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Dealing with Explicit Content for Children

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Thanks to the explosion of programming and the popularity of original shows created by HBO, Netflix & Amazon (& whatever new streaming platform has sprung up since the printing of this article) the type of content being put out is definitely pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable for children to watch and especially what roles are offered to minors.  We have found that writers love to show cute innocent kids doing very bad things sometimes for pure shock value and sometimes because, sadly, it’s a story about a true crime.

As parents it is up to you to decide what is appropriate for your child. I can’t make that decision for you but I can tell you where we have drawn the line.

It has happened more times than I can count and I am always surprised.  The first time it was for an apocalyptic feature film with some notable producers.  I confirmed the audition for my son the moment I saw it and then later that day when I sat down at my computer, I opened the script to read it.  It contained dialogue about a ‘rainbow party’ and some sexual innuendo.  I didn’t know what a ‘rainbow party’ was so I had to look it up.  BTW, It’s not a children’s party and it wasn’t a reference to gay pride either.  I was shocked and honestly glad that type of party didn’t exist when I was a teenager.

Since we had already confirmed our appointment time I knew that cancelling would be frowned upon and possibly lead to less auditions.  So I talked it over with my husband and since he wasn’t going to be in any of the sexual scenes, and he only had a couple of lines that were vulgar, in my opinion, that we would take this as an opportunity to discuss appropriate behavior in middle school.  After all, he was almost done with elementary school and we wanted to be ‘woke’ to the realities of teen life.

So I explained the scene to him and he seemed OK, but not entirely comfortable.  I offered to call and cancel but he didn’t want to upset our agent.  Cut to the day of the audition.  We have parked and are about 15 minutes early.  So we were sitting in the car going over the script one last time and my son had a meltdown.  He just wasn’t comfortable saying the lines or even pretending to be at that kind of party.  The character was the antithesis of who he was as a person and he really didn’t want to say the lines in front of anyone.

So there we were sweating in the car and I was like, “This is ridiculous.  You are 10 years old. You’re not doing this.” I called our agent, “Hi, I’m so sorry to do this but we are at the audition and my son just can’t go in.  He is not comfortable saying those words or even being in a scene where his dialogue is so explicit about sex.”

My agent responded, “Oh, I didn’t read it.  So sorry.  We totally understand if you want to cancel.  It’s too bad because it’s a great opportunity but you have to do what’s best for him.”  That response is why I love our agent and we are still with them today.  They called the casting office and told them we were cancelling due to content. My son was so relieved.  It was like I took a huge boulder off of his shoulder.

Because of that crazy situation we ended up having a conversation about exactly what kinds of jobs he would take and what would be a hard pass no matter who the director, cast, etc… was.  These criteria have evolved over the years and can really vary depending on the maturity of the child.  I’ve always found it strange that as a culture we are more OK with violence than we are with sex but that is just the world we live in.

Here’s our list from when he was 10 years-old:

  • No swearing
  • No kissing
  • No smoking or doing drugs
  • No nudity or implied nudity
  • No sex scenes
  • No talking about sex acts or masturbating or those kinds of bodily fluids
  • No Horror films (he just didn’t like them, being on set gave him nightmares)
  • No shooting or murdering anyone on screen
  • OK to talk about murder if it happened off screen
  • OK with physical fighting
  • OK playing a bully or a sociopath
  • OK pretending to drink alcohol

Here’s it is at 14 years-old:

  • No kissing
  • No sex scenes
  • No shooting or murdering anyone on screen
  • No actual below the waist nudity but OK with implied nudity
  • Might talk about sex acts or masturbating or bodily fluids but would prefer not to
  • May be willing to do horror film but it would depend on circumstances
  • OK pretending to smoke but doesn’t want to actually inhale anything
  • OK with murder depending on the scene
  • OK with physical fighting
  • OK with weapons depending on the scene
  • OK playing a bully or a sociopath

Like I said, every child is different.  My children are both very uncomfortable with sex, drugs and murder.  I know the first time my son used a curse word, it was for an audition and I was thinking to myself, ”What are we doing?  This industry is corrupting my kid!”  All he really wanted was to be on a Disney or Nickelodeon show.  He kept getting auditions where he was supposed to kiss someone (so his first kiss would have been with an actress not someone he actually liked – how weird is that!), or participate in locker room talk, or bully someone or genuinely be a psychopath. The sweeter looking the kid is the more likely they’ll want to cast against type.

The truth is, he was never going to book the job that required him to swear because he just didn’t sound natural saying it.  I remember sitting there for the audition.  It was for the pilot episode of GLOW and he was auditioning for one of the skater kids who harasses actress Alison Brie.  All we knew is that it was for a new show and it was a great opportunity.  He was already a decent skateboarder… so to make sure he was prepared I practiced cussing with my kid.  I’m shaking my head, while I write this because it was so ridiculous.  There are other families where four-letter-words are no big deal or the kids have older siblings and they’re just more like that skater kid in real life, more authentic.

Anyway, we talked to our agent and managers and set out the ground rules and yes, we passed on some pretty big opportunities, opportunities that other kids definitely booked.  Has it hurt his acting career?  Possibly.  (Shrug) He would rather not have an acting job than participate in an underage sex scene or worse and I respect his decision.  I think boundaries are healthy.  Especially when they are pushed so far on screen these days.

You and your child need to decide together what they are comfortable with, not only now, but forever.  The scene they film today will be out there in the world for years to come and they might have employers, family or friends who’ve seen it long after they’ve left the entertainment industry.  You’re making choices for a child that they will have to live with as an adult.

Hopefully this gave you something to think deeply about, talk to your child and agent about and will remind you to always read the script before you confirm the audition!

Erin Leigh Neumeyer

About Erin Leigh Neumeyer

Erin Leigh Neumeyer is a family and headshot photographer and actress-VO artist-director-writer, you know the all around multi-hyphenate “maker" type. Erin’s favorite phrase is "Imperfect Action beats Perfect Inaction every time.” She has a background in PR and Marketing and has worked with non-profits like The Humane Society and Project Angel Food, fundraising, running events and managing communication. She is also the Communications Director of Connect Film Festival. Her training began in theatre and improv and she’s a graduate of the Second City Conservatory in Chicago as well as iO Chicago and iO west. She is a proud member of Women In Film, Women in Animation and is a huge fan of Seed and Spark, Film Powered and of course, Ms. in the Biz. Living in LA she feels at home and loves the creative energy. She has two children who she adores and who also work in the entertainment industry and her adorable Siberian Husky, Thunder, has been called in to audition from time to time. Erin is currently filming a web series with her kids called Your Neighbors The Neumeyer’s, in pre-production on a social activism themed short film that she wrote and regularly works on projects at HitRECORD. Keep up with Erin: Entertainment: ErinNeumeyer.com Instagram: @ErinLeighNeumeyer Twitter: @ErinNeumeyer Photography: ErinLeighPhotography.com & ePhotoLA.com Instagram: @ephotla Twitter @erinLEIGHphotog