Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Teens, Racism and Anti-Semitism


Recently there has been a rash of school related racist and anti-semitic incidents; football plays being named using holocaust language. Rascist and anti-semitic graffiti in bathrooms, and school walls. The good news is that there is a long overdue heightened awareness and community involvement in addressing it. Does this mean that teens are racist, anti-Semitic? Not necessarily.

There is no excuse for these hurtful words and actions. It is the job of

families, schools, and communities to teach and model compassion, and to help children understand the affects that words have. For every thing said, someone is affected. But just because teens say it, doesn’t mean that they believe it. And before we start putting detrimental life long labels on teens that may have acted without thinking, it’s important to understand where they’re coming from.

Research has shown that the teen brain is much more activated in the amygdala, (the feeling center) than in the frontal cortex, (the thinking center). This is why teens feel first and think later! The brain’s natural edit button, letting us know when to keep our thoughts to ourselves, is not yet fully operational. Teens can say and do things that can be hurtful and even dangerous. Just ask any parent of a teen!! 

Adding to this over-reactive and emotional brain is the hyper-self-consciousness that all teens feel. David Elkind, author of the book: All Grown Up and No Place To Go, calls this the “imaginary audience.” In adolescence, a new level of thinking emerges, resulting in a hyper-awareness of what other people are thinking about them. This results in the influence of peer pressure, and worry that not conforming to the group norm presented to them, might result in the dreaded exclusion and humiliation. This can cause teens to behave in ways contrary to what they know to be right. If your crowd at a school’s sporting event starts chanting, “You killed Jesus,”regardless of your own beliefs, the need to be invisible and a part of the crowd, can trump the measuring of right and wrong. Better to be bad than to be shunned! This is powerful stuff to a vulnerable teen.

Teens are also naturally self-centered, narcissistic, and egocentric due to this excess of emotion, and self-consciousness. (Don’t worry, they outgrow this) Often their ability to see and/or care about another person’s perspective no matter how much they have hurt, disrespected, and maybe even threatened them, can be clouded. 

And finally, as teens seek to develop their identity, they are bombarded with incoming new perceptions of the world. Certainly family and community are big influencers, as is the media. The presidential election is a perfect example of highly emotional, name-calling, racial stereotyping, bullying, and physical altercations, sanctioned by adults! (So be careful how you talk about this at home.) All this is tailor made modeling for the drama teens crave. Most teens won’t read the full article in the Boston Globe, analyzing the intricacies of the political game, but instead will see the attention that bad behavior receives. Bring it on, consequences be damned!

So, a highly emotional brain; a hyper-sense of self-consciousness; a lack of experience in the world, developmental narcissism; impulsivity, a sense of invincibility, and a culture that loves bad behavior, that’s a loaded deck for a teen! As I say, these are not excuses, just explanations. Simply telling teens to be better, be kinder, respect differences, and then meting out consequences when boundaries are crossed, will alone not change behavior. What changes behavior, is to provide strategy and experience. Most teens stay close to what is familiar. So much of their life feels out of control; their brain, their body, their feelings, and their future, that they don’t venture much out of their comfort zone. Kids stake out their territory whether in the school cafeteria, or in their communities. This can make people who are different from them seem more threatening. 

So here is what you can do:

  • Challenge teen’s thinking in stereotypes. Provide teens with structured opportunities to get to know people who differ from them. At the 22nd Annual Youth Congress, students suggested  “mix-it up dinners where students sit with “classmates they don’t know.” As a family, seek out experiences where your children can interact with people from all kinds of backgrounds and beliefs.

  • Model inclusion. The adults in children’s lives are the most influential in transmitting values of acceptance. When I was a fresh out of grad school therapist, I was seeing a couple that were experiencing difficulty with their teen. In a predominately catholic town, their daughter had befriended a Jewish boy. The parents used phrases like “those Jews” in describing their worry about this relationship. With fear and anxiety about ruining my tenuous therapeutic connection, I timidly said, “I am one of “those Jews.”

  • Anticipate and strategize: Help your teen to be prepared for situations that might challenge them. Because of their inexperience, many teens end up doing the wrong thing because they don’t know what else to.

