People Magazine: Jane Fonda’s Painful Childhood Inspires Her to Help Today’s Teens


After working with adolescents for more than 30 years, starting with a camp she founded and then working on behalf of various youth social causes, Jane Fonda considers herself a “lay expert” when it comes to teens and their questions about sexuality.

Fonda’s new book, Being a Teen: Everything Teen Girls & Boys Should Know About Relationships, Sex, Love, Health Identity & More, is a frank and candid resource for adolescents.

“I’ve learned a lot. I have a real soft spot for teens, having had a difficult adolescence myself,” says the Oscar winner, 76. “Too many girls do things to please.”

In her own life, she says, “I was a pleaser. I was brought up that you have to perfect, which means don’t show if you’re angry, or if you’re too smart, do what the man wants. It took me a long time to get over all that.”

Fonda, whose mother Frances committed suicide when Jane was 12, says she felt alone most of her adolescence while her larger-than-life father, the esteemed screen star Henry Fonda, was away working.

“My mother died … and I didn’t know where to get answers,” she says. “I didn’t get my period until I was 17.”

In the 1950s, confused by the intrigue at the time of the country’s first public trans woman, Christine Jorgensen, Fonda “thought I was not supposed to be a girl because I had no breasts and I hadn’t gotten my period and I was scared to death,” she says. “I spent a lot of my adolescence really, really scared.”

So what advice would she have given her teen self? “I would have said, ‘Jane, “No” is a complete sentence,’ ” says Fonda, explaining that the answer is suitable whether dealing with peer pressure, sex, friendship, relationships, whatever.

“You have to know how to say no and mean it, and you have to know how to say yes and mean it. You have to know what you really want.”

For parents of adolescents, Fonda – the mother of three grown children – offers words of wisdom she says were learned the hard way.

“The big mistake parents make is saying, ‘Well, I have to get ready for the big talk. I have to start talking to them about sex.’ ”

Her solution? “Do it now. You have to start really early being an approachable parent. We parents have to do more listening than talking,” she says. “And I say all this as a parent that didn’t do it very well. You teach what you need to learn; I’m not self-righteous. I wish I could go back knowing what I know now.”

The actress is hopeful that teens who have questions will find answers in her book. “That’s why it was a joy for me to write,” Fonda says. “If I had this book, it would have made things a lot easier for me.”

For more of the interview with Jane Fonda, including exclusive photos from her childhood, pick up the March 31 issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands March 19

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  1. ‘Inspiration’ ~ A word among many that describes you, my brilliant, multi-faceted admired woman whom I share a vintage with! Onward and congratulations!

    • Daniel P. I love laughing too. the real deep down, cross-your-legs belly laughs. havem’t had one in a while. My son makes me laugh like that sometimes. I will write about laughing when I figure out what I have to say.

  2. Thank you for writing this most needed book, Jane. I agree with you, that if I had a book like this when I needed it back when I was developing my Identity, I would have had knowledge and advise to help me get thru some really traumatic tiems, but also to guide me towards making decisions about who I want to be. I had so much trouble finding who I was, and that was amongst adults who didn’t know how to function in a loving and compassionate way. I was very alone as a child and as a teen, and young woman. You were a role model for me in my young womanhood. I thank you SO much for being someone I could look up to as a teen, too! I dearly hope that many teens read this book and gain the knowledge and personal power to become the person they decide to be, armed with wisdom as well, to know how to deal with the adults and environment around them. I look forward to getting my copy of this informative book.

  3. I’m new here, so I am just catching up on some of your rich and informative words. Like you, I could have used a book like yours as a teen (long ago). I haven’t the means to write a book, or the connections, and to be honest, I do not want to do that.. so much work! 😉 But I did want to share (expose myself like never before to the public) on what it felt like to grow up feeling that I ‘liked girls more than boys’. I did decide after too many years of thinking about it to start to write down online what it felt like as a teen in the 60’s- a hidden teen. My hope is that at least one person who needs a boost of knowing they are not alone, can see how so many of us have been down that same road and can hand out a roadmap or two. I write gay/lesbian themed memoir and general stories/poems for anyone to read. There is no registration required to read my writings. I hope you come buy and have a look, as I come by and have look at yours. Sharing is good.

    • FRances, yes, sharing is god. Check out my chapter (in “Being a Teen”) on sexual identity. I think its really good.

      • I will do that. And I will buy a copy of your book for our local Peavey Memorial Library. It was scary for me to even share online as my true self, I can’t imagine how you feel after putting your entire life out there for so long. I’m surprised you’d even want to connect as you do through your site. Your schedule, btw, is astounding. No need to reply. Be well and thanks for sharing.

  4. Hi Jane –
    I am currently reading your autobiography ‘My Life So Far’ and I am very moved by the story of your mother. I rarely get very emotional but I wept when I read her story. Her whole story, the silent torture she endured at the hands of an emotionally brutal husband. One passage stayed with me was when you said she was weeping into her dinner (of spinach and spam) and yet no one was able to get up and comfort her, not even her own mother! I felt it so sad, it must have seem like a huge betrayal, to be so sad and vulnerable and no one could even offer a hug or any words of kindness or consolation. I am so glad that you got the ‘meet’ the real Frances Ford Seymour Fonda, the girl that was lively, jovial and a rock to all her friends. She sounded like an amazing woman before her troubles overtook her. Thank you for writing this book and specifically being so open and honest about your mother’s history. It really resonated with me and it reaffirmed my belief that as women, we are NEVER to please anyone else but ourselves, especially not a man, as we all know they (the men) will never be grateful to us that we sacrificed ourselves for them as evidenced by your parents’ marriage. And if I may, and I know you love and respect your father very much, but he was a jerk to your mother. If he could not help her emotional problems as he shouldn’t be tasked with that, the least he could do for her was to treat her with some compassion and kindness than to toss her away like trash when she was no longer ‘perfect’ in his eyes. I get that the marriage was trouble, I get that both of them had their own shortcomings that were impossible to overcome, but a little compassion can go a long way here. And I also appreciate your honesty about Henry Fonda, even though you adored him you were able to be objective and call him out on his bad behavior. I am truly appalled at how he treated your mother, he may have had his emotional shortcomings brought on by his upbringing, but that’s no excuse to treat a woman, his wife, mother of his children so appalling at her desperate hour of need. Lastly, the fact that your mother left no ‘note’ for your mother spoke volumes. The next thing that made me weep was when you wrote that the First Christmas after your mother’s passing, your brother Peter Fonda made presents for his mother, yet NO ONE acknowledged him or gave him a hug and I just imagine this small boy crying in the corner on Christmas, it makes me want to cry. I have a son and a daughter myself and the thought that if I were not here one day and they missed me, I would sure hope their father or anyone in the room for that matter, could offer them a hug and tell them it’ll be all right. And the fact that your mother passed, no one ever mentioned her again until Susan Fonda (poor woman) asked you about her is just nothing short of abusive. Jane, I am so sorry you’ve had to endure this. The story of your mother has moved me so much, and it has want me to become a better woman, a stronger woman for my daughter and I hope you feel that though her life was tragic and short, this beautiful shining woman’s life was not lived in vain. Her life had meaning and purpose, so many years after her death.

    • My father did the best he could. My mother wasn’t exactly innocent of wrongdoing within the marriage —as I pointed out in my book. All any of us can do is learn all we can about our parents as people—and their parents (our grandparents) –so that we can better understand why our childhoods were the way they were and try to find wholeness within ourselves which, sometimes, our parents were not able to give us and, sometimes (often) it had nothing to do with us. Thanks for writing. xx Jane

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