Be a Mentor (Not a Coach) for Your Young Performer

In my years as a talent manager and acting coach for young performers, the one thing I have seen all too many times is the parent-coach. The parent-coach, sometimes known as the “stage mom,” is an all too common occurrence in the world of young performers. Instead of leaving the lessons to the professionals, the parent-coach takes on the role of acting, voice, and dance teacher all in one stroke, and usually with no formal training. The entertainment industry is a tough one, especially for a child. As a parent, you want to support your child, not lead them astray. Instead of being a parent-coach, think about becoming a parent-mentor instead.

Beware the over-coached child. I have seen countless young performers come to lessons with me already having “learned” their scene. They’ve practiced it with their parent beforehand who has given them direction. Oftentimes parent-coaches instruct their child to practice in front of the mirror. The results are disastrous. How can a child explore her emotional connection to her scene partner? How can he stay focused on being in the moment when he is distracted by his reflection? When I see this, I usually have to spend hours deconstructing a child’s bad habits, enabling them to get to the “truth” of their scene. This is not unique to my coaching sessions. The over-coached child is a casting director’s worst nightmare. Casting professionals can spot it in a second, and it usually ends with your child’s résumé in the “no” pile. They are looking for children who are unique, who have passions, who are real kids. Don’t hinder your child’s abilities by espousing your own ideas. Instead, help your child by entrusting them in the care of a skilled professional.

Keep calm in the waiting room. Everybody knows that the waiting room can be one of the most stressful parts of an audition. There you two are, sitting with your child’s competition. It’s this stressful situation that many times sparks the inner parent-coach to life. Shoving last-minute tips and tricks down your child’s throat, telling them to remember to smile and sit up straight, to not forget that line, or to look sad at the end of the scene—these are all typical instances of the audition advice. While they are well-intentioned, it is usually a recipe for an over-coached and stressed out child. Instead of reminding them about all the little things, talk to them about their day, put their mind at ease, support them by reaffirming their abilities, and tell them to have fun. That’s why they’re doing this! Remind them of that passion while giving them confidence in their strengths.

Become a mentor. An acting coach’s job is to instruct young performers. They divulge a curriculum and work with students to gain a new understanding through practice and performance. They take their students on a journey of self-discovery. As tempting as it can be to jump in with extra help, leave this to the professionals. Personally, I have not studied auto mechanics, so when my daughter’s car breaks down, I don’t try and fix it myself. I go to a skilled professional. If you, as a parent, do not have a performance background, leave the training to the professionals. Instead, be your child’s mentor. Find her the right teachers; drive him to his rehearsals; support him through his struggles; and celebrate her successes. You are your child’s biggest advocate. Use your power as a parent to help her grow and flourish in what can be a wonderful but also ruthless industry. You will cherish new aspects of your relationship with your child and you will be surprised what you learn about yourself in the process.