their child has to their headshot, and the appropriate actions they can take if someone is in violation of those rights. Laws vary from state to state, but you can view a primer in our the Bizparentz Safety and Scams section. Be wary of photographers who seek you out on the internet or at competitions or showcases. Be wary of photographers offering TFP photos, “free” headshots, or photography “workshops”. There is a strong possibility that they are planning to sell the photos in some unsavory places. Legitimate photographers get paid for their work, as should you. Consider asking the photographer to sign a release that details each of your rights to the photos. Be aware of the existence and use of child erotica photography (as opposed to pornography). When pedophiles are arrested, they typically have a photo stash of more than 10,000 photos and they have already abused between 100 and 200 victims. Most of the photos are often “erotica” — seemingly harmless photos that are used to desensitize children, or to begin the predators thought process. Many parents feel that they are “safe” since they do not allow nudity. In reality, many predators prefer more “real” photos that highlight their current fetish.
Be wary of tank tops on boys, shirtless boy photos, bare feet, photos near water, poses with the hands above the head or with the crotch in view (even if clothed), boys sitting on balls, girls in leotards or tights, popsicles and hot dogs (things that are proxy for body parts), open-mouthed O-shaped facial expressions, children on beds or gurneys, and camera angles that depict the child looking up at the camera. There is never a reason for a photo of a child in a bathing suit. There just isn’t.
3. BACKGROUND CHECK everyone that comes in contact with your child including agents, managers, publicists, photographers and directors. You can do this yourself with the help of the internet. Do not assume that because they can drop a few significant names or because they work for a “family” company that they are safe (at least two men have been arrested in the last year who worked for Disney and Nickelodeon). Be aware that most adults in our industry should be fingerprinted and you should use the public databases that are available to you. Bizparentz Foundation sponsored a law in California, the Child Performer Protection Act, that requires managers, acting coaches, photographers and others who offer services to child actors to get a permit and fingerprints. Do not work with anyone who does not have this permit. Further, you should do a Google search of names and companies and check IMdb.com for work history. Ask lots of questions. Check with other parents who have worked with them in the past. Click here for detailed instructions on How to Research People you work with.
4. BEWARE OF THOSE THAT ARE “EXTRA” It is very important to realize that most predators in our industry are not kidnappers or situational rapists. They are known as preferential offenders which means that they befriend the family and groom the child over a period of months or years. It’s not “stranger danger” we’re talking about…it’s the people close to us in the business setting. Beware of business professionals who have suspicious behaviors: showering you and your child with flattery, keeping secrets with their young clients, offering to take the child on trips, giving the child gifts, promising rewards such as film roles or award nominations, etc. Separate your child’s business from your personal life.
5. USE SEARCH ENGINES and ALERTS: As a routine, a family should use at least two search engines (Google, DuckDuckGo, Bing, Dogpile) and check for their child’s name to see where they might find their child being discussed or depicted. You can also use Google Alerts, which will notify you when your child’s name comes up on the Google search engine. Often they will appear on legitimate sites related to the work they have done, but we have found parents to be shocked at what comes up on their child! This is a great way to assess your risk on a regular basis. See how much information you can find about your child and your family on the internet.
6. ONLINE CASTING SERVICES/IMDb: For actors in major markets such as LA, NY, Atlanta and Vancouver, there are just a few industry recognized casting sources (ex. Breakdown Services, Casting Networks, Casting Workbook, etc). While the modeling industry is slightly different, parents should use extreme caution when utilizing other online casting sites such as Exploretalent, KidsCasting, and Onemodelplace since they are heavily infiltrated with predators. The risk simply isn’t worth the potential benefit. Although it may feel private, this information, even on legitimate sites can be easily accessed by anyone. Be aware that online casting has also simplified the process of posting casting notices, with very little checks performed on the validity of the project, or the people involved. When responding to a non-union project, use common sense. In fact, use the internet resources to research the individuals involved in a project, and their prior projects.
