The sexualization of child actors must stop

The sexualization of child actors must stop
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I binge-watched the entirety of the first season of "Stranger Things" in one night. Like many other viewers, a huge part of the show’s appeal was the chemistry amongst all the actors. I waited with bated breath for "Stranger Things 2," and it lived up to my expectations. It was compelling to see how much the ensemble of young stars has grown as actors. However, there are other fans of the show who were more shocked by the dramatic change in their physical appearance. Actress Ali Michael, 27, posted a picture of 14-year-old Finn Wolfhard – who plays Mike Wheeler – on Instagram with a caption asking him to call her in four years. 

The sexualization of child stars is not new. Perhaps the most notorious example of it – before "Stranger Things" and, to a lesser extent, the recent remake of the movie"It" – is Emma Watson. Around the time the movie version of "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" was released, when Watson was 15, fans in different corners of the internet were creating countdowns to her 18th birthday. It’s no shock that Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown and others are receiving the same treatment. 

What is shocking is the lack of public outcry. These are literal children. There is no reason that an adult should be calling these kids “hot” or discussing their excitement for them to reach the age of consent.

With the recent influx of actors discussing their childhood sexual trauma at the hands of older actors and producers, we should be extra vigilant about the way that we feed into this culture of pedophilia. The outraged hashtags and Facebook posts mean very little if we don’t make a conscious effort to let children be children. 

Just because these kids have grown up a bit still doesn’t make them adults. If we genuinely care about keeping these adolescents safe, it’s imperative that we don’t contribute to the culture that is putting them in danger. This is all tied back to rape culture; it’s all tied back to the confessions we’ve been hearing over the last several weeks.

In an interview with TMZ, Wolfhard expressed that he found Michael’s post weird. At the end, he looked visibly uncomfortable, and still attempted to shrug it off, stating, “it’s fine.” But this isn’t the first time that Wolfhard has had to address the uncomfortable way that his fans talk about him. 

Back in January, while promoting "It," he stated to the YouTubers Game Grumps that he wished people would stop calling him “daddy.” It’s a sad world that we live in when a 13-year-old is being harassed on social media by fans – children and adults alike – that speaking about it once isn’t enough. He shouldn’t have to speak on it at all. It shouldn’t have to be a topic of discussion. 

And yet, 12 years after Emma Watson was sexualized by grown men, the same thing is happening to a new generation of child stars. We cannot keep pretending to be surprised by the existence of victims when we are part of the problem. 

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