Stage Parents: How far will they go?

Teri Shields. Jaid Barrymore. Dina Lohan. What do these women have in common? They are all mothers of famous child actors and are notorious ‘stage moms.’ Each of these mothers all seemed to take a page from Mamma Rose’s handbook. Mamma Rose, a stage mom made infamous by way of the 1964 musical Gypsy, is a “domineering, take-no-prisoners stage mother who will do anything to further the success of her daughters in show business” (Wikipedia), which seems to sum up the above parents perfectly. What is the definition of a stage mom? Urban Dictionary defines stage moms as “pushy, obnoxious, crazy mothers who force their kids to act, model, or enter beauty contests. Usually turning them into emotionally scared adults who hate their parents.”

With the reality show Toddlers & Tiaras, we all now have front row seats on all the pressure these stage moms are putting on their children. Toddlers & Tiaras has aired on TLC for four seasons. The series chronicles the world of child beauty pageants and how the children and their families prepare for the hefty, and nearly unbearable competitions, treating pageants as a dog eat dog sport.

In one episode, a mother forced her five-year-old daughter to get her eyebrows waxed. Even with the child screaming in agony, the mother forces and reassures her of comfort. Tom Rogan, the producer of Toddlers & Tiaras, justifies the show by telling MSNBC, “The larger goal with any series is to find a world that’s rich and deep enough to sustain multiple episodes. We felt this was such a rich and deep world because there were so many people involved in so many places around the country. There are about 100,000 girls who participate in pageants.”

Agree with Rogan or not, there is a deeper issue to this show. Dr. Mike Bishop, a childhood behavioral health psychologist and executive director of Wellspring Camps, told Fox News in June 2010, “Toddler beauty pageants set a superficial expectation about what makes someone beautiful – that beauty is primarily about your pose, your smile, your hair, and the clothes you wear. Self-worth should not be tied to competitions.”

Bishop goes on to say, “Toddlers are not old enough to make an informed decision as to whether they should or should not compete. Nor are they able to separate the competition from reality, which can make participation even more damaging to their self-esteem.”

This brings up a valid point. Child actors are known to grow up to have behavior/addiction problems. Drew Barrymore, Lindsey Lohan, Britney Spears, and Todd Bridges are just a few of many young entertainers who have made that list and some redeem themselves much later in their careers.

Was it truly their parents forcing them to work that made them lash out, or was it due to enormously low self-esteems? There have been reports on this case for both Barrymore and Lohan.

Kerry Campbel, the mother who injected her 8-year-old daughter Brittany with Botox, is another prominent example that stage moms aren’t a dying breed.

“I just, like, don’t, like, think wrinkles are nice on little girls,” Brittany said to Good Morning America. Brittany also admitted it hurt to get the injections on her face, but was familiar and resistant to the pain.

Since appearing on Good Morning America, Brittany has been removed from her family, and there is now an investigation from the San Francisco Human Services Agency. Campbel is just one of many parents who have gone above and beyond the level of ethics to pursue glory for their children.

One mother told Zooey Magazine she has witnessed parents waiting on photo shoot locations exclaiming, “These clients can keep us here as long as they want--more money in the bank! This kid (4-year-old) can work all day and take one for the [family].” Parents would sit around and make cash register sounds as each hour passes, or boast “Another $250 in the bank!”

When asked by Zooey what she would do to a parent who is clearly using their child to live out their dreams of stardom, Lisa Damiani, CEO of the recently launched Star Rock for Kids!, said, “It all comes down to the way you approach it. The last thing you want is for these parents to get on the defense or feel attacked, because that’s unproductive. Bottom line is that kids in show business can make a lot of money, but it’s important to give them a ‘normal’ childhood as well, and to always put their needs first. No amount of money is worth losing or hurting your children. “

Nikita Banks, a mother of a 13-year-old actor has seen the better side of ‘stage parents.’ “For the most part, most of the children who were in auditions wanted to be there. I have seen some kids feel a little full of themselves, which I assume comes from their parents on certain jobs. [But] I’ve mostly seen kids having fun on [these opportunities].”

Banks goes on to say, “I never looked at it as if it was a ‘career move’ when you are at the age my son is, you want to be many things. I don’t care whether he acts or doesn’t. I am looking at it as a way for him to be able to use some of his skill and talents in a creative and constructive way.”

“My son is from the inner city so I always try to make sure he is actively involved in sports and other activities as well. When he had to miss some time in school last year because of his Broadway schedule (he was tutored while in rehearsals), his Principal came up to me and told me he had no idea that my son was an actor because he was so wellrounded.

Parents who are able to keep their children grounded allow for them to not only grow with humbleness, but also allow their children to gain respect for themselves as a professional and as a child without having to build self-esteem on an ego.

Banks continues, “That’s what I want. Whether [my son] is on TV and successful at it, he still has one real job to do and that is his school work. I want him to be able to do it as long as he wants to and not do it if he doesn’t. He also doesn’t work during the summers because we travel and do family things. And he doesn’t take any jobs doing anything he’s uncomfortable with,” says Banks.

Damiani has also seen positive stage parenting. “One example I can give is about a student of mine named Nicole. Nicole loves to sing and perform and she also loves to help others. Nicole got an idea to create a show to sing for sick children and wanted to figure out a way to implement it. To support Nicole on this mission, her parents reached out to an acquaintance on the board of Mt. Sinai Hospital and asked if she could perform there. Nicole wanted me to get involved, and one month later, we invited some of my other students (aka Star Rock Kids!) and we put on our very first Mt. Sinai “Idol” Show for all of the sick kids at Mt. Sinai Children’s Hospital.

Damiani goes on to say that, “Mt. Sinai has a television studio that broadcasts throughout the entire hospital, and our show goes ‘live’ on television at 6:30 PM on Friday nights. The past four years my Star Rock Kids! have been performing at this hospital and it is all because of Nicole’s parents supporting their daughter and helping her to making her dream come to life. It cost no money, yet the gratification for both performers and sick children is priceless. This is truly one of the greatest stories I’ve witnessed of a parent’s support for their child’s talents, hopes and dreams.”

For every child actor who grows up to be an addict or have behavioral problems, there are others who stars are still succeeding in this business with all modesty. Natalie Portman, Leonardo Dicaprio, Ron Howard, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt are just a few who have risen above their childhood stardom.

For now it seems there is no clear-cut answer as to who is to truly blame for self-destruction. The best any of us can do is make our children happy and use common sense at the same time.