Your child has stars in her eyes -- she has been sure, from a very young age, that she was born to be on stage. While you want to be supportive, is this a realistic goal that will end up with a happy and grounded adult who can fully support herself?
One New York City mom has a son who is pursuing a career as a film director -- and it has turned into a quagmire of half-realized goals and mounting parental debt.
"We gave our son until age 25, and now 30, to 'make it,' with our financial help," she told LifeZette. "He makes just enough strides forward that it is hard to shut the door on this dream. He is working and we are helping pay his rent -- but when do you say, 'Enough'? It's an extremely sensitive situation."
More kids than ever have dreams of a career in the performing arts, and with the rise in reality shows like "The Voice," stardom may seem even more attainable. Over the past 40 years, the number of students enrolled in performing arts college programs has tripled.
The National Center for Educational Statistics' most recent report on post-secondary degrees in visual and performing arts shows a very clear trend: More and more young people are seeking out these disciplines. The number of bachelor's and master's degrees in this field rose from 30,394 and 6,675 (respectively) in 1971 -- to 97,246 and 17,863 in 2014 (the most recent numbers available).
How should parents handle a child's serious interest in the performing arts? After all, most parents have a major concern about their child when they become adults: earning a living.
Dr. Jason Stein, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Brentwood, California, breaks down the reasons why kids are attracted to this field.
"Setting aside Los Angeles, where the allure of celebrity and popularity is all around, there is something captivating to trying on different roles, where young people have an opportunity to realize the fantasy of something idealized," Stein said. "Kids have a rich fantasy life, and much of it gets stifled in the real world, as they are steered toward concrete achievements, preparing for college, and making responsible choices."
Thus, many teens find value in using performing arts as an outlet, even if they don't intend to pursue it over the long term.
Because the field can be seductive, it's important both parent and child understand exactly why the child has interest. "The child should be doing it as an expression of joy, not to pursue the parent's dream -- or if the parent unrealistically sees their child in a life that isn't realistically going to pan out," Stein cautioned.
There is often a difficult truth to confront -- some children have natural talent and others do not. What can a parent do if their child turns out to be the latter?
Many parents fear their child may want to go to a performing arts college.
"The beauty of success is that it speaks for itself. If the kid is doing theatre and enjoying it, that's great," said Stein. "If they are going on auditions and failing, that tells the parent something. Success should drive the nurturing."
In addition, he suggested, "There's no need to be the star of every high school play. Children should get exposed to all elements of performing arts, and they may discover that other elements of it -- such as set or lighting design -- speak to the child. Parents and schools should give kids a breadth of exposure."
Unfortunately, there exists a business-driven machine, along with the "precious snowflake" phenomenon, which props up kids with the false idea of becoming a movie star. This is an externally driven force, not an internal one -- which it should be. Parents need to be honest with themselves and not push the child into a situation that might lead to failure.
"My teenage son and I were walking through the mall and a talent scout followed us, trying to hand us a pamphlet and assuring me my son could make big bucks as a child model and maybe even an actor," one Boston-area mom told LifeZette. "I had to tell my son, whose ears perked up at the word 'money,' that this was a business, signing up kids, and we weren't interested."
It's one thing to pursue the performing arts before college. But many parents fear their child may want to go to a performing arts college. How, then, would the child make a living in this highly competitive field?
Stein shared guidance: "In a healthy situation, college is about exploring and widening circles of experience, not a place of narrowing choices. What that means first, for the parent, is to ask [themselves] if the child has had success, and if that train has its own inertia. If so, perhaps a performing arts college might make sense. If not -- or even if the child has had success, the parent should still have direct conversations about what is reality for the child's future, and what is a dream. There is a middle ground. Perhaps the child can go to a school that is strong in performing arts, but they don't major in it. Perhaps the child will find a niche."
The arts are about process, not product. There is value in going to acting school, but the school is not what creates the career. Thus, a college selection should be about joy, not the promise of a career.
We don't want to shatter our children's dreams. Yet neither we, nor a school, can "teach" talent. The child needs to be realistic, with the help of parental guidance and if necessary, a family therapist.
Finally, there may be parental anxiety surrounding our child's future. What if our children actually do go to a performing arts school? The good news, Stein noted, is that many of these schools, such as Berkeley School of Music in Boston, are also teaching life skills and financial management.
The bottom line: No need to worry. Encourage children to explore. Success becomes evident over time. The last thing you want to do is force your child away from something he or she finds joy and success in doing -- that combination is very difficult to find.