Annie Fox's Blog...

Thoughts about teens, tweens, parenting and this adventure of living on Earth in the 21st century.

Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

Mom concerned by “touching” between 7 yr olds

June 9, 2017

We can learn to keep ourselves safe.

We can learn to keep ourselves safe.

This mom of a second grader is understandably unnerved by her seven-year-old son’s account of being “inappropriate touched” by one of his friends. She’s especially concerned about the possibility that the friend’s actions might have long-term negative affects on her son.

Dear Annie,

My 7-year-old son recently told me that he has been touched inappropriately at school by a friend. Apparently, this was happening for quite a while but my son didn’t want to get the other kid in trouble. I took the necessary steps: spoke with the principal, filed a complaint, etc. The disturbing thing was that my son was the only one the other boy was doing this to.

They have been separated at school because even after our report, the child was still doing this. How will this effect my son later on?  I don’t think my son understands the severity of what has happened and still mentions the other boy in conversation. Is this normal?  If he sees the other boy every day of school, how does that work in a child’s brain?  Do you think we should switch schools?  He has many friends in the school he is in now, but I want to protect him. Thank you for your help.

Dear Mom,

Obviously, these kinds of situations can upset a parent. It might help to remind yourself that it’s normal for young children to be curious about their own bodies and the bodies of their friends. Exploratory behavior driven by that curiosity is not the same thing as adult sexuality. I highly recommend this article to give you some reassurance about what’s ok and what’s not.

You say you don’t think your son understands “the severity” of what’s happened. You haven’t provided enough information for me to evaluate whether what happened is “severe” or not, but it’s clear you deserve support. If you haven’t already done so, please reach out to the school psychologist. Most school districts employ one either on a full-time or part time basis. If there is no school psychologist or school counselor, ask for a referral to a family therapist through your son’s pediatrician. Explain the situation and ask all of your questions. It’s possible the psychologist will ask to speak with your son, alone and/or with your being right there beside him. Hopefully this conversation will help you and your son.

Now let’s talk about the other boy for a moment. It’s good that you talked to the principal. I can’t imagine the principal has not spoken to the other boy’s parents. Repeated overtly sexual behavior in young children may indicate sexual abuse or exposure to adult sexual behavior or content. This child may need professional help and/or protection.

Back to your little boy, it sounds like he could use some practice standing up for himself. It’s not helpful to stay silent when he’s uncomfortable just because he doesn’t want to get someone “in trouble.” His private parts belong to him and no one else. He needs your help understanding how to take care of and respect himself. Before you begin this conversation (and it may well be a series of ongoing conversations), take a look at this Safe Touches Personal Training for Children created by The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. You’ll find very helpful tips on how to empower your son.

I wish you well.

In friendship,
Annie

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No confidence and no boyfriend. Is there a connection?

May 25, 2017

Must be spring because my teen email is all about crushes. Most from middle schoolers. I won’t bore you my history, but…  occasionally I dream about my 7th grade crush. So believe me, I get romantic insanity. Either you’re out-of-mind euphoric or in a hopeless funk. Sometimes feeling both within five minutes.

No one but you can un-do this negative self-talk, sister

No one but you can un-do this negative self-talk, sister

This 7th grader is crushing hard. Slight problem: the guy is dating her best friend.

Hey Terra,
My best friend’s new boyfriend happens to be my childhood crush. He and I were very close throughout elementary school. We even liked each other in the third grade. So her being with him doesn’t feel right to me. I should have been his first kiss and his first girlfriend. Last year, in 6th grade, I liked him a lot but I got over him. Then this year I found out him and my bff liked each other the whole time! Most of my friends have boyfriends. I should have one too! I am very insecure and I need a boyfriend to feel confident about myself. What do I do to feel confident? Please Help.
-Insecure Girl

Dear Insecure Girl,

You say you got over this guy and maybe you did. But emotional attachments are tricky and sometimes you believe you’re “over it” then, suddenly, your ex is in your face and in your heart again. Seeing your crush with your bff isn’t easy. It’s also not easy to see a bunch of your other friends coupled up when you’re not.

You can’t control other people’s feelings (obviously). But you can stop making things harder for yourself. For example, you’ve been thinking you need a boyfriend to be less insecure. That a boyfriend would solve all your self-confidence issues. That’s just not true.

I understand you want a boy to like you the way your crush likes your bestie. That’s fine. Everyone wants to be loved and admired. But when you try to convince yourself what happened in 3rd grade ought to put you first in line to be his girlfriend, that’s wrong-thinking. You don’t get to decide who becomes this guy’s first kiss or girlfriend. That’s his decision. You’re a smart girl. You don’t need me to tell you that.

You asked my advice. Here it is: Stop feeling sorry for yourself. It will only bring you down. So will all the “I need a boyfriend” thoughts. That’s a form of self-bullying. Not helpful. Instead, focus on what you love to do and do more of it. Art, writing, sports, dance or music, theatre or science, photography, technology, entrepreneurship, cooking, or a zillion other things the world has to offer.

Focus on being the unique and awesome girl you already are. You have everything you need. Nothing is missing from this equation. No boyfriend required. Use your interests to guide you, create short-term and long goals and achieve them. That’s what makes a person confident in herself.

