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Don’t you want your kid to be famous?

3 Feb
@JustinBieber via Instagram

@JustinBieber via Instagram

Does your child want to be famous?

How many kids fantasize about starring in a Disney Channel show, appearing in the pages of fashion magazines or singing onstage in front of thousands of screaming fans?

Think about it Mom and Dad. Your immensely talented kid could be adored and idolized for her artistic gifts.  He could be raking in big money that can help support the rest of the family. All of you can rub elbows with the rich and famous.

Don’t you want your kid to be famous?

Thousands of those kids are pursuing those dreams right now. Well, let’s rephrase that. Mom and Dad are pursuing those dreams right now by uploading their kids’ videos on YouTube, shelling out thousands of dollars for the right headshots, moving to California so their child can be closer to the action, and spending hours in acting, singing and dance lessons.

All in hopes that their child will be the next Miley Cyrus or Justin Bieber.

Lord have mercy! Why on Earth would you want that for your kid?

BBC radio recently ran a segment on “Would you want your child to be famous” * and invited a children’s talent agent, mother of an aspiring teen rocker and an American culture and parenting blogger to discuss the issue.  (Spoiler alert: I was the blogger.) Despite the recent headlines, many parents still pursue this for their children and swear/hope/pray their child will never let fame go to their head or act out in infamous ways. The other radio guests talked about “supporting their dreams” and being the voice of reason for them. I applaud these parents for wanting to help their kids attain these goals, but I could never do it. My children, who are entering their teens, are too immature to grasp the ramifications of some dreams, and as their mother, I sometimes have to protect them from themselves. I also have serious doubts  any parent can be a “voice of reason” when their talented child is surrounded by entourages made up of agents, photographers, directors, producers and others in the entertainment industry.

As history has shown us, the child entertainers who make the successful transition to well-balanced adult are few and far between. For every Justin Timberlake and Natalie Portman, there are dozens of others who fall victim to drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, brushes with the law, outrageous behavior or diva-mentality – and it often starts while they are still in their teens. Even under the so-called “watchful eyes” of their parents and handlers, Drew Barrymore was snorting cocaine at 13, Demi Lovato developed an eating disorder at 8-years-old, and Joe Jonas smoked pot with Lovato and Miley Cyrus at 17.

Well-intended parents are encouraging their children to join a brutal business without understanding how it really works. I’m a veteran stage actor and video talent, and I can attest all is not bright in the spotlight. Auditions are grueling and time-consuming, and very few of them actually lead to anything; however, you keep trying in hopes that you’ll be the perfect fit for another project. If you’re not the perfect fit, you have to endure a producer or director ripping you to shreds over personal traits such as your voice, body, skin, height or weight. People in the business understand actors, models, singers and dancers are commodities that are bought, sold and packaged to meet a particular need, and those needs constantly change.

Performers tend to be highly creative and sensitive people, and it takes a lot of emotional strength to maintain the thick skin that is needed to survive the constant rejection and critiques. Most adults don’t have that kind of inner strength and stability, and yet stage parents expect an emotionally developing child or teen to have it. Without those traits, both child and adult performers can easily develop problems with insecurity, depression or narcissism.

For the rare performer that does “make it,” fame can be a fickle beast. Adored one moment and forgotten the next. It can be tough on adults, but even worse on a young person who isn’t mature enough to understand or deal with the changes. How will he react when no one is there to cater to their every need and offer endless praise, when the entourage leaves because the money runs out, or when good feelings can only be found in drugs or alcohol? How will his parents react?

For those parents who are encouraging their children’s fame dreams, I have no doubt your child is immensely talented, but I beg you to consider the real costs of fame – pressure, criticism, strained families and growing up way too fast.

They’re children for only a little while. Hollywood can wait.


What do YOU think?
Would you let your child pursue an entertainment career? Please share your thoughts in the comment section.

*You can download the BBC’s “World Have Your Say Segment” at Look for the Thursday, Jan. 30 WHYS link. The fame discussion is in the middle of the program. You can also get their podcasts off iTunes.


Who says college is the only way to ensure future success?

30 Jan
Image courtesy of Mike Rowe Works

Image credit: Mike Rowe Works and

My family has experienced two firsts with my generation: we have the first college graduate and the first successful business owner.

They are two entirely different people.

I am the college graduate with undergraduate and graduate degrees in journalism; I now work as a public relations professional and teach a few college classes.  I rely on other people for my income. My cousin Jason, a high school graduate, runs a very successful heating and air conditioning business in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. He provides jobs for 20 people.