    Adolescence is a messy stage. Teen behavior is layered. Good kids do bad things; caring and kind kids can be cruel and insensitive; and sensible and smart kids can beimpulsive and reckless. As teens move through this stage from childhood to adulthood,they are confronted with new feelings, new thoughts, and new impressions of their world.They are without precedent and experience and often react with emotion, not thought.But teens and adults alike share so many common, human experiences, regardless ofclass, race, religion, and sexual orientation. Let these be the bridge to mutual respect.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Looking Forward And Letting Go!! Living With Your Teen In A Post Pandemic World

 I've said this before and I will say it again!! All your kids will be fine in the end, even with a year of pandemic isolation, loss of normalcy and no real school.  Unless there is severe mental illness or severe family trauma, by the time your teen hits their 20's, this year will be a blur, and they will adore being at home, desirous of your input and advice about their life, and unbelievably fun to hang out with. So take a deep breath, pleeese!

The way I see it, in my experience, after 40 years of working with families, and raising one of my own, there are only three real parenting mistakes that can change the outcome of your child's life.

First is the too strict or rigid parenting style. If you are the party of NO, my way or the highway, or you have a ton of rules way past the time that kids need rules for everything, and you have extremely high expectations for your teen's academic performance, you run some risks.

Risk #1: Adolescence is all about independence. If you continue to write the script for your teen's life they will react in one of two ways. If they feel over-controlled, over-managed, and have to answer to too many rules, some kids will be forced to act out to get the freedom their brain and their body are telling them they should have. By acting out I mean lying, hostility and anger, deliberate school failure, drug and alcohol use or abuse and avoiding you at every turn. This can feel like armed warfare. These teens need to learn how to make decisions on their own. These are the kids that often bail on college. As soon as they hit campus, and experience that first taste of freedom, all control and discipline, no matter how much you have drilled it in to them is gone. They have never actually learned how to be self-disciplined, or internalized the rules and structure that you imposed. As young children structure and control is good, as teens you need to share and encourage with supervision your teen's innate drive to be independent. After a year of suffocating closeness to your kids, this will feel weird, also a relief! You have had to worry about school, getting sick, depression, anxiety and loss. These are extremely weighty issues, that often you only have had to deal with one at a time. This year all at once. It will feel weird to let go!!

Risk #2: Some teens who are over controlled and over-managed become extremely passive. They have developed what is call learned-helplessness. What they integrate is a lack of complete confidence in their ability to make decisions, and look to you for direction in all parts of their life. This is not healthy. These teens are lovely to have in the home because they never fight with you, and come to you often for help. For a parent, there is nothing like it. However in life, you will not always be available.  When it comes to adult relationships whether romantically, with friends,  or with bosses or colleagues they will rarely speak up for themselves, and open themselves up  to be taken advantage of, thinking that they don't know better. These kids need to learn to have confidence in their own ability to make decisions, and that what they want matters. I have learned through my college students that they have felt a lot of worry about their families and wanting to make sure they literally don't die. Because of this and most importantly because of the pandemic, they have ventured out very little except for school. These kinds of kids, if you have one of them, may need a real push out of the nest!

Risk #3 is the too permissive parent. This parent maybe has an unspoken rule, do well in school, and I will ignore everything else. Or maybe, your philosophy is that your teens should be able to manage their own lives, or maybe the parent's life is in chaos with a divorce, or other family crisis, and takes their "eye of the ball" being too involved in their own life events. Rather than too many rules, there are no rules, no expectations, no supervision. These are the parents with the blind eye. A blind eye to what goes on in their own basements with their teens and their friends, a blind eye to where and what their teens are doing when they are out and about, and a blind eye to their teens safety. Teens are by nature risk-takers. Sometimes those risks can be life-threatening, either physically or psychologically. Teens need to know that someone is looking out for their welfare, even if they fight you tooth and nail when you do. When these kids move into adulthood, they are often entitled, irresponsible young adults, who look towards you to bail them out when they act badly, perhaps its is financially, or legally. These now grown up kids, can't or don't feel like managing the mundane of life, and will constantly look to you to do it for them, even well into adulthood.

So these are the three biggies. Everything else in between, usually works itself out. Parenting a teen is about setting enough limits to keep your teen safe, and give enough leeway for them to practice decision making, knowing that they will make mistakes, that they will hate you some days, and knowing that underlying it all is love. Your love for them, and their love for you. It really is as simple as that.

This is a very interesting article about the consequence of "over-parenting" when your kids hit the real world.

Did you know that I do one session parent coaching? Yes that's right. We get right to it, and by the end of that one session you have a plan and strategy for whatever issue you are facing! To set up a zoom appointment call
 781-910-1770 or email me at

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

It's Been A Long Time Coming!

