From music and dance to television and film, young actors and performers are active in different forms of entertainment. Many reach great heights of fame and fortune, but for some of these child stars, finding success is not the problem: living with it is.
Those who become famous at a young age face a lot of pressure from their teams of managers, publicists and their parents to remain relevant and continue working. Each one has a stake in the child's career and holds some type of jurisdiction over the jobs they accept, the contracts they sign and the income they receive.
Recently, the #FreeBritney movement on social media has been gaining momentum, as supporters hope to bring light to the unjust conservatorship that has controlled pop star Britney Spears for over a decade. The singer, who first rose to fame at the age of 11 as a cast member on the TV show “The All New Mickey Mouse Club,” is not in control of her finances and personal assets; instead her possessions are controlled by her father Jamie Spears.
Britney Spears’ conservatorship was recently extended to February 2021, despite major fan outcry and her mother’s wishes that the conservatorship be changed.
Her situation is an extreme example of a parent manipulating their child and abusing their success for monetary gain, throughout their career and well into adulthood.
However, Britney Spears is not the only celebrity to have a parent abuse their control over their child’s earnings. At 15 years old, Macaulay Culkin, who starred in the movie “Home Alone, sued his parents to remove them as his guardians and cut off their control of his multimillion-dollar fortune. As an adult, he spoke about mental and physical abuse at the hands of his father and former manager, Kit Culkin.
At the age of 17, country singer LeAnn Rimes sued her father, Wilbur C. Rimes, for stealing more than $7 million from her, along with the help of her former co-manager, Lyle Walker. Her mother, Belinda Rimes had divorced Wilbur C. Rimes, and filed the lawsuit on the singer's behalf since LeAnn Rimes was still a minor.
These children are put to work in the entertainment industry with the primary goal of making money and far too much pressure placed on their shoulders. As minors, any success they achieve does not even directly benefit them since they don’t have first ownership of their earnings. Managers, publicists and other members of the young celebrity’s team get paid their allotted percentages, which leave the parents with control over a majority of the child’s funds.
Despite this arrangement, there are some protections from the potential abuse of the money a child has earned from productions and performances. The California Child Actors Bill, which was passed in 1939, requires that at least 15% of a child's earnings be placed into a blocked trust fund that no one, not even the parents, can access except for the child star when they turn 18.
Although the bill protects child stars by providing them a safety net of money to fall back onto, it does not do enough to discourage parents from abusing the pool of money that is available.
Over the years, the bill has been updated to include child musicians, dancers and other artists. Along with these changes, the law should be updated to provide stronger protections for the remaining 85% of a child's income.
Many celebrities have found themselves trapped in an on-going financial battle, as some have chosen to sue their parents in order to disconnect their parents from their work, or get back some of the money their parents spent. The relationship between these parents and their children becomes strained as the parents put their children to work, control a majority of their money and continuously repeat the process.
Like the saying goes, with money comes power. While parents should have the respect not to manipulate their children and spend their earnings, the bill needs to be expanded to force parents to limit the amount of their children’s earnings that they can spend.
A change like this can be achieved through an allowance-type system, providing the parents with just a portion of what the child earned every week or so, while the rest of the money goes into the child's trust fund. This will keep families financially healthy as it budgets the parent’s spending, and increases the sum of money that will be left for the entertainer once they’re 18.
Many child stars need this safety net for their money because as they get older, their flow of work tends to slow down. While there are some exceptions who continue to work into adulthood, most fade out into obscurity by the time they are adults. With no new earnings as an entertainer, their trust fund is essential to their well being and financial stability.
Like Spears, Culkin and countless others, child stars have entertained us through movies, TV shows and music. They deserve better protection from money-hungry, abusive guardians who should be looking out for them.