I have tremendous admiration for Jason. Not only is he a savvy business owner, he’s also a great husband, father and all-around nice guy. He is a living testimony of the success that can be attained by someone who pursues a skilled trade. He’s spent his entire life working hard and smart, and he uses these skills to help others provide for their families.

That admiration doesn’t diminish the hard work that went into building my college-based career; I paid my dues to get here through years of studying and course work, professional certifications, grueling hours at the office and a lot of personal sacrifices of self, time and energy.

I also struggled financially and incurred debt.

I was fortunate to have an academic scholarship for my undergraduate degree during the late 80s, but I still had to work to cover my living expenses. I received a great education and decided I wanted to return for my graduate degree a few years later. There were no scholarships for graduate students, and my full-time salary was barely enough to cover my rent, so I financed roughly $7,000 to cover my tuition and books. (That graduate degree would cost roughly $20,000 today.)  Did all that education pay off? Yes and no. My current earnings are modest, but I love what I do.

Jason’s career cost?  Nada. Zip. Nothing.  He got his start working for an HVAC company as an apprentice and worked his way up the ladder.  His earnings? Way more than mine, and he loves what he does, too.

College is not the only option
Today, skilled trades are in demand. The demand for workers with art, history or literature degrees has always been small, and it’s nearly microscopic today.  In fact, there are 3 million jobs out there that companies are having a hard time filling – and you don’t have to give up $70,000 in tuition money or postpone a real paycheck for four years to get them.   Apprenticeships and vocational training can open the doors.

My experience and the nation’s economic slump have taught me college may not be the best option for everyone, and consequently, it’s not on my list of “Thou Shalts” for my children.

My teenage daughter loves school and has her heart set on being a teacher, which means tuition bills will likely hit our family in just a few years. I don’t mind because this is what she WANTS to do, not what we’re forcing her to do. She also understands that college is not a four-year party financed by mom and dad; she has to contribute as well.

My 10-year-old son has different goals. He’s always been on hands-on learner with a mantra of “I can do it.” He’s not a big fan of the classroom, but he’s a frightening good strategist and has a heart for protecting others. His life goal? He hasn’t narrowed it down, but military service, law enforcement and restaurant owner have been mentioned.

Just as my grandmother is proud of the firsts Jason and I attained, I will be proud of my children and the firsts they attain for the family. My daughter could join a long line of teachers, or my son could be the first Navy SEAL or restaurateur in the family. Regardless of what future paths they choose, I look forward to cheering them on as they pick up skills that will enable them to support themselves and their future families – and I pray they do it without debt.

Learn more about college alternatives at
The former “Dirty Jobs” host launched an initiative last year to encourage more students and young adults to pursue in-demand skilled trades rather than incur debt and face uncertain job prospects. His site has great information on job profiles, trade news, financial aid and much more.

What parents really want from public schools

9 Jan

school houseWhat do parents really want from public schools?

Plain and simple, we want them to help us educate our kids. Help them learn to read and write. Build their math skills. Introduce them to science and show them how the world works. Educate them about history and let them see how the past impacts our future. Expose them to the arts and let them tap their creativity. Help us prepare them for adulthood.

That’s it. Nothing more.

We’re not interested in having curriculum that tells our children how they should think; we’d rather have curriculum that gives them things to think about. We don’t want to turn teachers into surrogate parents; they have enough to do already, and most of us are quite capable of doing it ourselves. And finally, we could do without administrators, school boards, state education officials and union leaders who belittle experienced teachers and parents, but bow down to politicians and corporate education entrepreneurs.

Parents really do support public education, but we’re tired of the politics and the “we know what’s best for your child” attitude. No offense, but as our children’s primary teachers, we’re the ones who know what’s best. Others are welcome to give suggestions. but we make the final decisions.

Most of us attended public schools, and we believe these schools are good for our kids and communities. We honestly like the majority of our children’s teachers, and we know they genuinely care about their students.  (Reality check: Some current teachers need to find new careers that don’t involve education or children.)

Parents know the current educational system has problems, and we want to be included in creating the solutions. Officials may be pleasantly surprised to learn we’re much smarter than the elite Ivy League and Washington reformers –  even though most of us were educated by the public school system.

Dear teachers, I owe you an apology

8 Jan
Sorry cat

Posting a cute little kitten meme doesn’t make it all better, but I do hope teachers can forgive me for my prior prejudice.

Dear Teachers,

I owe you an apology.  From the deepest level of my heart, I am so sorry for misjudging you.

