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How to Raise A Star

Singer-songwriter Taylor Swift has millions of fans, and her parents have their share of admirers too. I’m one of them.

Scott and Andrea Swift did what a lot of parents do when their preteen daughter makes it known she wants to be a recording star. They enrolled her in music and theater programs, let her get modeling experience, and took her from their Pennsylvania home to New York City for auditions and singing lessons. When she signed a development deal with RCA Records, Scott Swift took a job transfer and the whole family relocated to Nashville.

While Taylor’s professional career succeeded spectacularly, in my view her parents did equally well in the more important job of raising not just a star, but a whole person. Somehow, through the early fame and the subsequent riches, through the touring and the galas and the media nonsense and, yes, the romances, Taylor Swift grew up to be a strong, intact, self-directed and generous human being. Lots of show-biz parents do the things Scott and Andrea Swift did to launch and nurture their daughter’s career, but fewer manage to cope so well with even a fraction of the success their daughter achieved.

Certainly, Taylor Swift herself deserves a lot of the credit, but in my book her parents deserve even more.

The Swifts raised a daughter that would make any parent proud, whether she had been a pop star, a psychologist, a dental hygienist or anything else you care to name. She has showed it for years, quietly and publicly, in her generosity with money, mementos and personal time. I have seen the results firsthand at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, which showcases many items of Taylor Swift memorabilia, along with the building’s Taylor Swift Education Center. According to press reports, the singer donated $4 million to build the complex of classrooms, recording and video studios when the Hall of Fame museum expanded a few years ago. Children from across the country and abroad benefit from music lessons produced there.

According to my own friends who work in the building, Swift has also been known to drop by in person for impromptu get-togethers with children in the classroom, sharing what she knows about songwriting. That happens to be a lot, because as successful as Swift is as a performer, she’s widely recognized in music circles as an even more outstanding songwriter. Comparisons are floated to people with names like Dylan, Simon (take your pick; there are a couple of options) and another Taylor – but I’m just using last names here.

The real proof of the sort of person her parents raised came in the way Swift responded when a boorish radio host grabbed her rear end at a backstage meet and greet in 2013. During a posed photo, Swift testified, country radio DJ David Mueller deliberately groped her under her skirt. She described the incident as “horrifying, shocking” and “despicable.”

Swift handled the situation appropriately and privately at first, reporting Mueller to the station where he worked, which fired him two days later. But then the bully tried to bully her again by blaming Swift for getting him fired. Two years after the incident, Mueller filed a lawsuit that practically screamed “pay me a settlement to get me out of your life.” Swift didn’t pay; she fought back and won.

It was a victory not mainly for herself, but for all the vulnerable young performers who are abused and exploited by the bullies and narcissists who are attracted like moths to the limelight. Swift’s countersuit was for $1; she self-evidently does not need money, but said she wanted to win her case “as an example to other women who may resist publicly reliving similar outrageous and humiliating acts.” After Mueller made it impossible for her to handle the incident privately, Swift decided to use a painful incident as a way to empower other women in similar circumstances without similar resources. I greatly admire how Swift stood up to her would-be abuser, but I admire even more the parents who raised a daughter who knew enough and cared enough to do so.

Swift won her symbolic $1, and the jury also rejected Mueller’s claims against Andrea Swift and a radio liaison. (The judge had already dismissed his claims against Taylor Swift herself.) Following the trial, Swift pledged to continue to support victims of sexual assault. A reportedly “extremely generous” donation to the Joyful Heart Foundation followed. Swift had previously offered financial support to fellow music star Kesha during her ongoing legal battle with producer Lukasz Gottwald, better known as Dr. Luke.

The last few years have brought me in contact with several teenage girls with big voices and bigger dreams. They all idolize Taylor Swift, and they all have parents making the sort of sacrifices Andrea and Scott Swift made to let them pursue those dreams. The universe has given me a chance to watch the process up close and to help them a little bit along their way. So I’m picky about my clients, and I’m even pickier about their parents. I want these young ladies to have a chance to do what Taylor Swift did, but even more, I would love to see them grow up to be the sort of person she became.

Larry M. Elkin is the founder and president of Palisades Hudson, and is based out of Palisades Hudson’s Fort Lauderdale, Florida headquarters. He wrote several of the chapters in the firm’s recently updated book, Looking Ahead: Life, Family, Wealth and Business After 55. His contributions include Chapter 1, “Looking Ahead When Youth Is Behind Us,” and Chapter 4, “The Family Business.” Larry was also among the authors of the firm’s book The High Achiever’s Guide To Wealth.

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