 It's been a long time since I posted my last blog. This has surprised me, as have many things about living through a pandemic! I have always been a high-energy, forward thinking, glass-full kind of gal. My blog has never been a choice for me about whether to write or video, it was just something I did....until I didn't. For the last 10 months, with MORE than enough time on my hands, I would have thought that I would have been writing more, not less. In fact, I would have expected my blogs to be epic and inspirational, and guide parents through this unprecedented time, and who knows maybe I would have even been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. You know, like  Jared Kushner. But alas, I have done just the opposite, and that has been a huge surprise to me, and I feel both a disappointment in myself, and also a curiosity about where and how we find our motivation.

Which of course leads me to all of you. It is you that have inspired me! It is you who should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. It is you that has brought peace to your families, your children, your parents, your community. You don't have the narcissistic luxury like me of deciding "whether of not." You just do, you just keep on going, buying your groceries, provide sustenance to your family, teach your children, adapt to a new work environment, help older people like me get vaccinated. ( I am proud to say I am half vaccinated and did it 'all by myself!" I have worked with many parents over the last year either though coaching or webinars, and one of the things that stood out for me was that for all the amazing work of juggling and problem solving that they and you have been doing, there has been an overriding feeling of not exactly failure, but of not being good enough. There have been so many times parents have described the feeling of losing control. Fights with kids blowing up, fights with partners blowing up, and complete exasperation with systems you can't control and blowing up. Blowing up being the actionable word. Seriously how could you not blow up!! You must be tired, and feel depleted at times. And I hope at other times feel a sense of pride that you have coped and that your kids have coped, and that your partner has coped, and that your community and school has coped. 

We will look back on this year of covid and take stock of how sustained stress takes its toll on individuals, on families, on schools, on business and on communities. Some of us...yes me has suffered with a major drop in motivation. Maybe your kids, after a year of zoom schooling are feeling this lack of motivation,  and a lack of desire to engage, not only with school, but with the family and maybe even with friends. I know that feeling well. Without the energy and fuel of living life normally, I have too easily dropped out. My circle of connections has become quite small, and my energy to get out of the house and do more than the absolute minimum is low. 

But here is what I truly believe. I truly believe that we will find our new normal. I say new, because we have all changed over this year. We have learned things about ourselves, our resilience, our creativity, our connection to family, discovered perhaps new things about ourselves, both bad and good. I took up making candle holders from concrete ( I know so random), I learned to build Adirondack chairs from scratch, and refinish old ones. All of this is to say there have been the yin and yang of this year, and whatever it has been, it will now be a part of me.

Your kids will take away so much from this learned experience that will truly last a lifetime. It will become part of their personal story and history in a way that doing a calculus problem or term paper won't. The life skills they have learned and integrated, will serve them quite well as they move into adulthood. So when you get frustrated and worried for their future. I will tell you not to be. Look at me, I thought I would never write another blog, and here I am blathering endlessly to you. What got me to write today, truly I think I felt I was losing a little bit of myself that I needed to find again. The time just felt right, and that is what resilience is all about. A belief and innate need for self preservation. We all have it, sometimes  we lose it for a time, but it is always ready to be accessible when we are ready! Trust in your children, and most importantly trust in yourselves. 

I am getting back in gear here. If there is anything you would like me to write about, please put in comment section. Also I have been doing small group zoom groups that have been a lot of fun, except I have to put make up on. If you have a group of friends who are all dealing with the same issues. Pour a glass a wine, and we can meet at our local zoom bar! 

Take care


Wednesday, June 24, 2020

A Time For Self-Reflection and Honesty....Me Too!

It's been a while since I've penned a blog. When covid hit, I decided that I could be most useful to parents by offering in-person-ish support through live broadcasts with tips on surviving and yes, even taking some enjoyment in all this forced family time. Since we are still in a pandemic, you can access all those videos by going to my facebook page: Joani geltman parenting expert. There are a lot of them!! You'll get sick of me if you watch all of them, but I do hope you can find some comfort.

Now we are facing a new kind of pandemic. The pandemic of racism. The murders of black men and women has been excruciatingly painful for the black community, and the white community is now finally looking at our complicity that is this toxic culture of systemic racism in our world. I too, have been looking at my own complicity, and some stomach turning ways I have contributed to making specifically my black students to feel marginalized.

I have taken this past month to do the kind of reading and learning I should have been doing since beginning grade school. I always knew the broad outlines of racism, but not the more personal and less obvious ways POC have been made to feel less then. I have a lot to learn, and I have made it a priority to do this. Some of the most meaningful writing I have read is by black students 'real time experiences of living and being schooled amongst white people. I have linked below an amazing article by a young man who was a METCO student in a wealthy white community. I will let him speak for himself.