I hope this helps.

In friendship,
Terra

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Parenting worry: Am I playing favorites?

May 3, 2017

What if I don’t love them equally?

Conventional parenting wisdom dictates: Parents should (must) love their children equally. “Equal” implies “exactly the same.” Not buying that in theory or in practice. We all savor different qualities in the people we love. We cherish the time we spend together for very different reasons. Why compare? It’s pointless.

I have a daughter and a son. I would drop everything in a hot minute if they asked for my help because I love them both deeply, but not equally.

Got an email from a mom who seems uneasy with how differently she feels toward her 14-year-old son and his twin sister.

Mom: He always had good grades in middle school, even if he missed some homework. Now in high school he realizes that not doing homework actually affects his grade so he is doing all of it, except math.

He doesn’t do his pre-calculous homework since the teacher doesn’t check it everyday. He can’t keep up with the material during the class. He frantically studies the night before each test and he got B+ last semester. At least he studies before the test, but If he did his homework regularly he could have received an A easily without studying like that the previous night.  I know B+ is okay but I’m more worried about his habit of procrastination as well as his grade.

Even though I’m suffering inside watching him putting off his work we have a good relationship. He has friends and does sports, but no other club – he has no interest in putting his effort into anything other than sports.

His twin sister is doing great in every way – she has good friends, doing a lot of club/sports, as well as she gets perfect grade (because she DOES her homework in time even though she is super busy). The problem with me is that I know what homework they have because of her. If I didn’t know what homework he should be doing I would be less anxious.

I try not to say too much about it but it’s really hard (HARD) for me to watch him just spending time looking at his iphone even though there is homework to do. Should I just watch him and hope he will realize or should I have a some sort of conversation about it? I just tell him something like “Why don’t you do your homework before it’s too late?” He says, “OK,” but it never has any effect on him.

Annie: I think it would be helpful if you tried to step back a bit. Your son is doing so much that is “right.” He really is. In your own words:
“He got a B+ last semester in pre-calculus.” (A strong grade)
“He studies before the test.”
“We have a good relationship.”
“He has friends.”
“He does sports.”

Your worrying seems misplaced. He is young and time management is a challenging skill to master.

I understand it’s hard not to compare your son to his twin sister, but please remind yourself that he is not his sister. He is also not you. He is developing at his own pace with his own strengths and challenges. He will figure this out. He already has “realized that not doing homework actually affects his grades…” At this point, his good relationship with you is much more important than how he is progressing in pre-calculus.

Please try to relax about his math studies. At this point you should not be involving yourself in his school work to this degree. The “contract” is between your son and his teacher. When you step back and let him work it out on his own, he is more likely to realize the connection between attentiveness in math class, homework, studying, etc. and grades a lot faster than if you make this your project.

I hope this helps.

In friendship,
Annie

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“My friend’s mom bullies her!”

April 19, 2017

What did I do to deserve such rude and disrespectful kids?!

Bullying prevention begins at home. A child’s propensity for being aggressive and/or putting up with aggressive behavior from others may begin at home as well. As this email suggests, however, rushing to judgment about what’s going on in someone else’s family, isn’t helpful.

Teen: My best friend’s mom is always in a bad mood. She’s so rude and unfair! She always grounds my friend for the simplest things. When I’m at my friend’s house her mother is rude to me and lectures me. I try to invite my friend over, but her mom always has an excuse why she can’t come. What do I do? 🙁

Annie:  I can tell you’ve got a good heart because you really care about your friend. I’m sure she values the friendship and really appreciates having you in her life. Your question is a great one: “What can you do if a friend’s mom, dad, stepdad, etc. isn’t being kind or fair to them?”

Here’s the thing, it’s almost impossible to tell what’s actually going on inside of someone else’s family. Suppose, for example, you and your mom are at the supermarket. And let’s say you are in a bad mood because a) you are hungry and b) you have a lot of homework plus a test to study for and c) one of your best friend’s was rude to you right after school and you’re freaking out that she may not be your friend any more. So, yeah, you’re in a bad mood.

Now imagine you and your mom walk down the cereal aisle and you grab your favorite stuff off the shelf. Your mom snaps, “I’m not buying that.” You yell at her and she yells back at you. What if a stranger happens to be watching what just happened? What might she assume about your relationship with your mom?

No assumptions strangers make can’t ever be the whole truth. There might not be any truth to it at all. That’s why it’s always a good idea to look beyond the surface and ask yourself, “What else might be going on here?”

As an outsider, you just never know.

Teen: Thank you so much. I completely understand. Maybe there’s more happening. Do you think it has to do with the parents’ relationship?

Annie: I don’t know for sure. But when a parent is consistently rude, unfair or generally in a bad mood, the child’s behavior is probably not the most important cause. Maybe the parents are having relationship challenges or financial worries, or they’re dealing with other family stresses (sick grandparents, for example). As an outsider, you just never know. But here’s  something you can do: Be as kind and understanding as you can be. If your friend wants to talk about how she’s feeling… be a good listener. That often helps, especially when kids feel like no one understands.

I hope this helps you help her.

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