This is what happens when a person bases her opinion about a school solely on test scores. This is what happens when a person judges an entire profession based on news stories about a few bad apples. This is what happens when a person believes the so-called education experts’ solutions rather than trusting the men and women who invest their lives in the education and well-being of my children.

I have been guilty of all of the above, and I ask for your forgiveness.

My epiphany came last week when I made a Facebook post about my fifth-grade son’s problems with math. He’s had difficulty since third grade, which coincides with when Texas, as well as virtually every other state in the country, adopted the education experts’ “conceptual math,” a teaching method that shuns memorization of math facts and promotes multi-step “strategies” to solve math problems. Several of my teacher friends blasted the new method.  My friend April, a third grade teacher in Tennessee, confessed she desperately wants to teach her class using the tried and true methods that have worked during her 20-year teaching career, but she is prohibited from doing so by the state.  She candidly told me teachers are not allowed to speak out against the new material, especially with students’ parents.

April and other veteran teachers I’ve talked to say student comprehension has not improved under any of the new methods, and Common Core is making things worse. They vigorously dispute U.S.  Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s assertion that “their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.” The kids and teachers are not the problem; the constant revamping of education by inexperienced experts is the problem.

Principals are also held hostage by the revamping problem. Earlier this year I attended a parent meeting about our elementary school’s curriculum and was told how the experts have determined these new techniques would be better for public school students. The teaching techniques, especially with math, were radically different from what my daughter experienced just three years earlier.  In exasperation, I blurted, “Why are we changing things every few years? Has there ever been a time when these experts thought public education worked?” The principal gave me a sympathetic smile. She wanted to respond, but couldn’t. I felt her pain.

Why do we keep trying to fix public education with new teaching models and testing? Why can’t we return to the teaching methods that worked for us, our parents and grandparents?  Long before reform became a buzzword, America’s public schools have been educating our nation’s scientists, engineers, teachers, economists, physicians and other degreed professionals. They’ve also educated our entrepreneurs, technology pioneers, farmers, mechanics, nurses and countless other Americans who contribute to making our society great. I believe they still do a good job, and they could do better if more parents gave a flip about their kids and the so-called experts got out of the teachers’ way.

April, like thousands of other teachers, has spent more time with 9-year-olds than a Teach for America volunteer or education reformers like Bill Gates. She knows what works. She teaches them reading, math, social studies and science. She provides books and supplies for kids who can’t afford them, spends her free time trying to engage busy or apathetic parents, comforts children when they are sad, and serves as their primary source of encouragement, and sometimes, discipline.  What would help improve education for April’s students? It’s not multi-billion dollar testing or new teaching models; it’s parental involvement.  A teacher cannot encourage a love for learning if the child’s parents treat education with disdain or indifference. Parents, not bureaucrats, need to be actively involved in their child’s life by reading with them, helping with homework, supporting teachers’ discipline efforts, and stressing the importance of learning.

Teachers, I don’t expect you to do this alone. You can’t. You need my help, and I need yours. You also deserve some gratitude for a job that often gets you more criticism than praise. Thank you for caring about my kids. I know you would do anything to protect them from harm, and I know their tears hurt you as much as they hurt me. Thank you for the emails and calls to update me on how they’re doing.  I know you want to keep me involved in the process. Thank you for inspiring them to be better people. I know you see their potential.

I want you to know that I have your back. You may not be able to speak out about things like Common Core or other curriculum issues, but I can. I will be loud and persistent because you are valuable, and I don’t want to see you run off because of ridiculous regulations and self-righteous reformers who have never been in a classroom. I recognize I am the worst PTA fundraising and party-planning mom, but I promise to be a great butt-kicking mom who will fight for things that will make our educational system better for you and my children.

I know you want what’s best for the kids, and I’m sorry for not standing up for you sooner.



P.S. –   I am a product of our nation’s public schools.


Parent tutorial: What is conceptual math?
This is not the math you learned during elementary school. The old time-tested methods for long division, borrowing and carrying are no longer used. In their place are tactics such as partial products for multiplication and magic seven for division. Students can no longer provide an answer; they must also show their work and explain the strategy they used to get it.  The techniques work for some students, but the multiple steps can cause great frustration for others and can make it nearly impossible for parents to help with homework.

Foul parents ruin girls’ basketball game

15 Dec

The Lady Eagles played hard on the basketball court; however, the eighth-grade team had a few embarrassing moments.

