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Child stars: Early start or too much too young?

Will.i.am, Pixie Lott and Danny Jones Image copyright ITV/Joel Anderson
Image caption Will.i.am, Pixie Lott and Danny Jones will coach children as young as seven on The Voice Kids

As a prime time talent show opens up its doors to children as young as seven, we ask if that is too young for a child to be centre stage - or is it better to get an early start?

The Voice is making its move from the BBC to ITV and is preparing to hit screens in the new year with celebrities will.i.am, Jennifer Hudson, Tom Jones and Gavin Rossdale judging a host of would-be stars solely on their voices.

The channel will also be launching The Voice Kids - for children between seven and 14.

Singer Pixie Lott, who will be one of the coaches for the series, says she enjoyed her own rise to fame, which she was "single-minded" about from the age of five.

Her career kicked off in her early teens after being discovered by an American record producer and she has gone on to sell more than four million singles and 1.6 million albums worldwide.

Now she wants to encourage young people to follow in her footsteps and get that early start through the show.

"I can't wait to join The Voice Kids and help discover the next big star," she said. "I have such a passion for talented young people and I know the UK will have lots - I can't wait to hear them."

'Not fair to hold them back'

Parents seem keen too. The programme has had more than 15,000 applications for its first series, according to ITV.

Hayley Elton, a concert pianist, has two talented children who are already making their mark in television and thinks the opportunity to "play the publicity game" with TV talent shows is a great opportunity.

Her 13-year-old son Curtis is an accomplished pianist - the youngest in the country to receive a degree-level piano diploma - and appeared on Britain's Got Talent aged just seven, whilst her 11-year-old daughter Sophia is following in his footsteps, singing opera and appearing on Channel 4's Child Genius programme.

Image copyright ITV
Image caption Curtis Elton was just seven when he first appeared on Britain's Got Talent

"When you spot a talent, you need to encourage it," she said. "It you are given two children with exceptional talents, you have to make the most of it.

"They both love the limelight. They are confident when they appear on stage and you have to support it. It would not be fair to hold them back because they are younger.

"I could have told Curtis to wait with Britain's Got Talent, but he wanted to go on the show. And despite the result [he did not win] it didn't matter. It was about the publicity, it is a game, you play it and now he is invited to perform around the world."

She added: "For me, it is incredible to watch them on stage performing, with the crowd applauding and everyone being so proud of them."

'Not all glitz and glamour'

But others have concerns about getting young people in front of the cameras at such an early age.

The public has witnessed the effects on stars who became famous as youngsters, including the troubled life of Judy Garland, the drug problems of Drew Barrymore and controversy over the behaviour of Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus.

Dani Harmer was known to millions as Tracy Beaker in the CBBC show and was only 12 when the first episode aired.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionActress Dani Harmer talks about the reality of being a child star.

She has made a success of her career, appearing on Strictly Come Dancing and in the West End, but says it is a tough path for any young person.

"You get a lot of setbacks in this industry and you have got to have a really thick skin," she told BBC Breakfast.

"I want to impart my knowledge of what I have learnt over the years of how the industry is, because it is not all glitz and glamour and limos likes sometimes it has been made out."

'Damaging'

Dr Jane O'Connor, reader in childhood studies at Birmingham City University, who is writing a book on childhood celebrity, said fame when young can be a positive thing, but parents must be careful not to push their child too hard - or the consequences can be devastating.

"Historically, the children who have done the worst out of being in the spotlight have had very pushy parents," she said. "As much as children think they want to be doing it, they don't understand the consequences.

"It can really confuse the adult/child dynamic when parents are meant to be the ones looking after the younger ones. Then the child makes more money, for example, and it can throw that dynamic. It can cause problems with siblings too if one becomes famous.

"And it can be very damaging to a child when they have been praised so much, then their career is over by the time they are a teenager, just as their peers are starting their adult lives."

Her recommendation is to let your child go ahead but give them as much of a "normal life" as possible and don't push too hard - it has to be their choice.


Tips for parents

If your child wants to embark on a career in show business, here are some tips from the Northern Star Acting Agency.

  • Don't rush your child into going for auditions before they are ready
  • Every audition is a success, regardless of whether they get the job
  • Stay positive - do not pass on any of your doubts to your child
  • Ask questions - If you are ever unsure of anything, ask your agent, coach or any professional involved
  • It has to be your child's decision if they want to do it

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