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Ex-child actors allege variety of abuses on sets of Nickelodeon classic TV shows

STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: We have a glimpse of what happened away from the cameras on the sets of popular TV shows. The documentary series "Quiet On Set" examines allegations of harassment and unsafe work environments on shows produced for Nickelodeon years ago. We got some perspective from Alyson Stoner, who acted in many Disney productions in the same era. "Camp Rock," for example, featured Stoner and the Jonas Brothers.


ALYSON STONER: (As Caitlyn) This is in honor of you awesome Camp Rockers.

INSKEEP: Stoner looks back on that time with regret and now discusses Hollywood's treatment of child actors on a podcast called "Dear Hollywood." Stoner says some parents don't understand the industry they encourage their kids to join.

STONER: This is an adult-oriented environment with adult-oriented priorities, schedules and protocols. You are allowing your child to have their name, likeness used as a product to help a corporation profit with your child's involvement. So on any given day, in any given scenario, a lot of folks around simply think, oh, that's not my problem. That's not my role. Someone else must be looking out for them.

INSKEEP: So nobody's watching out for these kids, who are in a uniquely vulnerable situation and open to suggestions or demands and...

STONER: It's quite interesting. On set, technically, legally, we're supposed to have a teacher who behaves also as a welfare worker who's looking out for the child's well-being. Yet, if the teacher is paid by the production company, then there's a conflict of interest. So we need a different kind of line of defense, a different kind of person on set who's able to solely focus on the children's needs psychologically and logistically.

INSKEEP: How old were you when you got into acting?

STONER: I started performing at the age of 3 and working professionally at 7.

INSKEEP: And what was the attitude of your family toward this?

STONER: You know, it's important to acknowledge here that my family, I think, went into the industry with the best of intentions. They were not looking to exploit me by any means. And yet, because of the lack of preparation and education, we found ourselves running a mile a minute from job to job to job and just trying to keep up with the pressures of Hollywood. I really think had we been presented with more supportive material, we might have simply walked away or at least paced ourselves differently.

INSKEEP: It seems that this kind of environment is spreading, rather than contracting. You may go off to Hollywood, but you may just be an Instagram influencer in Cleveland and you're 7 years old and having some of these kinds of experiences.

STONER: Correct. This digital landscape is widening the funnel of young people entering this kind of pipeline. And there are even fewer protections legally in terms of the finances that they may accrue from monetizing content, the lack of privacy with folks being able to message them directly in their inbox and, of course, the public scrutiny.

INSKEEP: What would you have everyone do differently?

STONER: Within the industry, we can create - and I'm designing this alongside therapists - toolkits that help parents and young people understand how to navigate the stressful and unconventional processes of being in the industry. We also can provide on-set training and make sure there are folks on set who can protect young people. And then collectively, I invite us to ask questions around what it means to represent children in media and to have children's private moments shared with the world.

INSKEEP: Alyson Stoner, it's a pleasure talking with you. Thank you so much.

STONER: Thanks so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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