The blonde kept running her mouth every time the opposing team made it to the free throw line. The one with the gold necklace got frustrated with the officiating, stomped her feet and shrilly exclaimed, “We need new refs!” The guy who wore his Oakleys on his baseball cap yelled every time he disagreed with a decision on the court and didn’t stop his tantrum until the officials changed the call in his favor.

Life can be tough when you’re a middle school girl; it can be even tougher when a bunch of parents choose your basketball game to act like a pack of rabid dogs.

Welcome to the intersection of youth sports and parental failure, the spot where moms and dads feel like they can berate or threaten anyone who dares to stand in the way of their athletic prodigy’s chance of getting a college scholarship or going pro – at 13.

I spent most of my weekend stuck in this intersection, enduring a group of parents that revved up for multiple hit-and-runs aimed at other families, game officials and teenage girls dribbling a basketball. We were brought together by our city’s annual invitational basketball tournament, an event that unites more than 30 local middle school teams for two days of competition.

My daughter represented her school on one of those teams. Our school district takes that representation very seriously and has an athletic code of conduct that addresses issues such as academic standards, behavior, appearance, commitment and character. All student athletes are required to adhere to it. The school district also has a parental code of conduct that all athletes’ parents are required to sign.  The document includes statements such as:

  • I will always model good sportsmanship at competitions by the way I treat all athletes, coaches, officials and other fans.
  • I will always remember that while I am not an athlete, I am representing my child’s team at competitions.
  • I will insist that my child always demonstrate good sportsmanship and treat other athletes, coaches and officials with respect.
  • I will always teach my child how to win and lose with grace by the way I act in each of those situations.

Apparently a few of the Eagles parents didn’t have the same document. Roughly a dozen of their moms, dads and other family members violated annihilated the code during their girls’ semi-final game against the Gators.  The crew yelled “Miss!” when the Gators took free throws.  The blonde loudly criticized the female referee and when shushed by another parent, she defiantly refused to be silenced and bellowed, “I want her to hear me!”  A man near her decided the female referee needed to hear more so he added, “Stupid b-tch!” to the shouts. The same decency-impaired group smiled and smugly clapped when a player shoved another girl from behind and snuck in a covert punch.

My family, along with other families from our school, sat wedged in the bleachers between the Eagles and Gators sections. Our girls’ game was next, and they were in the stands with us watching the game. The adults’ conduct made them very uncomfortable. The situation grew progressively worse as the minutes went by, and things threatened to get really ugly when the Eagles started losing their lead in the fourth quarter. A mom from our group decided it may be a good time to find the police officer who was assigned to the event. He came in a few minutes later and stood in front of the offending section. The crew was uncharacteristically quiet for a beautiful four minutes. Four minutes of real basketball. Four minutes of reasonable behavior. Four minutes of bliss for everyone in the stands and on the court.

When the final buzzer went off, the dozen grumbled. Despite all the yelling and negativity they directed toward the officials and opposing team, their girls lost the game. Imagine that.

I overheard a muffled conversation behind me. Apparently their girls could have won, but the evil referees kept making bad calls against them, and it was totally unfair that roughly 20 percent of the team fouled out during the game.

A grandmother of a Gators player, who sat on the opposite side of the gym, grinned. “It’s a game,” she added. “Someone has to win, and someone has to lose. It’s competition; it’s nothing personal.”

She shook her head when she heard about the feedback from the other end of the bleachers. “Children look to adults to see what to do,” she said. “We lead by example. What kind of example was that?”

Indeed. What kind of example was that? Based on today’s parental behavior, the girls learned:

  • It’s okay to call a woman a b_tch when you disagree with her.
  • It’s okay to punch someone when you get frustrated. Mom and Dad will smile – just don’t get caught doing it.
  • Mom and Dad will never let anyone tell you that you did something wrong. They’ll blame it on another kid or take it out on the adult (referee) who dares to say you’re not perfect.
  • Yelling at or criticizing another person makes you look smarter and more powerful.  (Reality check: You look like a bully, and you’re reinforcing the behavior with your child.)
  • Adulthood and maturity are two entirely different things.

Stay classy, Mom and Dad. You’re making the most of life’s teachable moments and providing your daughter with some outstanding lessons about sportsmanship, character and honor. Thanks for inspiring me.

You will love this family and their response to little sister’s temper tantrum

6 Dec

Little sister is unhappy. She wants gum, but she has no money to buy it and no intention of working to earn it. Watch how dad and mom use this tantrum to sneak in a lesson on the value of hard work. Big brother adds a classic sibling response to the unfolding drama. No one is safe during this tirade; even Spongebob’s boss, Mr. Krabs,  gets sucked into this.

