Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

From dead moms to Dan Schneider: Hollywood’s exploitation of child actors

Kellyn Taylor
Illustration Kellyn Taylor

Opinion editors are not responsible for agreeing or disagreeing with their writers but rather elevate each individual’s specific voice. 

I read Jennette McCurdy’s memoir, “I’m Glad My Mom Died,” over winter break in approximately four hours. My grandfather got me a Kindle for Christmas, and I wanted to read something on it. I downloaded it as it was the first title I recognized—admittedly, from people talking about it on TikTok.

I am not a big movie person—I’m at Emerson for journalism, not film—and I didn’t know much about McCurdy after her time on “iCarly.” Her character, Sam Puckette, was one of my favorite characters, and I only watched the spinoff “Sam and Cat” for her (no hate to Ariana Grande, but I just didn’t like her character). 

All of this to say, I was absolutely horrified by what I found between the (digital) covers of this book. McCurdy details her struggles as a child actor, including her eating disorders (encouraged by her mom), addiction, and behind-the-scenes abuse. I guiltily read every word late into the night, unable to put it down. 

Though the main focus of this book is the abuse McCurdy suffered at the hands of her own mother, she interestingly brings up “The Creator” of “iCarly.” While never naming him specifically, Dan Schneider was the creator of “iCarly,” and it is widely believed that all mentions of The Creator by McCurdy refer to Schneider. 

She describes how The Creator often gave her massages and encouraged her to drink alcohol while she was underage. He also promised McCurdy her own show, but that quickly turned into the spin-off “Sam and Cat” with Ariana Grande. 

After reading McCurdy’s memoir, I knew one thing: I hated Dan Schneider. 

Flash forward to March 2024. My friends asked if I wanted to watch the documentary about Dan Schneider, and with nothing better to do, I said yes. To say I was hooked after the opening is an understatement. 

I have since watched the documentary “Quiet on Set: The Dark Side of Kids TV” twice—the first with friends, the second alone. Both times I had to shut my laptop and take a second. Though it is important, it is a painful watch. 

Many of the ex-child actors who starred in Nickelodeon shows spoke out in the documentary about Schneider’s abuse and predatory actions. Each of their stories closely resembled McCurdy’s about The Creator: massages, sexual jokes, etc.

While both the book and the documentary are vital narratives into the lives of child actors, specifically related to Dan Schneider, people should realize that celebrities do not owe us this. McCurdy chose to share her story with complete transparency. Drake Bell chose to participate in the documentary, sharing his own experience of sexual assault by someone he met on the set of Schneider’s “All That.”

While supporting Bell for his testimony, fans turned against his co-star Josh Peck for not speaking out. Matthew Underwood, who played “Logan” on Nickelodeon’s “Zoey 101,” came public in an Instagram post on March 28 about his experience being sexually assaulted by his agent. He only did so after pressure from fans to make a statement about the “Quiet on Set” documentary. 

It is important to remember that these celebrities—Bell, Peck, McCurdy, Underwood—are all human beings with human emotions, just like us. It is extremely hard to come out publicly about such a private and dehumanizing experience as sexual assault. 

We need more actors like Bell and McCurdy to speak up about their experiences and expose the wrongdoings behind the scenes, but we also need to not pressure celebrities into speaking up before they are ready. Nickelodeon shows were an integral part of my and many other kids’ childhoods, but I am not sure how I feel about these shows after learning what was happening behind the scenes. 

I’m not sure what should happen. I think children’s/teen TV shows are beneficial when done well, but there should definitely be more accountability than was seen on Schneider’s shows (he should never be allowed around children). I don’t think I can watch Nickelodeon shows for a while. 

I have talked about more child actor laws in the past month than I have the rest of my life. These documentaries and books have started a conversation about the morality of child actors that is long overdue. I hope to see more legislation in the near future that would stop producers like Dan Schneider from exploiting children.

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About the Contributor
Merritt Hughes
Merritt Hughes, Opinion Co-Editor

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