Disney Star on Bullying, Her ‘Monster’ Teen Years, and What Her Mom Got Right
Plenty of kids want to become actors when they grow up, but for Dove Cameron, that dream became a reality when her mother, Bonnie Wallace, moved their family from a small island in Washington state to Los Angeles so her then 14-year-old daughter could pursue her passion. Today Cameron, 19, is the star of the Disney Channel’s Liv and Maddie and the TV movie sensation Descendants. Born Chloe Celeste Hosterman, Dove is also one half of the band the Girl and the Dreamcatcher, which she formed with her boyfriend and Liv and Maddie co-star, Ryan McCartan. Wallace, whom Cameron calls “a stage parent but a healthy one,” recently wrote The Hollywood Parent’s Guide: Your Roadmap to Pursuing Your Child’s Dream to help other parents contemplating the move to Tinseltown. Yahoo Parenting sat down with the mother-daughter duo for their first-ever joint interview to talk about child stardom, bullies, and why the teen years are so hard — for kids and for parents.
Yahoo Parenting: Bonnie, your book, The Hollywood Parent’s Guide, is for those who have talented children but don’t know how to navigate a possible move to Hollywood or how to help their kids pursue show business. When Dove was younger, what made you decide to take the leap?
Bonnie Wallace: Dove showed very early talent and interest in performing. She was doing it practically from the time she could walk and talk. But that’s common for a lot of kids. What I noticed, though, is that it didn’t change. She was passionate about the entertainment industry, and by the time she was 13 her acting teachers and mentors were saying, “She’s really got something — you should take it seriously.” She spent an entire year lobbying to move to L.A., and it was hard to ignore that.
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Were you worried about your daughter pursuing stardom? There are so many cautionary tales out there about child actors.
Wallace: Part of what gave me courage is the fact that Dove is so grounded. She’s very intelligent and also emotionally intelligent, and she’s always been especially mature. Hollywood can be very dangerous for kids because of what it can do to your head, but I felt confident in Dove’s ability to keep her feet on the ground.
Dove Cameron: I felt like this is where I was supposed to be. When I was younger, I barely left my room because I was busy watching clips of my favorite actors and performers on the Internet. When you’re 10, 11, 12, and you’re watching your idols, you feel like you know them. I found more in common with these people when they talked in interviews than I did with my classmates. At school I felt out of place. I was bullied. I would think, “These kids don’t like me, they don’t accept me,” but I felt like in the entertainment industry, I would fit in. And I think part of your duty as a parent is to let your kids pursue their passions. I was talking to Ryan [McCartan, boyfriend and Disney co-star] and his parents the other day, and they said they just hung back and waited for their kids to take an interest in something, and once they did they were full supporters of that. They didn’t try to shape it or encourage it, just support it. That’s a commonality of most parents of successful working actors. I went through a phase where I wanted to be a designer, so my mom bought me material and signed me up for sewing classes. That’s the mark of a good parent. She is my biggest supporter.
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Is that your parenting style, Bonnie? Wait for your kids’ interests to emerge and then support them full force?
Wallace: Absolutely. They have to reveal for themselves what they’re interested in. You want to expose your kid to as many opportunities as possible to see what sticks. Dove played T-ball and soccer and took swimming lessons, all sorts of normal kid stuff. But they won’t know what they’re passionate about until they are exposed to it. I think the kids who get into trouble in Hollywood are the ones who aren’t leading the show. If parents are pushing kids into it, that’s a bad situation.
Cameron: I have so many peers who say, “I need to get away from my parents,” because even though they love the business and they love their parents, they feel like they are letting their parents down if they don’t work to the bone. As a parent, you should be the safe place.
Wallace: Your kids have to understand that you don’t have a particular agenda for them other than happiness. I don’t have particular bias toward whatever that might be for my kids. Right now Dove is happy acting and singing. But if she decided she was done with that and wanted to go to college, I would be as behind that as anything she has ever done. When your kids reach success, especially in the entertainment world, it’s hard to not get invested in that. It’s exciting. But you have to be able to let go of that.
