Realities of the entertainment industry in the USA: child performers and their right to education

Posted on Posted in Children's Rights, Education

While child labor laws typically prohibit minors from working, the United States carves out exceptions for child performers, reflecting the nation’s fascination with show business. In the glitzy world of American entertainment, child performers, that is,  children under 18 years of age who perform work or supply services for monetary compensation in the entertainment industry, often captivate audiences with their talent and charm. Yet, behind the scenes, these young stars grapple with unique challenges, one of them being balancing their budding careers with their right to education

Legal protection of child performers in the USA

The right to education is one of the fundamental rights of each child. However, minors who work in the entertainment industry in the USA encounter various obstacles in practicing the right, which is why proper legal protection of the right has been necessary.

The Federal Fair Labor Standards Act, which establishes minimum wage, overtime pay, recordkeeping, and child labor standards affecting full-time and part-time workers in the private and public sectors also recognizes exemptions for certain categories of workers, including child performers in the entertainment industry (FLSA, 1938). These exemptions allow child performers to engage in artistic pursuits while also ensuring they receive necessary protections and accommodations, such as access to education and limitations on work hours.

State-specific regulations, like California’s Coogan Act, aim to protect the earnings and educational needs of child performers (Biz Parentz Foundation, 2018). The Coogan Act, in particular, mandates that a portion of a child’s earnings be set aside in a trust fund for their education and future financial security. 

Moreover, educational requirements dictate that child performers must receive tutoring on set to ensure they keep up with their studies. In California, for example, where a significant portion of the entertainment industry is based, child performers are required to receive at least three hours of tutoring each day they work on set in case they are absent from their compulsory educational activities (Courtenay, 2018). This provision is part of the California Education Code, which outlines the state’s compulsory education requirements.

Obstacles to traditional schooling

While the above-mentioned and other legal instruments safeguard the educational well-being of these young talents, the practical realities paint a more nuanced picture. The rigorous schedules and demands of the entertainment industry can pose significant challenges to a child’s education

One major challenge is the disruption of traditional schooling caused by the erratic schedules of film shoots, rehearsals, and promotional tours. These inconsistencies in attendance can cause difficulties in keeping up with coursework. For example, a child actor filming on location for an extended period may struggle to attend regular classes, making it challenging to maintain academic progress and continuity in their education.

Even when the work schedule allows child performers to attend traditional schools on a somewhat regular basis, they often feel isolated or even get bullied due to their different social status (Sharf, 2023). In combination with frequent and prolonged absence and exhaustion due to physically and emotionally demanding jobs, this makes traditional education a serious challenge for child performers.

On-set tutoring and other alternatives to traditional schooling

For those young talents who cannot attend traditional schools on a regular basis, there are other options, some of them being online or hybrid education in private schools, homeschooling, independent study programs available in some states and designed specifically for child performers to allow them to finish courses at their own pace, as well as on-set tutoring (Sanchez, 2023). The latter can be combined with the other mentioned forms of education.

On-set tutoring, as a form of education specific for young performers, ensures compliance with labor laws. However, the quality and consistency of this education can vary widely. While the minimum of on-set tutoring hours is determined by law, in reality, the focus is often on covering the bare legal minimum of tutoring hours, while the consistency and quality frequently get overseen.

Thus, in practice, it is not unusual for an on-set lesson to be interrupted by a team member requiring the young performer to come to the set or a rehearsal immediately, interrupting the lesson which, if it hadn’t been longer than 30 minutes, has to be repeated, which makes it even more difficult for a child to focus on (O’Mahony, 2017). Additionally, due to a tight schedule, not all subjects are covered, the focus being on maths, literacy and science (O’Mahony, 2017). 

Importance of proper education for young performers

While their careers may be flourishing at a young age, the future trajectory of child performers in show business is uncertain. Education provides them with a solid foundation and a backup plan, equipping them with knowledge and skills that can serve as a safety net should their careers in entertainment falter or evolve in unexpected ways. By investing in their education, child performers are better prepared to navigate the challenges of adulthood, whether they continue in the entertainment industry or transition into other fields.

Moreover, proper education empowers child performers to be less dependent on others for their success and well-being. While they may have agents, managers, and other industry professionals guiding their careers, education fosters independence and critical thinking skills, enabling them to make informed decisions about their futures. Without a solid educational background, child performers may find themselves vulnerable to exploitation or manipulation within the industry.

Additionally, lack of proper education can have psychological consequences, particularly in terms of social interactions and relationships with peers. Child performers often miss out on the typical school experiences, such as making friends, participating in extracurricular activities, and developing social skills. This isolation from their peers can lead to feelings of loneliness, alienation, and a sense of disconnect from their age group, highlighting the importance of education not only for academic growth but also for holistic development and well-being (Sanchez, 2023).

Safeguarding the right to education for child performers

Child performers in the USA nowadays enjoy significantly better protection compared to the times when the entertainment industry started positioning itself as one of the most prominent ones in the country. Still, we cannot close our eyes to the fact that they are still working and that the fact affects crucial aspects of their lives, including education. Providing a better education environment for child performers in the USA requires a multifaceted approach involving both governmental action and individual efforts. 

Firstly, the US government can enact stronger and more comprehensive regulations to ensure that child performers receive adequate educational support while pursuing their careers in entertainment. Here it is crucial to not only introduce new and modify existing legal regulations, but to also make sure that they are applied in practice in a way that actually meets these children’s best interests. This is where relevant social services could play an important role by working in the field.

Additionally, collaboration between government agencies, educational institutions, and industry stakeholders could lead to the development of standardized educational guidelines and best practices for child performers. Standardized practices could help minimize the consequences of a money-centered approach to young talents that are sometimes encountered not only among entertainment industry stakeholders, but parents and guardians as well.

Parents and guardians of child performers play a crucial role in prioritizing their children’s education and advocating for their rights within the industry. They should actively engage with industry professionals to ensure that their children’s rights, including those related to education, are protected and upheld throughout their entertainment careers with no exceptions.

Here at Humanium, our mission involves raising awareness about the importance of proper education for children regardless of their race, nationality, social status or any other factors, and advocating for protective measures. If you want to contribute to our cause, please consider making a donation, volunteering, or becoming a member.

Written by Zeljka Mazinjanin


Biz Parentz Foundation (2018),  California Coogan Law. Retrieved from Biz Parentz Foundation, available at, accessed on February 14, 2024.

Courtenay Julia (2018), How to work with child actors on set. Retrieved from INfocus Film School, available at, accessed on February 14, 2024.

FLSA (1938), Fair Labor Standards Act. Retrieved from Office of Financial Management of the state of Washington, available at, accessed on February 14, 2024.

O’Mahony Holly (2017), Teaching on a film set: ‘I’ve found myself in all sorts of bizarre locations’. Retrieved from The Guardian, available at, accessed on february 15, 2024.

Sanchez Maria (2023), Do Child Actors Go To School? A Detailed Look. Retrieved from Save Our Schools, available at, accessed on February 15, 2024.

Sharf Zack (2023), School of Rock’ Kids Got Smacked by Bullies, Were ‘Mentally Unwell’ and More After Film’s Release: ‘I Was Looked at Like a Complete Weirdo’. Retrieved from Variety, available at, accessed on February 14, 2024.