Mental abuse of kid actors?

Is there any restriction on the mental abuse to which a kid actor can be subjected? I just saw the most horrible thing: I caught a bit of a bad tv movie about spouse abuse, and there was a scene where the dad stabs the mom. Then he goes and gets the three- or four-year-old son and, holding him over the mom, shouts “I just killed your mother!”
Much more shouting, chasing, fighting, and general mayhem ensues. All the while, this real little boy is hysterical. Obviously, he wasn’t acting. No matter what they might have told him about it being pretend, he clearly was terrified.
How can they do this to a kid? I’m supposing there are laws that prevent putting the kid in a situation that grossly endangers him physically, but are they allowed to mentally traumatize any way they want?
– Greg, Atlanta

That does sound awful! I don’t know if it was because of a law or if it was because he’s a decent human being but I understand during the filming of the video for Garth Brooks’ “The Thunder Rolls” (which is about spouse abuse and at first was banned from TV)the little girl in the video wasn’t allowed on the set while the beatings were being filmed, and in the scenes where she’s supposed to be witnessing the abuse, a dummy was used and filmed in soft focus.

(Apologies for the run-on!)

That would be much more reasonable. I know that with some good editing, the viewer wouldn’t know the difference. But in the one I saw today, the kid was right in the middle of it all.
Still makes me shudder to think a whole crew allowed that to happen. The look on the kid’s face made you realize he would remember that just as long as if it were ‘real.’ It was very real to him.
– Greg, Atlanta

How do you know he wasn’t acting? Because he was so convincing? That’s the entire PURPOSE of acting.

He was two or three years old. This wasn’t Laurence Olivier emoting for the camera.
Ever seen a little kid who’s thoroughly terrified? I have and I don’t beleive some two- or three-year-old ‘actor’ can pull it off. These weren’t sweet little tears a la Ricky Schroeder.
He was being used more as a prop than anything else. He had nothing to say or do, other than be terrified.
Suppose for a moment that he was such a terrific little actor that he fooled me. (Trust me: You wouldn’t argue this if you’d seen the same clip.) Does that make it okay to subject him to that sort of thing?
– Greg, Atlanta

no, it doesnt…I too have seen shows with very young children in horrible situations, obviously screaming for momma offside. its horrible, and people wonder why they grow up into drug addicts,holding up liquor stores.
pat on the back to the for not abusing the little girl…you would never tell from the editing, that shows that it CAN be done.

Just realized I changed his age from 3 or 4 in the first post to 2 or 3 in my last post. I can’t tell his age, of course, but he’s in that range.
– Greg, Atlanta

I haven’t seen “Eyes Wide Shut” but it’s my understanding that the little girl who played Tom Cruise & Nicole Kidman’s daughter was at the premiere but did not see the movie with the rest of the audience.
I’m assuming that she did not see the filming of any of the R-rated scenes. (I hope.)
This makes me happy because I’m in contact with so many kids who see movies that are inappropriate for their age.

“Any major dude with half a heart surely will tell you, my friend–
Any minor world that breaks apart falls together again…”
-Steely Dan

Yeah, child actors were exposed to a lot of tense drama and taut horror in the average “Diffren’t Strokes” episode.

har de har har…they did work on other projects too. :stuck_out_tongue:
and I always thought that conrad bain guy, the father, looked pretty creepy!

“give me ambiguity…or give me something else…”

He was two or three years old. This wasn’t Laurence Olivier emoting for the camera.

The job of a child actors is the same as an adult actor – to effectively portray emotions. They wouldn’t be in the business if they couldn’t.

How do you know the child’s actual age? The director could cast a particularly small five year old and use makeup to make him look younger. Kids often play younger than their real age.

And consider what you said:

Don’t you think the kid would know that the actress lying dead on the soundstage wasn’t his mother? Would the run the risk of ruining the take by having the child suddenly said, “Hey, that’s not mom. That’s an actress”? His mother, most likely, would be seated behind the camera with the director and the child would be told it was just make-believe. After all, they are working from a script here. If the kid isn’t in on it, there’s no telling what he would do – and ruin whatever the script called for.

What sort of thing? A man, who isn’t his father, tells him that he killed a woman who wasn’t his mother, and who is alive and breathing. They tell the kid in advance it is make believe and it’s his job to pretend that the stranger lying on the floor is his mother. They coach him on what expressions to use. But as far as the kid is concerned, it’s all pretend – mom’s safe and sound and flirting with the director.

