When Parents Lead, Children Succeed

Fostering Professionalism From the Outset

Fostering Professionalism From the Outset

Elane V. Scott
Rick Stephens
Featured Guest:
Michael Harrah

Dear Stakeholder Leaders,

For many parents who think their child is a candidate for stardom because he or she can strike a pose or sing a song in a school play, there is seldom an easy way to test that theory. So, when my own daughter’s dance teacher recommended she audition for a local production of the Broadway musical "George M!", I had no concept of how it, and the subsequent role our 4 year old was awarded, would change our family’s life forever. An activity that started as a hobby became the center of our family life for years to follow. For any of you who put your child in some sport and discovered they played a little harder or performed a little better than most of the other players, or found your child could draw or build things with ease that others struggled for, you know how the discovery of that talent can feel like both a curse and blessing. What’s a parent to do?

In my time as a mother of a young talent, information about how to take advantage of opportunities to develop it was fraught with myths and half-true anecdotes about how putting her into the entertainment industry would “destroy her self-esteem” if she didn’t get the parts she sought, or turn her into a self-indulged egotist if she did. There was no in between perspective, until I met today’s guest, Michael Harrah. A long time industry professional as a performer, teacher, director, and leader of political issues significant to children who work, Michael stands out as the most knowledgeable person I have ever met on the topic of children and work. Michael was my daughter’s talent manager in the entertainment business for nearly 14 years. In that time, under his mentorship, she developed a broad range of skills including her abilities to perform, act, sing, speak, and behave as a professional, while never ever forgetting that she was still a kid. She worked in live theater, did national commercials, and handled parts on several weekly TV shows, all while managing her normal school schedule. And while she never reached a point of national recognition, she didn’t exit the professional entertainment industry the least bit scarred. She was, in fact, more fit for living outside of it. Her self esteem soared with a rich enthusiasm for trying anything new. After all, as Michael would say, “it doesn’t mean much if you don’t get the part, sometimes you just don’t fit their costume.” The lessons garnered from that time in her life created an adaptable, quick thinking, self-starter who is highly praised by employers to this day for the unique skill set she offers.

In generations past, kids often worked in addition to going to school. They worked on farms, they worked in family businesses. Kids were left alone to figure things out and they got hurt and they earned their keep. All invaluable lessons! But somewhere in the post-agricultural area we stopped needing them to work and instead, in an effort to protect them and ease their lives, adults began to ask less and less of their children. By working professionally at a young age, of her own volition, my daughter learned responsibility, how to overcome obstacles, and yes she even dealt with some heart ache. As the parent, of course it hurt me to see her hurt, but the reality is that’s life. By putting bumper rails along our children’s life paths we have not only gotten less out of them, but, in fact, handicapped them physically and mentally. Are we protecting them to death these days? Look at the media articles featured with this newsletter and consider it for yourself. Then hit play on this conversation with Michael and my daughter who speak from both sides of the table on the importance and value of asking more. Stay engaged!

Elane V. Scott

October 2008
Functional Family Guide: