"That much of a beautiful face will be well taken care of," she said. "For me, it was the best thing that could have happened. I got to travel and meet people, and it didn't take long to catch on. It helped me grow up."
Stephanie Harvilla of Yardville, N.J., worked as a model in elementary school, doing numerous magazine ads for Kodak, Fischer Price and commercials such as Cardiomega 3, Teddy Rupskin and Charmin bathroom tissue.
"I would let my child work," said Harvilla, now 26. "But because I am well aware of the scene, I would definitely keep a close watch on her."
She auditioned for Stephen King's 1989 movie "Pet Sematary" when she was 8 years old. Harvilla missed the part because they chose a set of twins who together could work more hours under stringent screen actor guild and child labor laws.
"As a child I think you need to be confident and have strong skin to understand that rejection is inevitable, and you are constantly under a critiquing eye," said Harvilla. "So not every child can walk the runway, or be the next child star. It takes a child who wants to be there to make it."
Harvilla said the work took a "large toll" on her family, who took the hour train ride to New York City for auditions and call-backs. "The family has to leave work and school at the drop of a hat and be able to afford the train rides that began to add up."
By high school, she had left the business to focus on friends and school, but credits her modeling with learning lifelong work skills.
"I have learned to become a strong, independent, outgoing, successful woman," she said. "I was so used to interviewing and auditioning that my interviews for college and my jobs were a breeze."
But Madeline Levine, a clinical psychologist from Marin County, Calif., notes that Hollywood and the world of entertainment is littered with dysfunctional childhoods.
"ET" star Drew Barrymore started using marijuana at 10 and cocaine at 12. "Home Alone" actor McCauley Culkin was estranged from his family and was arrested for drugs after an early failed marriage.
Actor Robert Iler, who played Tony Soprano's son, was arrested on two counts of second-degree robbery and drug possession.
And then there's Britney and Lindsay, notes Levine.
Many children in the spotlight have a "rocky adolescence" and struggle with problems, said Levine, author of "The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids."
"Why would the world of modeling be any different?" she asked. "Some of the most basic tasks of a healthy sense of self get pushed away when a child is the center of attention."
Levine said pampered children lack empathy. "When the moon and stars revolve around children, they ultimately end up with a skewed view of their place in the universe."
The runway scene is also "so incredibly sexualized," according to Levine. "What is it like to put your 12-year-old in that environment?"
For Gabriel — at least today — the world is her oyster. Wearing a silver evening gown to the VIP cocktail party after Gold Coast Fashion Week, she received huge applause, according to press reports.
Then, after all the attention, she celebrated her birthday at a barbecue in her parents' backyard.