7. WEBSITES: Even if you don’t intend to put up a website, buy the child’s domain name (ex. johnjones.com). This ensures that someone else won’t buy it and “squat” on it for the purpose of extorting money from you later or simply exploiting your child’s famous name to redirect to more profitable websites (such as porn). When you buy the domain name be sure to purchase the “privacy protection” to cover your registration info, or at least use a P.O. Box and a cell phone number to register the name. Be aware that no website is private. If you post a photo or tidbit of information about your location (such as a booking or audition) be aware that you are increasing the risk. Investigate those who offer to build an “official site” for your child. Seriously consider hiring a professional web designer or building the website yourself, rather than having a fan control the content. Professional web designers know the techniques for protecting on-line images (right click function, watermarks, etc).
8. FANS and FOLLOWERS: There may be legitimate fans of your child’s work, and they should be appreciated. Common sense should prevail in dealing with strangers (also known as fans), including social media followers, fan mail, and anyone who contacts your child directly. All interactions should be reviewed and responded to discriminately by an adult. Never, ever buy followers. Not only is it not effective (all professional studios have software to ferret that out) but it makes you a target for other predators. Be aware that a good portion of paper fan mail comes from prison (look at return addresses!) and should not be answered. Always personalize autographs to the recipient, since it is more respectful to the true fan, but discourages the sale in secondary markets. More on Fans and Followers here.
9. LOCATION, LOCATION, Be on alert in situations where child actors gather. These are the same locations that pedophiles gather for good reason—kids are relaxed, having fun, and have their guard down. Consider charity events, red carpet events, award shows and even apartment complexes that cater to child actors as high risk situations. Talent competitions and showcases are a buffet for pedophiles and are extremely high risk, in part because the professionals are not background checked. Professional performers must be taught techniques for handling questions and guarding their safety—don’t say where you go to school, don’t do anything you don’t want photographed by pedophiles, etc. Legitimate photographers and wire services should be treated with respect, but be wary of those without press credentials. Also, turn the Location Services on your child’s phone OFF, along with the location stamp on their camera, which embeds the location where photos were taken.
10. DRAW A LINE IN THE SAND when submitting for jobs. Your family needs to discuss in advance, what kinds of roles you will and won’t accept so the decision is not made in the heat of the moment. Be aware that your child’s performance WILL be screen-captured and preserved forever. Roles that require little clothing, or plotlines regarding pornography, pedophilia and abuse will be treasured by the “bad guys”. Make sure that the risk you are taking is worth the benefit career-wise. You have the right to say NO, or to compromise by making wardrobe selections, etc. Bizparentz has a great checklist to help you at Extreme Roles = Extreme Decisions.
11. MONITOR YOUR CHILD’S PHONE ACTIVITY: While there is a lot of information available to parents about monitoring their child’s internet use, those concerns are greater for the child actor who may have a public persona. Teen apps such as Snapchat, Kik and WeChat are not private, although clearly the kids think they are. Online gaming platforms like BIGOLive and Discord have discussion functions too. Predators are VERY present on these apps and discuss it often on their own groups. Parents should stress to their children that they are visible if they have identified themselves by their real name, and if they use their phone number (if they are playing on their phone they have!). So what do you do? In this one instance, encourage them to lie…create a name, a false hometown, etc. Create personal social media accounts under fake names for them. Consider keeping family computers in common places and not in the child’s bedroom. Require that you have the password to their phone, all apps and all their social media. Occasionally check it.
For professional presence, parents need to be handling your child’s social media accounts, and you should have your child’s password to ALL their social media and gaming accounts. Make sure to announce that in the “about” section of your social media and it will serve as a caution sign to predators. Verify their accounts to minimize the occurence of imposters.
12. TRUST YOUR INSTINCTS. Listen to your child. If you feel the least bit uncomfortable, that is reason enough to be cautious and say NO. To quote Dave Dalton, former LAPD detective and president of Dalton Security Company, “If it walks like a duck, and talks like a duck— it’s a DUCK! Professional young performers are a “target-rich market” for You have a lot of DUCKS in your world!”. No career move is worth your child’s safety. We strongly suggest every showbiz parent read the book Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children Safe and Parents Sane by celebrity security expert Gavin DeBecker. It will empower you to trust your instincts!