The people in this video are personal friends of mine. Little sister has grown up quite a bit since the car-seat meltdown, and I’m happy to report she’s matured into a very respectful and hardworking kiddo. Way to go, dad and mom!

How Finnick Odair helped me bond with my daughter

1 Dec
Both teens and moms agree - Finnick Odair is awesome.

Something that moms and their teenage daughters can agree on – Finnick Odair is awesome.

I may have scarred my daughter for life with four little words – “Finnick Odair is AWESOME!”

My 14-year-old daughter looked at me with a quizzical face. She began to speak, but then swallowed her words. A few seconds passed and then she turned to me with a smile, “Team Finnick, baby!” she exclaimed. “Forget Peeta and Gale.”

Whew, no damage done. Chalk it up as mother-daughter bonding over a rather attractive guy who protects an old lady and is really good with a trident.

We had just left the movie theater after watching “Catching Fire” with the entire family. My husband rolled his eyes at my comment, and my son reminded me I was a married woman who was old enough to be Finnick’s mother. I had to correct him for his mistake, “I am old enough to be YOUR mother,” I said. “I am old enough to be Finnick’s favorite babysitter.” My daughter mumbled, “I’ll be old enough to date him in four years.”

My daughter and I share an unusual bond thanks to “The Hunger Games” trilogy. She came home with the first book three years ago, and when I asked her what it was about, she responded, “Oh, it’s about a government that makes kids kill kids.” She definitely got my attention. I was ready to have a stern conversation with the English teacher who recommended the book, but I decided to read it before going on a tirade. The trilogy created the best mother-daughter bonding experience we’ve ever had.

The bond has made a few other mothers chastise my parenting and clutch their pearls over the books’ violent content. Much ado about nothing. While violence underscores the premise of the series, it is certainly not glorified or used as a primary focus. The trilogy promotes the importance of relationships and loyalty while providing a cautionary tale about freedom. Author Suzanne Collins deserves kudos for creating an amazing heroine and role model for young women. Katniss Everdeen is not another hormonal, rebellious or selfish teen; she’s a brave, smart, compassionate, honest and unflinching loyal young woman. My daughter idolizes Katniss, and I’m okay with that.

“The Hunger Games” has opened up countless conversations for me, my daughter and her friends. There have been many discussions about the books’ characters, and just like every other teen girl conversation, their focus always seems to drift back to boys. They talk about which guy Katniss should choose. Some want her to be with Peeta Mellark, the loyal baker’s son who secretly loved her and fought to protect her during the brutal games. Others support a relationship with Gale Hawthorne, Katniss’s hunky best friend and fellow hunter who promised to look after her family. My daughter and I really don’t care who she chooses; we simply love Finnick, the veteran tribute who risked his own life to save his elderly mentor, Katniss and Peeta during the horrific Quarter Quell.

The conversations have also helped my daughter understand our world a little better. I’ve used Panem’s government control and social inequality to talk about real world tyranny and poverty. The districts’ rebellion has been used to show how just one person can influence millions to stand up against evil. The callousness of the career tributes points out how desensitized society can be about the value of human life.

The most important Hunger Games lesson for my daughter has come from the characters’ willingness to sacrifice themselves for others. Katniss takes her sister’s place during the reaping and begs Haymitch to save Peeta before herself, Peeta nearly dies after placing himself between Katniss and the career tributes, Rue saves our heroine after the tracker jacker attack, Finnick rescues Peeta from near drowning, and the elderly Mags volunteers for a younger woman and then silently walks to her death when she realizes her friends won’t survive with her around.

The characters demonstrate the power of unconditional love, a love that involves the willingness to lay down your life for someone else. The trilogy gave my daughter tangible pictures of this in action and allowed us to have a conversation about what real love looks like. It’s not about chemistry or how someone makes you feel; it’s about a desire that puts another person’s well being and happiness above your own.

The self-sacrifice lesson has also helped me teach my daughter about what’s important in friendships and dating relationships. I don’t want her to be a girl who lowers herself to appease the popular crowd or settles for a bad relationship because she thinks it’s better than no relationship at all. I want her to see herself in Katniss and recognize she too is inspirational, strong, brave, compassionate and worthy of great love. I also want her to find friendship or possibly love with her own Finnick/Peeta, a young man who puts her first, accepts her for who she is, demonstrates kindness and fights by her side for what is right.

I promise not to drool over her Finnick, but all bets are off if he shows up at our house wearing swim trunks and offers to carry me on his back.

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