Like most mothers, Jeanette Jennings from I Am Jazz fiercely loves and wants the best for her children. But unlike the majority of mothers, Jeanette is also raising a transgender teen who is in the public eye.
The mother of four talked with The Cheat Sheet about her parenting experiences and how she deals with raising young adults and teenagers in a plugged-in society. She also provides insight into what her journey has been like raising Jazz, who not only has a popular show on TLC but is also leading the charge for transgender rights with her advocacy group, Transkids Purple Rainbow Foundation.
Jeanette also addresses some of the downsides of celebrity, especially as a mom who sees how negatively some people can respond to her child. And while she recounts some aggressive comments she’s received, she shares that it was Jazz who has taught her to rise above the fray and be brave and strong.
Being a teen today is far more stressful than it used to be
Jazz deals with the same stresses and social anxieties as her peers. “A lot of the trouble stems from that social media aspect,” she says. “These kids have a whole element that we never had and I’m glad we didn’t. Because sometimes ignorance is bliss.”
She says Jazz has had friendships break down because she would be left out and then see everything that she was missing on social media. “Had there been no Instagram, that would have never happened,” Jeanette says.
She also recalled how her older daughter would notice a boy she liked was not calling her back, but she could see he was very active on Instagram. “It’s that whole element that is really tough on the kids today,” she adds. “They are under a lot more pressure than we were under because of the Internet. It changes the whole dynamic. My heart goes out to all the kids, not just mine.”
But for Jazz, Jeanette says there is that extra problematic layer because of the hate she receives.
The negativity has increased
Unfortunately, celebrity can mean that the public feels free to hurl nasty and even aggressive comments your way. Because Jazz is transgender and some people find this controversial, they believe they can offer unsolicited and unsavory comments. “There’s enough bullying going on out there even with no issues,” Jeanette says.
“When you are transgender you are so marginalized more so than any other population,” she continues. “When our administration is discriminating against transgender people for just being who they are, how are these kids supposed to cope when they see the president doesn’t approve of them?”
Jeanette says while Jazz received some negativity in the past, the angry messages and mail have increased substantially over the past two years. “This is unchartered territory because in the past we did have support from our government. So now that rock has been pulled out from underneath these children and young adults. It’s really hard. You have to be super strong and have the toughest skin out there.”
How does Jazz handle the hate?
Jeanette says she doesn’t have any parenting secrets to raising a confident happy child. But, “Jazz was born super confident,” she shares. “I’ve never been super confident personally. I’ve always been insecure, worried about what people thought. And I had to grow up really fast when Jazz came along and learn how not to care what people thought.”
Then Jeanette shares that her child taught her how to be confident and brave. “She taught me how to be more confident and more resilient in many ways,” Jeanette says. “Because she never cared. So I’ve learned so much from that, she’s made me a better person.”
She adds when she knew Jazz had this level of security, she and her husband Greg nurtured this quality. “We said, ‘Oh wow, we’ve got this kid with all this going for her, let’s help her to be the best she can be,'” Jeanette says. “Because she wants to be [her very best] and is tough. But she can be very sweet too. There are many sides to Jazz. I always say she is the most predictably unpredictable person I’ve met in my life.”
Jeanette recalls this teachable moment
Indeed, the negativity has increased as Jeanette recounted an extremely aggressive piece of mail she recently received. But she says because of her daughter’s fierce bravery, she learned how to take down the haters in the most amazing way.
“I just got one of the worst pieces of hate mail that I’ve ever received,” Jeanette says. “Somebody sent me a picture of some very flamboyant people from what looked like a very long time ago. It definitely looked like a gay man and transgender people.”
She believes the photo referred to the first transgender clinic from the 1920s or 1930s, which was opened by a gay Jewish psychiatrist living in Berlin. Jeanette says a note accompanied the photo. “And Hitler burned it down in 1935,” she says. “And then it said, ‘America needs a Hitler.'” She adds the person also called her a demon.
Jeanette says rather than getting upset, she decided to instead do some research. “You know what, I learned so much about this amazing, brave man who opened up this clinic and how he was a pioneer and he actually coined the term transvestite. He loved everyone but was bullied and beaten up, but he didn’t care. So I learned something and decide to take the good from it.” She adds as her children grow and mature she will continue to take the high road, the same way her youngest child looks at life.
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