(It has taken me about 2 months to write this post because the subject is so important to me I wanted desperately to get this right. Today I give up and post, anyway.)
Can we please stop paying adults to abuse our children?
Several times a year, in my small town, I witness public abuse of teenagers and children, for which the perpetrator is literally applauded, and often even compensated with a nice fat check.
I am referring, of course, to children’s theater. In children’s theater, I have seen teens grinding on each other, a row of 12 year old girls opening their legs on café chairs in the manner of a Madonna video, boys and girls grabbing each other’s asses, and simulated rape.
In many cases, the parents pay tuition for these things to occur.
For various reasons, none of them having to do with the welfare of kids and teens, youth theater has been doing edgy, trendy musicals. Some of the musicals performed recently by local children’s theater include the following:
The Addams Family
West Side Story
Into the Woods
The American Psychological Association defines sexual abuse like this:
Sexual abuse is unwanted sexual activity, with perpetrators using force, making threats or taking advantage of victims not able to give consent. Most victims and perpetrators know each other.
Sexual abuse does not have to mean no clothing, but is sexual activity, unwanted, and/or from people unable to give consent.
Children in theater are not able to give consent to whether they get ground by other actors (Addams Family and Into the Woods) verbally abused (Evita and West Side Story)or reenacting rape and prostitution (West Side Story, Miss Saigon, Les Mis, Sweeney Todd).
They are not able to give consent because it is the trusted adult telling them to do the inappropriate thing.
Allowing our children and teens to be in plays with sexual content teaches them to do what adults say, sexually speaking, even if it makes them uncomfortable. They know they’ll be kicked out of the play if they protest.
More girls than boys get put in sexual situations in plays, even teen plays. So this teaches girls that their worth is based on how well they perform sexually, and boys that this is perfectly OK.
As icky as the idea of teens grinding on each other at the request of an adult is, the thing that sends it from icky to long-term harmful is this: Rehearsal.
It is not just a situation of sexual content. Teens can, and do, engage in sexual activity (and if they are ready and use protection, I say,” Go for it!”) It is a situation where the adult guides and critiques the teen sexual situation, certainly dozens, and often 100s of times.
There is nothing that can make it OK for an adult to say to a teen or a child, “OK, sit on that café chair, now spread your legs. No, wider. No, you have to wait for the 3-count. Good, good, that looks great, do it again.”
Every letter I have written to a school or theater group pointing out this inappropriateness has gone unanswered.
Brooke Shields, after years of defending her mother’s decision to put her in Pretty Baby, a movie about a child prostitute, has publicly changed her mind on whether that was a good idea.
I was a child actor. I work with children and teens every day. I have a child who acts.
STOP THE SEXUAL ABUSE OF MINORS IN THEATER.