So your position seems to be that you won’t truly terrify a child, even by doing the most horrific things, as long as you tell him it’s pretend? I think that totally disregards the difference between an adult mind and a very little child’s mind. (We’re not even talking about a 12-year-old, for instance, where I might buy this argument more.)
Haven’t you ever seen a child who’s told that the big hulking monster-like figure at the amusement park is just a guy in a Bugs Bunny costume and everything’s fine, but he’s still terrified out of his wits? And that’s intended as a fun situation. Now imagine a blood-soaked ‘mommy’ and a screaming ‘daddy’ and think about how well his little mind can process all that.
Bottom line: What you see sometimes is real terror and you can tell.
– Greg, Atlanta

GregAtlanta asked: How can they do this to a kid? I’m supposing there are laws that prevent putting the kid in a situation that grossly endangers him physically, but are they allowed to mentally traumatize any way they want?

There are many ways that a director can get a kid into a violent scene without traumatizing the young Thespian.
[ul][li]The kid is older than he seems and can handle the faux emotions called for.[/li][li]The kid is actually a midget. Verne Troyer, who played Mini-Me in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, has played a handful of stunt roles where using a real child would be highly unethical.[/li][li]They use a mannequin or dummy. In Enemy Mine, a dummy is obviously being used in the final action sequence when little Zamis is being tossed around an industrial complex.[/ul][/li]Things have really cleaned up after actor Vic Morrow, plus two juvenile Asian actors were killed during an accident on the set of the Twilight Zone Movie. (SFX caused a helicopter to crash, killing all three instantly. A decade later, director John Landis and four others were found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter.)

Points well taken. I understand that they do those things, and that’s great.
I wish we’d all seen the same scene together, because I realize it’s hard to take my word for it that I wasn’t just expertly fooled by some of those techniques.
– Greg, Atlanta

You didn’t happen to catch the name of the movie did you? Now I am curious to see the scene you described.

Some children would react that way, but they’re not going to work as actors. Remember, they don’t just pick kids off the street to perform in these roles, and they have no reason to choose kids who are terrified by make believe.

The scenes are shot in a totally artificial environment. It’s no big deal to make sure that the child knows that the woman involved isn’t his mom. That’s obvious to the child. He also had a chance to meet the “father” on the set, and the guy tells him that he isn’t really hurting anyone. Scenes are usually also run through and rehearsed. By the time the cameras roll, the child knows exactly what to expect. He’s seen the “mother” get up. The director has told him that no one is really hurt. The scene you saw might have been the second, or third, or sixth take – by that time, repetition alone would take care of any real fear.

This even without any other tricks that can be used. It’s all movie magic, and you’re just fooled by it.

(BTW, strong emotions like fear are among the easiest for an actor to portray. It’s the more subtle emotions that are a true sign of the actor’s skill. Even a very young child knows fear and can portray it.)

Ok, I’m open to agreeing that that’s the case sometimes. Maybe even most of the time. But you seem to be taking a rock hard position that the kid is never as terrified as he looks. Doesn’t that even seem possible to you?
And I have to stress this: I’m talking about a 2 or 3 year old kid who was used as a prop, not an older kid and not one who actually had lines and such.
Where’s the age limit for when you assume the kid is acting? If there’s a six-month-old screaming out of his mind and hyperventilating, do you just say he must be a great little thespian? Or maybe he’s actually upset?
The age is key to my concern here. If this had been a 12-year-old, I’d be totally with you on this. I’d just assume it was some jaded Hollywood kid who was smoking cigs and calling his agent right after the scene, no matter how convincing the emotions.
I also think you’re making a big assumption that the director and crew would carefully and diligently explain to the kid that everything was make beleive. You don’t have to be a huge cynic to think that maybe they’d let the kid show some real terror because, hey, that’s got to look good on camera, right?
They intentionally frighten adult actors all the time (Hitchcock did it a lot, especially in “The Birds”), so I don’t think they’re above doing it to a kid.
(Monty2, I don’t know the name of the movie, but it starred the butch girl from “Facts of Life.” Jo?)
– Greg, Atlanta

Ah, yes. Nancy McKeon. The IMDB has her listed as a cast member of about a dozen made-for-TV movies. Sad really. About half of them involve some kind of abuse in the plot line. You might want to check out the link below, Greg, and see if any titles ring a bell.,+Nancy

My guess is “A Cry for Help: The Tracey Thurman Story” (1989) (TV).

Either that or “The Facts of Life Down Under” (1987) (TV)

Yep, I think it must have been “A Cry for Help.” Thanks for answering a bit of the question. Now if you see it on tv again, give it a look and tell me if I’m crazy.
– Greg, Atlanta

Oh my god. I totally remember that movie when it first came out. It’s the scene where he drags her out of the house and beats the crap out of her in front of the whole neighborhood. That scene was terrifying to watch. I was horrified and I’m an adult. You can’t tell me that kid was acting.