What better way to connect with your daughter than to co-found an organization dedicated to supporting the well-being of young people through kindness, courage and compassion? Well, that’s just what Cynthia Germanotta and her daughter, Lady Gaga, did with Born This Way Foundation.
And we’re so grateful they did.
A recent CDC report shows younger adults have experienced a disproportionate increase in mental health challenges, including suicidal ideation, and substance abuse since the onset of COVID-19. With the recent publication of Channel Kindness: Stories of Kindness and Connection, a collection of stories about resilience, hope and connection, plus personal notes of encouragement from Lady Gaga, Born This Way Foundation hopes young people will feel less isolated and alone.
In addition to co-founding Born This Way Foundation, Cynthia is an entrepreneur and activist and served as the World Health Organization Goodwill Ambassador for mental health in 2019.
Mindful Littles caught up with Cynthia to find out what it was like raising her daughters, what she wishes she knew about parenting and mental wellness back then and how parents can more deeply connect emotionally with their children throughout childhood, when facing adversity and beyond.
ML: When, as parents, we engage in a passion project, the way you have with Born This Way Foundation, it often comes from a place of deep experience and personal caring. What about your parenting experience helped manifest Born This Way Foundation and what keeps you engaged now that your daughters are grown?
CG: First, I have two wonderful daughters — and my oldest daughter, Lady Gaga, has been brave in using her platform to talk about mental wellness and her own personal struggles.
Because she was so open in sharing her story, we would hear from young people and parents all over the world about how their experiences were like ours. Young people connected with my daughter’s story about how she wished I had validated and acknowledged her emotions, and that she was struggling beyond the usual “pre-teen moodiness.”
I didn’t grow up giving myself space to talk about my emotions and I meet parents all over the world (and receive messages from even more) who appreciate my honesty in sharing that this is a muscle I had to build.
Creating space between trusted adults and young people to speak openly and safely is a need that transcends culture. Even as Born This Way Foundation expands our programming, the crux of our mission will always be the same – and that is to validate the emotions of young people globally.
ML: At Mindful Littles we believe we can’t have mindful littles without mindful bigs. The work really begins with parents, caregivers and educators. In what ways can adults who care for children nurture their own self-care and mental well-being so they can better support their littles?
CG: First, I’ll say that as parents, we need to model speaking openly about how we’re feeling. We can’t expect our kids to be vulnerable with us if we can’t be vulnerable with them. We should model failure, disappointment, joy, and give our young people space to express themselves as well.
ML: How do we energize parents to engage with their kids before they slip into crisis or find themselves in an overwhelming situation? Beyond recognizing the signs of depression, for example, what would you tell parents to do on an ongoing basis to stay connected to their children?
CG: Keep talking. Our research shows that parents underestimate the stress their child is experiencing and that young people fear being judged so they’re less likely to share. Make sure you’re always creating space so the young person in your life feels comfortable speaking to you. That first conversation won’t cover everything so they need to know that you’re always available to listen without judgement.
ML: What do you wish you’d known as a parent of tween and teenage children facing mental wellness and social challenges that you know now?
CG: I learned I needed to change the way I spoke to my daughters about mental health. So what I’d wish I’d known was to go against the instinct of trying to solve their problems and instead just listen, really listen, to what they had to say. Parents often overestimate the likelihood that their child will come to them when they’re experiencing stress. So when they do open up to us, it’s so important that we listen to and validate their feelings first before anything else.
ML: What one recommendation do you have for parents when they’re teaching their children to be kind to themselves, especially as we navigate this uncertain and challenging time during COVID-19?
CG: At Born This Way Foundation, we firmly believe in the power of gratitude. One suggestion is to model writing a few things you’re thankful for each day in a gratitude journal and reminding your child to do the same. You can include what you’re grateful for about yourself and prioritize that right along the blessings in your life.
Our team at Born This Way takes each Wednesday to think, read, and write as a way to reflect and refocus. Set aside time every week dedicated to focusing on yourselves so you model self-reflection and self-care as just as important as your other responsibilities.
ML: What’s on the horizon for Born This Way Foundation?
CG: Last year we partnered with the National Council for Behavioral Health to introduce teen Mental Health First Aid (tMHFA) to the United States. Our research shows that young people prioritize their mental wellness, but 1-in-3 reports not knowing where to turn for help. tMHFA teaches high school students about common mental health challenges, what they can do to support their own mental health, and how to help a friend who is struggling.
We also are so proud of the work we’re doing in the Las Vegas area, coinciding with my daughter’s residency at the MGM Park Theater. The Foundation is uplifting local partner organizations that are doing incredible work to support young people like Project 150, Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth, Kyler’s Kicks, and more.
Our goal in the Las Vegas area is to support the well-being of young people in the city by researching what they need to thrive, giving them resources to support their mental health, and providing genuine opportunities for them to lead and strengthen their communities. And we’re on our way to doing just that!