Most parents would prefer to be on set with their kids if given a choice. Kids need support, whether they are just starting their career or are seasoned professionals. In addition to support, there are safety concerns in leaving your child unattended on a set, even if they are old enough that you can do so legally.
Feelings aside, the rules that dictate when a parent must be within sight and sound of their minor actor are pretty strict. Whether you have any choice at all before they are 18 depends in part on where your child is working.
Here are the rules for when a child is old enough to be on set without a parent:
If a minor is working in California, then California labor laws apply.
They state that a parent is required to be on set (within sight and sound) if the child is under 16.
If a minor is working outside of California, then SAG-AFTRA rules apply.
They state that if a minor is under 18, a parent must be on set (within sight and sound) UNLESS the minor has passed the CHSPE (California High School Proficiency Exam). A minor who has passed the CHSPE is considered a “legal 18” in the eyes of the industry. They are considered an adult for the purposes of the production.
Note that a young actor must be 16 to take the CHSPE if they are based outside of California. Kids who reside in California can take the CHSPE either when they are 16, or in the 2nd semester of their sophomore year. So, a California-based actor who is young for their grade could conceivably pass the CHSPE at 15. They would then be eligible to work as a legal 18, on a set without parental supervision.
So that’s the legal end of it.
However, the legal aspect is only the most basic consideration for a parent.
Most young actors, even experienced ones, will do better with a parent on set to offer moral as well as material support. And for this reason, most productions will actually prefer that a parent be on set with their young actor. Even if they are legally able to be there on their own. A safe and supported actor will give a better performance, and likely have fewer problems on set.
After a young actor can legally work on set without a parent, whether the parent continues to accompany them becomes more a matter of family dynamics. Sometimes a parent has sacrificed their own career for years and needs to return to work as soon as they are able. Sometimes the tension between a teenage actor and their parent leads both to decide that things would be smoother without the parent on set constantly.
If you find yourself in the position of having a choice to be on set with your kid—which is to say if they are 16 or 17 in California, or have passed the CHSPE, outside of California—I would encourage you to be there if you can. Even though (in California) the set teacher is also is responsible for the welfare of minors on set, no one can protect or advocate for your kid like you.
Parents occupy a role like no other, and when their child is a young actor, they can be thrust into an unfamiliar world with opaque and counter-intuitive rules. Navigating this world can be frustrating, confusing, and keep you up at night wondering if you’re doing the right things to help your child succeed. If you feel like there might be more that you could be doing—or want to get a reality-check on how things are going—book a consultation session with me. 60 or 90 minutes over Skype, phone, or in person in LA can give you peace of mind and an action plan. I look forward to talking with you!