Over the years I have had many parents ask, “How can I get entertainment jobs for my kids?” I realize parents are proud of their children and want to see them excel, but we have to keep things in perspective. Kids are dabbling in balloons, magic, and juggling just for fun. They are not looking for work; they are just playing. As a child develops their entertainment skills, it might become a hobby. Hobbies, if you’re lucky, can turn into a career; and if you’re really lucky, it may become a successful career! Parents shouldn’t worry about how to get their child a job, they should ensure the child has fun playing with their new found skill.
Children, even teenagers, are restricted by law on the number of hours they can work. Companies can not and will not enter into a contract with minors, especially with the liability issues that can arise from hiring a minor. These two reasons alone make it difficult for kids to get entertainment jobs. Many parents will argue that it’s only a picnic or just a birthday party, they are not sending their child to work in a factory. However, if the child was sent to a factory it would have strict rules protecting the child, their rights, and a secure work environment. Working for themselves, children and their parents have to use common sense to determine what is hazardous and what is safe, not only for their health, but for the audience safety.
Imagine that your child is a juggler and does a small fire act. They have practiced it many times in the past for family and friends and are now doing it for a crowd of people at the local church picnic. It’s been a long, hot, dry summer and the grass is a nice crispy golden brown. During the show the crowd is slowly moving closer and closer. Kids move closer as parents push their little ones up to the front so they can see and hear better. As the performer soaks the fire torch in lighter fluid they accidentally tip over the bucket, and lighter fluid is absorbed into the drought-ridden turf. Trying to be professional the child picks up the torch and begins his or her routine, and because of the spill is now standing in dried grass, covered with lighter fluid.
If a torch drops, will a fire start? How quickly will it spread? Are kids sitting to close? Are animals in the audience? How windy is it? These are things that need to be considered, prior to even beginning a torch act. You may think this would not happen, but I know of a performer who almost started a fire station on fire. This performer was extremely embarrassed, along with receiving a stern lecture by the fire chief and a couple of parents who thought that he was careless. The performer was 23 years old, performed this routine 5 times before in public, and though it was the coolest part of his act. Accidents like this do happen. From then on, the performer had strict rules, made sure a fire extinguisher was available, and would not do the routine if the environment was not safe for the audience. In addition, he went out and bought liability insurance. A hundred-dollar job is not worth injuring a child or the hundred-thousand-dollar lawsuit by the parent of an injured child.
Encourage your child to learn all aspects of entertaining and not just the mechanics. Children can acquire the mechanics of a routine, but lack the communication skills to really sell the routine. These communication skills will come as confidence grows and as the child matures. Often, kids are great when communicating with family and friends, but lack the social communication skills required to work with a group of unknown adults. Public speaking is one of the biggest fears among adults so don’t assume that kids don’t have the same fear.
Children of professional entertainers understand that multiple skills are required to be a successful entertainer and try to acquire these skills prior to entertaining in public. A professional singer’s child may start singing with mom and dad at very early age; their parents work with professionals, give advice, train, and develop their child from experiences that they have learned over their professional career. Individuals or parents who do not entertain are under the impression that just because their child is achieving the basics that the child is now qualified to perform in public. These children may be talented but lack background knowledge and thus are not fully ready to perform.
At a restaurant I frequently entertained at, I would have a mom who would always tell me how great her son’s magic was and how she wants him to do show, birthday parties, restaurants and fairs. Her son was 12, a good looking kid, shy, but overall seemed really interested in magic. Just recently, I was working the restaurant and saw this boy, now a 17 year old with some friends. I walked over to the table to entertain the group and just goofing around pulled out a deck of cards. As I did the card trick, (TV Magic Deck) the young 17 year old mentioned he did magic. “Yes, you used to come with your mom and brother.” I said. “Yep, that was me,” he replied. “My magic is nowhere as good as yours.” This was the boy who according to his mother, was going to grow up to be the next David Copperfield. In reality it was a child who was fascinated by magic, took an interest in it and went on with is life. He was not looking for a career, but just an fun outlet.
If your child is really serious about becoming an entertainer then here are some tips to help your child succeed in the entertainment business.
- Parents let your child enjoy the activity. If they want to perform, it is best to let it come from the child seeking it, not the parent.
- Get the child involved in clubs related to that field and supervise their activity. Clubs are not babysitters, parent need to be there!
- Go to local libraries and check out books on the topic. Encourage the child to research what it takes to become good.
- Let the child work at their pace. This is not a career yet; it’s just a fun hobby.
- Don’t be surprised if in 6 to 8 months the child’s interest changes. School, friends, and age all affect the child’s interests. What was so important then is not necessarily going to be now.
- When meeting performers, ask if they have any professional tips to pass on. Don’t let your ego (parents) get the best of you and start bragging about your child. Just tell the performer your child has an interest in their art. Let the child do the talking, it’s their hobby.
- Remember the child is just starting out and only needs the basic supplies. Don’t go over board buying everything. As the young entertainer grows, so will their equipment needs.
- Parents read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey or How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie – they talk about how to deal with people. If your child is going to be successful they are going to need to understand how to communicate with others and how to negotiate. Consider picking up a book on negotiating. Good negotiating skills can improve your child’s chances of getting good paying jobs. Not only in the entertainment field, but in other careers choices later in life.
- Do not become obsessed with learning everything, take it in small steps. This will prevent the child from becoming burned out to quickly.
- Keep it fun! Let the child develop into their own entertainer.
Entertainment is about fun, but there is a business end and the work can quickly take away the fun. Let the child enjoy their youth and when they are old like us can look back and remember the fun time they had learning and sharing with their parents. Make it fun, not a career.