Hush, Camera Rolling: The Hidden Costs of Child Labor Law Breaches 

In the wake of the recent controversy surrounding Nickelodeon and the troubling environment allegedly fostered by Dan Schneider in children’s television, ’Quiet on Set’ serves as the inspiration for this article. It delves deeper into the economic implications of such situations, recognizing that long-standing irregularities often lead to hidden mistakes. 

For years, young stars have endured exploitation, their innocence and charm used to their detriment. Often, these children became the sole breadwinners for their families. The weight of providing for the household rested squarely on their fragile shoulders, leaving them unable to risk anything by speaking out against injustices in the industry. The prevalence of such situations knows no bounds. Imagine the plight of these vulnerable children, silenced by fear of losing their livelihoods. This vulnerability became a tool for the industry, ensuring these children had no voice beyond that of their creators. As it is candidly revealed in  McCurdy (2022), this is a grim reality. Many of these young talents, robbed not only of their childhoods but also of their identities, were forbidden from expressing their thoughts and opinions. 

How is this toxic environment even allowed to exist? We have laws in place meant to prevent such injustices, yet the reality is that the rule of law, often touted without a full grasp of its complexities, is fraught with loopholes. It’s as if misguided behavior goes unnoticed and unpunished as long as it remains unseen and unheard. It’s not akin to forgetting your ID for an exam and being barred from taking it; in that case, the absence of your ID is easily identifiable. But what about when people turn a blind eye to wrongdoing, either because they don’t see enough evidence to act or because they’re complicit or corrupted? 

 Child labour laws fall short 

When it comes to the rule of law, child performers currently benefit from regulations that outline parameters such as their working hours and educational requirements, which vary across different countries. In nations like the USA and Canada, specific laws like the ’Coogan Law’ regulate the compensation of child performers, ensuring that their earnings are protected and reserved for their own welfare( Krieg (2004)). However, despite these well-intentioned regulations, many scholars argue that the reality often falls short of the intended protections. Loopholes exist within these regulations. 

For instance, if a child is engaged in a singing performance, such as a musical tour, certain regulations may no longer apply. While this may seem reasonable, it essentially means that exploitation of the child begins even within the framework of laws designed to protect them in an adult industry. Additionally, there are various pretexts under which producers may demand longer working hours from a child performer, despite clear signs of exhaustion. 

In accordance with the United Nations Declarations on the Rights of the Child from 1959, there are educational laws mandating that children are entitled to free and compulsory education, particularly in the elementary stages. The principle of the best interests of the child should guide those responsible for their education and guidance, primarily the parents. However, there exists a significant loophole in this system, wherein parents are expected to be the primary guardians of their children’s balanced education and well-being. 

Yet, there is a dilemma. In certain circumstances, such as when children are working on film or television sets, producers oversee their education, including providing classes on set. Consequently, if a producer deems it necessary for a child actor to work longer hours for future scenes, neglecting his classes on set, the parent may view this as a valuable opportunity for their child. However, such actions constitute a breach of educational laws, exploiting the children involved. While the law places responsibility on parents, production entities should also be held accountable for any exploitation. 

There’s a mandate in place that prohibits the employment of children before they reach an appropriate age, ensuring they are not engaged in any work that could jeopardize their health, education, or mental development. However, despite our efforts to believe that celebrities entering rehab due to drug use are solely responsible for their career downfall, it’s difficult to ignore the possibility that such talented individuals didn’t simply stumble into their troubles out of nowhere. Traumatic experiences likely played a significant role, shaping their paths in unexpected ways. For instance, as young TV stars, their development as individuals may have been profoundly impacted by factors such as long working hours, gaps in their education, or even more alarming influences that governments are still grappling with. 


In this industry, grooming is the first big problem. Grooming means gaining someone’s trust to take advantage of them later. Usually, people think grooming is only bad if it leads to abuse. But it’s actually a problem even without that. 

Sometimes, even if something bad happens, it’s hard to tell the police because grooming often makes the victim feel dependent on the person doing it. This can happen even if there’s no TV involved. It’s especially bad when kids are involved because their careers might depend on the people grooming them.The people who groom others are often nice and helpful, especially to kids who don’t know much about the world. This makes it hard for parents or others to see what’s really happening. Even if they do see it, it’s often too early for the law to step in, and there are usually excuses made by the people in charge. So, the law fails to protect these kids once again. 

After all these explanations of how the law fails to protect young people in the entertainment industry, why didn’t anyone speak up? Well, some did, but there are Non-Disclosure Agreements (I learned this from ”Suits” :))) that could be in effect while they’re working in those circles. Honestly, breaking that NDA could be really tough. Also, these young stars might have contracts with the TV channels that give them ownership over them. Plus, a kid whose biggest dream was to be on TV wasn’t likely to turn against the only person who gave them that chance, right? So, instead of blaming the parents for not watching closely enough, maybe we should focus on the person who did the harm. In the wake of all the accusations and actual abuse, including on Nickelodeon, we can see how these adults still carry those wounds, possibly for their whole lives. And let’s not forget about the trauma that comes even without abuse. Imagine trusting someone, believing they’re good, only to be betrayed. It’s like life, isn’t it? But in these situations, it’s especially tough because trust is tied to a strong bond to a child and a dependency on those in positions of authority who violate their rights. 


