Transitioning from Child to Adult Actor

We’ve all heard the stories about child actors who grow up and announce to the world that they are now adults by taking they’re clothes off or being photographed nightly drinking at clubs or making other “adult,” albeit, bad decisions. These folks have scared off many parents from even trying to get their children into the acting business. But for every one of these misguided kids, there are dozens who grow up to be professional and respected actors.

At age 11, an unknown child who had never acted in anything other than a skunk in her school play went to an open call for a movie called “The Piano.” The little girl won the role...and an Academy Award for it, making her the second youngest Oscar winner in history behind Tatum O’Neal. Her name is Anna Paquin, and as an adult she now stars as Sookie Stackhouse on the HBO’s “True Blood.” Some other famous child actors who have seemingly seamlessly made the transition from child to adult actor are Natalie Portman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Elijah Wood, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jodie Foster, Neil Patrick Harris, Drew Barrymore, Abigail Breslin, and the Mowry Sisters.

But there is no sugar coating it...the transition for the majority of child actors is a difficult one. The reality is that a child who is absolutely adorable at 8 may not be adorable or even attractive at 13, 18, or 25. Puberty hits and changes happen...acne appears, adult teeth grow in that need straightening, noses get longer, limbs get gawkier, body types change. This is a challenging time in the actor’s life. Unless you’re Leonardo DiCaprio...he never had an awkward day in his life!

Sometimes kids’ interests change as they get older and acting becomes a hobby rather than the passion of their lifetime. High school sports or the debate team or just hanging out with friends become their primary focus and that’s okay. But for the child who loves acting and lives for auditions and bookings, this adjustment period is particularly painful.

What can you as a parent do to help your child through and onto the next phase of their career? Be consistent for them. Love them and support them as things continually change for them. Reinforce the benefits of practice, focus, character, family, and especially having fun. Remember that a child’s acting life may be comprised of several acting “seasons.” That change is not predictable and as your child is learning and growing, you are their biggest supporter.

I represent an absolutely wonderful girl who is an incredible singer, dancer, and actor. She is 16 and has always been told that she is too tall. She continues to take classes and train in all aspects of her career while we wait for her age to catch up with her height. In two years, her height will no longer be an issue. Some kids who were completely outgoing and boisterous at 10 suddenly become shy and self-conscious at 13. Kids who were huge bookers go into a slump and barely get callbacks.

My job as your manager is to provide industry and acting guidance to you and your child to help their acting dreams take shape. But it is more than that. I also feel that part of my responsibility is making sure your child grows up to be a healthy adult. It is about being sensitive to your child’s needs as they grow. If your child is feeling rejected or their self-esteem is suffering because they aren’t booking like they used to, I may suggest you take a break. It may be for the summer or even a year or two.

Do a gut check with your child every few months and see where they are mentally and emotionally. If they remain committed to acting, singing, or dancing make sure that they are still getting training, encouragement, and reinforcement.

There is nothing wrong with taking some time off and waiting for your body and/or your maturity to catch up with the industry. There are teenagers whom I rep who are phenomenal actors but are at the stage right now where they can neither play adults nor still play the kid roles. If this is the path you’re heart is set on then you need to wait it out. Take classes, join an improv troupe, hone your craft, and wait.

There isn’t one path to the entertainment industry.

Sometimes even the cutest, most talented children don’t grow up to be actors, but prefer to stay in the industry behind the scenes…like Ron Howard who was adorable as Opie on “The Andy Griffith Show,” and is now one of the most recognized directors in show business. Or Fred Savage from “The Wonder Years” who also chose to direct as an adult. They may choose something unrelated to acting.

There is no cookie cutter answer; it will be different for every child and every family. Love and support, a great team of manager and agents, and a healthy dose of humor will help this stage pass by as painlessly as possible. Whatever direction your child ultimately takes, it’s all good!

Like this advice? Check out more from our Backstage Experts!

Jackie Reid
Jackie Reid owns and operates L’il Angels Unlimited, a talent management company, which specializes in placing young actors in films, theater productions, commercials, print media, on television, and with voiceover work. Reid works extensively with agents in New York and L.A.