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Natick woman offers advice to the parents of teens

Natick resident Joani Geltman says her book, published this spring, is based on years of experience as a parenting coach.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff/file 2012

A Natick woman has published a how-to book on raising teens in which parents can read step-by-step instructions for common problems, such as how to motivate teenagers to finish summer reading assignments, or what to do if they are throwing a party.

"A Survival Guide to Parenting Teens: Talking to Your Kids About Sexting, Drinking, Drugs, and Other Things That Freak You Out" is therapist Joani Geltman's first professionally published book.

Geltman, 62, said she is glad she waited so long to write it.

"I feel really confident in the advice that I'm giving because I know it works," she said.


Geltman has worked as a parenting coach and a social worker, is a psychology lecturer at Curry College, and regularly speaks at schools, community groups, and businesses.

She is also the mother of actress Ari Graynor, who has had roles in films such as "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist" and "Celeste and Jesse Forever," as well as in a CBS television series, "Bad Teacher."

She devotes roughly a third of her parenting book to teens and technology.

"This is the first generation of parents who are dealing with something they themselves have not dealt with as children and teenagers," Geltman said. "Kids know how to hide things from their parents technologically speaking, and can outsmart them. And that's scary."

She said the number of kids sexting, or sending sexually explicit text messages, has "definitely been accelerated" in the last four or five years, and she fears that teens have become desensitized. "The language has become as commonplace as hello and goodbye," she said.

In her book, which was published in May by AMACOM Books, Geltman urges parents to regularly look at their child's cellphone, and to limit the time they are allowed to use it.

"Many parents don't want to get into the monitoring, but the truth is there's no such thing as privacy,'' she said, adding that once teens put explicit material "out there, they take privacy off the table."


The author was accompanied by her daughter, actress Ari Graynor, for a reading at a Cambridge bookstore in May.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Geltman's philosophy is that parents need to understand their teenager's perspective, and not dismiss them as "bad kids" or "spoiled brats."

“Parents get their feelings hurt a lot by their teenagers because the change is so abrupt sometimes. They go from what a parent would define as a good kid to being lazy or being angry, and parents start labeling them as something. And that can become a self-fulfilling prophecy,” she said.

The key to successful parenting, she said, is to convey to your teen that you get where they are coming from.

"Once you start judging, and criticizing and yelling, you shut off that dialogue," she said. "A lot of parents come to me because they feel the only strategy they have is to get mad, and nothing is changing. They get mad, they ground, they take the phone away. They have a limited repertoire of go-to strategies."

Another problem she frequently encounters is parents who try to mold their teens into a version of themselves. Parents often have unrealistic expectations, and need to realize that not all kids are A students.

"They see their kids as a bit of a mirror, and that's not the kids' job — to fulfill their parents' expectations. Their job is to figure out who they are, separate from their parents," she said.

Michael Daly, a former director of a program to assist underperforming students at Framingham High School, regularly invited Geltman to provide parenting talks. He said the attendance at parent meetings was always higher when she was a guest speaker.

"Just at the point when the parent is giving up, or the teenager is clearly at their worst in terms of behavior and cooperation with the parent, Joani comes through with a solution that is very practical, doable, and parents are just hungry for that information," he said.


Daly, who has four children, said he found Geltman's book to be "a very accessible, easily readable user guide.

"You find the problem with your kid, you go to that section and get instant help," he said.

He said parents often fall into bad habits when raising children, and Geltman provides a third view on things.

"It's the kind of book every parent should have, whether you're raising a kid in a low-income situation or raising a kid in Wellesley, Massachusetts," he said, adding, "I don't care where you're from or what kind of amazing parent you are; with teenagers it's completely unpredictable."

What to do when your teen wants to host a party:

 Your teen must provide you with an approximate number of kids coming over, not to exceed 20, unless you honestly can handle more and keep them safe. A list of the names of the kids would help. This guards against kids who just show up having read a text or Twitter post about a party at your house.

  All teens enter and leave through the front door, and leave jackets, backpacks, water bottles, and any other suspicious containers in your entry hall. This guards against kids bringing booze or drugs into your home in an obvious way.

  Any teen found with alcohol or pot will have the parents called for pickup.

  If pervasive drinking occurs, the party is terminated and parents are called.

  Teens who leave the party cannot return. (Kids like to take “walks” to get high and then return to the house.)

  Before the party starts, “walk the perimeter” of your property. Teens will often stash booze in bushes during the day while parents are out, and bring it in the basement door that night.

  Be a presence. Going up to your room is a no-no. Pleading ignorance when something bad happens is not an excuse.

Excerpted from "A Survival Guide to Parenting Teens: Talking to Your Kids About Sexting, Drinking, Drugs and Other Things That Freak You Out" by Joani Geltman

Katherine Landergan can be reached at katherine.lander-