Now, let’s delve into the implications of these law infringements on the psyche of teens in the long run. While some may assume that experiencing trauma once means you’re free from its effects for life, psychologically and biologically, trauma alters the functioning of the brain. It undermines one’s ability to control emotions, thoughts, and bodily reactions—essentially, something else takes over, known as PTSD. 

Numerous studies have explored the economic ramifications of PTSD, yet it’s crucial to delve deeper into how individuals react and what makes PTSD such a significant economic burden. A friend of mine once remarked, ”It’s not taken seriously because it doesn’t affect a large portion of the population, so who cares?” While he’s a savvy entrepreneur with various startups, his words resonate with a truth: because only a small percentage of people experience PTSD, many fail to grasp its significance.(around 8 % of adults is the estimate in America) 

Biological implication 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a mental health condition that often develops after experiencing a traumatic event. It’s characterized by symptoms like intrusive thoughts, nightmares, difficulty sleeping, and problems with memory and concentration. These symptoms are believed to stem from changes in the brain caused by stress. When we’re stressed, it affects certain chemicals and areas of the brain responsible for managing emotions and memories. 

As stated in Sherin and Nemeroff (2011), in PTSD, the hippocampus, amygdala, and prefrontal cortex are particularly affected. For example, stress can harm neurons in the hippocampus, which is crucial for memory, making it harder to remember and process information related to the trauma. One of the hallmarks of PTSD is a smaller hippocampus size. This brain region is essential for regulating stress responses and memory functions. So, changes in its structure may contribute to the symptoms of PTSD, like being easily startled or having vivid flashbacks. Understanding how stress affects the brain can help us develop better treatments for PTSD and support those who are struggling with it. 

Psychological element 

Exposure to trauma can bring about profound changes in individuals’ lives, with emerging research shedding light on the physical alterations that occur in the brain as a result. Rather than being the consequence of physical injury, these changes suggest a rewiring of the brain following traumatic experiences. While previous understandings have highlighted the destruction of neurons in the hippocampus during the flight and freeze response, there may be more to this phenomenon. 

Recent research, detailed in a study published in Keefe et al. (2022), suggests that individuals with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may react differently to perceived threats. Lead author Suarez-Jimenez, along with fellow researchers and senior author Neria, observed that individuals with PTSD performed similarly to those without trauma exposure when emotions were not involved. However, when faced with emotionally charged tasks involving threats, those with PTSD had difficulty discerning nuances. 

Emotions can be quite unpredictable when you think about it. Consider this: picture yourself at your grandparents’ house on a sunny day in July. You feel happy, right? Now, imagine being in an exam hall. You’re likely feeling stressed. Now, think about someone for whom a certain place may trigger traumatic memories. They might experience intense fear, much more than you or I would. So, placing that individual in a different environment doing the same tasks could yield different responses. However, it’s important to note that even a slight reminder of the trauma could have a significantly greater impact on them compared to any of us recalling a difficult, but not traumatic time in our life- like a tough exam that gave us goosebumps. 

Suarez-Jimenez highlighted that individuals with PTSD encounter challenges, particularly in emotionally charged situations that evoke aversion. He emphasized the need for further research to determine if this difficulty extends to other emotions like sadness, disgust, or happiness. It’s plausible that in everyday situations, overwhelming emotions may hinder their cognitive ability to distinguish between safety, danger, or reward, potentially resulting in an overgeneralization towards perceived threats. 

Trauma response in teenagers and kids 

Sufficient evidence has demonstrated that the brain isn’t fully developed until around the age of 25. Why? Because the rational part of a teen’s brain is still in development and won’t reach maturity until around age 25. Consequently, when a child experiences trauma due to abuse of power, it can have lifelong effects, with their brain never fully recovering. 

Arain et al. (2013) remarked that in teenagers, the connections between the emotional and decision making centers of the brain are still forming, and not always at the same pace. This explains why, when overwhelmed emotionally, teens may struggle to articulate their thoughts afterwards. They were more driven by emotions than rational thinking. This also implies that while we may witness exceptional talent in a young actor on stage, any traumatic experience will disproportionately impact them later on in life compared to any other fully grown-up adult who may have experienced the same event in a different context.

The economic burden 

According to Davis et al. (2022), in 2018, PTSD caused a significant economic burden in the US, totaling $232.2 billion, or $19,630 per person with PTSD. Most of this burden, about 82%, fell on civilians, costing them $18,640 per person. Military personnel, on the other hand, bore about 18% of the burden, with costs averaging $25,684 per person. For civilians, the main costs came from healthcare ($66.0 billion) and unemployment ($42.7 billion). In the military, disability ($17.8 billion) and healthcare ($10.1 billion) were the biggest contributors. 

  This shows that PTSD’s impact goes beyond just healthcare costs, rivaling the economic burden of other major mental health conditions. To address this, more awareness about PTSD is needed, along with better treatments and support systems. 


Ultimately, despite the existence of labor laws aimed at protecting children in the industry, numerous unresolved issues persist that could potentially harm them. Until there’s proactive action from the labor unions representing children in the entertainment industry, we’re left hoping for a brighter future. However, the unfortunate reality is that the psychological repercussions suffered by these young actors may never be adequately addressed or compensated for under the law. Psychological trauma, in particular, can have long-lasting effects, following these individuals into adulthood with no legal recourse for compensation. 

I hope this article hasn’t changed anyone’s opinion about their favorite TV shows. Despite everything, I really hope the young actors had some good times on set! 

About this article

Written by:
  • Gabriela Creţu
| Published on: Jun 03, 2024