I have also been extremely moved and humbled by reading a number of instagram groups that have formed to share their experiences as black students in predominately white private and public schools. A few I have read are blackatwellesley, blackatandover, blackattabor.  It is these posts that have made me realize my own lack of awareness. Above is a post from a student who comments on a teacher who kept mistaking her for another black student in the class....repeatedly! As I read that, I felt in the pit of my stomach that "oh my god moment" of I have done this!!! A few years ago, in one of my college classes I had three black young women who often sat together. I am always a bit bumbling in general in my efforts to remember my students names, but I do remember vividly that I often mixed up their names. I always apologized but I feel the shame now of how I must have made those three students feel. I have to do better, I will do better. What I have realized is how much I didn't understand the emotional life and deep hurt POC carry around all the time. Reading these posts from these young people have opened my eyes and help me to firmly commit to myself to learn and understand.

As we all try to figure out how we can do better, one place is to start is with your family. Using the article linked above and these instagram groups would be a great place to start. Read them aloud at family time, share your own experiences where you might have unknowingly said something or done something that might have made a person of color feel less than. Model for your kids that acknowledging is the first step in changing. As you read these posts, ask them if any sound or feel familiar. Have they witnessed someone else doing or saying something or is there something they said or did that might have been disrespectful to a person of color. As we all learn about anti-racism, we must first take the important step of taking responsibility for our own part in it, and commit to ourselves and our community to do better!

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Coronavirus Parenting Help: Live and in Person

Hello fellow coronavirus shut-ins!! I hope you are all well. In light of this new world order, I have decided to replace my weekly blogs with facebook live broadcasts. This week I will be broadcasting Wednesday/Thursday/Friday at 4 PM. And then starting next week will broadcast Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. This is a time for parents to ask questions and get support and info from me. Parents can either email me questions before hand at or ask them in the comments section during the broadcast. We are all in uncharted parenting territory! And I hope to give support and guidance to help you all through it.

You can access the broadcast by putting my name in the facebook search engine and join us live at 4 PM or you can watch it later, by putting my name in the facebook search engine. I will also embed each new link after each broadcast on my blogHere is yesterdays link.

PLEASE let me know what your parenting struggles are. I'm sure that whatever you struggle with, other parents are as well.

Stay well
we will learn and grow together..

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Parenting In The Age Of The Coronavirus

We are in a challenging moment of time. As parents we have a choice to make about how we communicate and protect our children from this very scary and for most of us unprecedented virus. Because most of us have never experienced this type of threat, we have no roadmap on how to care for our children both emotionally and medically.

We all come to the table with our own personality styles. Some of us are laid back, have low anxiety about the things we can't control, and some of us feel the need to control what we can, to manage our own anxiety in order to function. This virus will challenge either style. Laid backers will need to be more directive than they usually are in teaching their children about hygiene and hand washing, and appropriate coughing and sneezing protocol. Their natural go-to, don't worry, it will all be fine, will need some adjustment. Teens by nature think they are invincible and wear a protective armor that nothing bad will happen to them. So they might not be on top of what they need to do to stay safe. They may be resentful, angry and resistant to what they see as trying to be controlled, especially if you have been a more laid back parent. But you will need to model and realistically communicate that this is a time where "it will all work out" needs to move towards, we need to be more active about our own safety.

On the other hand, if you are a person who has a tendency and need to control, and are in a state of high anxiety about your children, you may need to pull back a bit. One thing we don't want our kids to do, is to develop and integrate our fears. Some kids are very cautious and fearful by nature. And for them this can be a terrifying time, feeling the world is going to end, and they will be left alone in it. As a parent with your own big fears, it will be important to understand their anxiety, but also let them know that there are very concrete things we can do to keep us safe. And that we are all here to take care and protect each other.

And again if you have a teen who does not carry a lot of anxiety around with them, they will certainly be extremely resistant if you ask them to give up and not go to places and events that they feel entitled to go. Prepare for a fight. But if you stay calm, and use this I Get It conversation, you may get less resistant. Rather than" You are not going, don't you get how dangerous this virus is. Haven't you heard about the kid that ........Sorry but you are not going!"
Instead say " you know honey, I get how unfair this feels. I know how important and how you were so looking forward to XYZ. But until the experts tell us that these kinds of events are OK and safe, we need to follow their lead. Let's think of an alternative that will be fun and safe."

Neither "Don't worry it will all be fine" or "you are not leaving the house" is useful. There is a middle ground of "this is scary AND we need to take care and still live our lives the best we can.

Stay healthy everyone, AND go enjoy this beautiful day!!!