Cameron: My sister, who is seven years older than me, and I both started off in the performing arts, and she veered away from that at the same time as my career took off. We would have conversations where she would say, “Do you think Mom and Dad are as proud of me as they are of you?” because for whatever reason going to college doesn’t get as much public praise as standing in front of a screen in a sparkly dress. But my parents always said we should do what we want to be doing, and they were as supportive of my sister, who went to college, as they were of me. That was great for my sister but also helpful for me to know they were supporting me because I was doing what I loved, not because I was acting.
So, Bonnie, what are your tips for parents whose children want to pursue show business? What should parents know about kids pursuing any talent?
Wallace: First of all, it’s got to be child-led. They have to love to perform and want to pursue it passionately. And make sure they are in love with the work itself and not fame. Fame can be toxic. You can use it for good, but pursuing fame for fame’s sake doesn’t work out. Then have them take classes. Kids might think, “This is what I want to do,” but it could turn out that they don’t love it as much as they thought.
Navigating a mother-daughter relationship is hard for any family during the teen years. But you guys seem to get along so well! Do you have any advice for other mother-daughter pairs?
Cameron: Oh, man, I love my mom so much and I always have, but I was definitely a monster to her a lot during my teen years. I think it’s normal to go through hell together, and I was definitely hard on her — I lived with only my mom for a long time, so she was my outlet, and I took everything out on her. But I think the reason it wasn’t worse or harder is because my mom understood what was going on and left me alone when I needed space. She let me be an independent person. I remember being in that space of, like, “If anyone talks to me right now I will lose my mind.” It’s hard to be a teenager. It’s lonely, and you feel like no one understands you. I think that’s natural, and my mother let me have the space to feel that way. I think parents who force themselves into the lives of kids who need to be left alone are making a mistake.
Wallace: Teenagers are hard for everybody, so I tried to give her her space, but I also let her know that I was always there, like a very loose safety net. And you knew that, didn’t you, honey?
Cameron: Yeah, I knew I could come to you when I needed to.
Dove, you are just finishing up your teen years — you’ll be 20 next month. What’s your advice for other kids trying to get through a time that, as you say, can be really lonely and tough?
Cameron: You just need to understand that it’s all temporary. You will make it through this, and if you feel stress and pain, know that it will pass, but also be present in the moment so that if it comes up again, you know you have already been there. Even in the hard times, the struggle doesn’t have to be your entire life. You can still enjoy yourself by finding stuff you like to do or looking up to role models. Just because a time is hard … you can still have joyous experiences.
You mentioned you were bullied when you were younger. What happened? How did you get through it?
Cameron: It started in middle school. Once a group of girls locked me in the janitor’s closet. Another time a girl spilled chocolate milk down a dress I made. Girls would try to trip me in the hallway. Once in high school, on a field trip away from school, some girls brought razors to shave their legs and threw them at me and told me to kill myself. But they were all insecure. They were angry, snapping at everybody. It was so obvious.
So many people told me, “Those guys are just jerks.” And I remember thinking, “They aren’t jerks.” I firmly believe there are no bad people. There are people who may have wiring that is off, there are people in so much pain that they have to cause others pain. But if someone is happy in every aspect of their life, they will not want to cause others pain. If you think about the people trying to hurt you rather than just trying to hurt them back, you can understand it has nothing to do with you. Maybe they are insecure or their animal just died or they have a bad relationship with their parents. Rather than demonizing them, recognize they are in pain and rise above it. And understand that usually it’s because you are special. You have something they want, and that shouldn’t make you scared, because they can’t take it from you. Sure, they can take your binder, but they can’t take whatever special thing you have inside you.
Bonnie, it must have been so hard for you to witness your daughter going through that.
Wallace: Well, one of the amazing things about watching your kids grow up to become young adults is you get to see them internalize all the things you’ve been saying over the years. Dove’s her own person, and she’s extraordinary, but it’s nice to hear her repeating what I said to her in that time. The people who bully you, they hate themselves and you have something they want. I do think that understanding where it is coming from can go a long way toward dealing with it. That said, it didn’t break my heart when she was done with high school. But it’s wonderful to hear her echoing the advice I always gave her. You may think that your kids are not listening, but they are listening, and they are recording it all.
(Top photo: Corbis Images; all other photos: Instagram/DoveCameron)
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