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.

How much of a sheeple are you?

February 19, 2009

Not a sheeple


Everyone wants to be liked. Which makes caring what other people think totally normal. It’s also normal at times to choose to go along with the group just to keep the peace or avoid confrontations. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, it makes sense to be agreeable especially if we’re talking about some little thing that really doesn’t matter all that much. But what if the issue does matter to you? Do you still do what they say when it’s not right for you? Do you go along with the crowd just so they’ll like you?

If this sounds familiar you might want to ask yourself, “Am I a sheeple?” In case that’s a new word for you, sheeple are people who act like sheep. They’re most comfortable when following other people’s rules of “acceptable” behavior (what to wear, what to think, etc.). The Golden Rule rule for Sheeple: “Thinking for yourself and being your own person is way too risky! Play it safe. Follow the others.”

Wonder if you’re a sheeple?  Take this quiz and find out:

  1. If people think something is funny, I laugh even if I don’t get the joke. True or False?
  2. If everyone has seen a movie I haven’t seen, I’ll lie and say I saw it. T or F
  3. I hardly ever tell people how I really feel. T or F
  4. I try really hard not to make a fool of myself. T or F
  5. I’d do anything to be more popular.  T or F
  6. I’ve dropped out of an activity I liked because my friends quit. T or F
  7. I worry if about people talking about me. T or F
  8. If someone makes fun of something I’m wearing, I won’t wear it again! T or F
  9. If my friends hate a TV show that I like, I pretend that I hate it too. T or F
  10. I’m never the first to give my opinion. T or F

If you got:

7-10 Ts: You have some strong sheepish tendencies that can prevent you from calling your own shots. You might want to cut loose from the herd every now and then, just to prove to yourself that you are still an individual. You are, aren’t you?

4-6 Ys: You sometimes find it challenging to stand up for yourself so you don’t push it very often. But sometimes you are your own person and it actually feels good.

0-3 Ys: Most of the time you don’t hesitate to think for yourself. Your friends might respect you for being independent and whether you know it or not, you could be inspiring others to think for themselves, too.

If you’re a t(w)een and you took the quiz, I’d love to hear from you. Post any comments or questions below. Or if you’re the parent of a t(w)een, I’d like to hear from you too!

Filed under: Quizzes,Teens — Tags: — Annie @ 10:16 am

For Parents: After the candy’s been eaten

February 15, 2009

Fuzzy about love and relationships

Fuzzy about love and relationships

February 15th… the morning after the day every single single in this much married land is plagued with the thought “No date! I’m such a loser!” Of course from my perspective as an online advisor, the urge to merge is pretty much a year-round thing. So is the general cluelessness regarding what healthy relationships are all about. And it’s skewing younger all the time. Take these two oh so typical emails the likes of which I receive several times a week:

Any guy I crush over does not feel the same about me. They always have a reason why I’m not ‘the one.’ I need help! What can I do to get guys to like me???” – 6th grader in love

And this one:

“I’m a 14 old guy and I’m still a single (?!) Many of my friends are in a relationship and I really wanted one of my own. How can I make myself comfortable when being around girls, especially the one I have a crush on?? It seems that I’m always nervous and I tend to force something that I’ll regret (because I’m always excited whenever I talk to the girl I like and I don’t want them to realize that I’m an annoying person and even a stalker)!!”

Tweens and teens are under way too much pressure to couple up. Put that on top of (or underlying) the stress they already feel to make the grade academically, athletically and in the friends department and it’s easy to see why the “solutions” 11-14 year olds come up with for their Boyfriend/Girlfriend challenges aren’t the most carefully thought out ideas.

None of us would dream of handing over the car keys to an unschooled young driver, because they’re unsafe at any speed. A danger to themselves and others.  But what schooling are we giving our tweens and teens about the road trip into relationships? I know all about the take-away messages they get from friends and pop culture. But what values and skills are we parents giving them in terms of dating and relating?

We hear the word relationship and we think sex. Middle school kids hear it and think the same. And that’s a big part of the problem! The focus is all wrong. The result? A whole lot of ignorance about what really matters in a relationship – mutual respect, trust, honesty, open communication and shared values. So they swerve, skid, careen out of control, and crack up time and time again. Experience is a great teacher, but are they actually building any positive relationship skills? Based on the questions they email me, I’m guessing, not a whole bunch.

We need to change this. They need us to educate them because what they don’t know can and does hurt them. It hurts others too.

To learn more about the cosequences of fuzzy relationship smarts, check out my review of Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love, and Lose at Both by Laura Sessions Stepp.

Filed under: Holidays,Parenting,Parenting Books,Tips — Tags: , , — Annie @ 4:32 pm

For Parents: Fear of Embarrassment

February 4, 2009

OMG! I am sooo embarrassed!

OMG! I am sooo embarrassed!

“What do you mean you’re not going to wear that shirt any more? You picked it out!  In the store you said it was cool.”

We don’t get it. And they know we don’t get it. But they get it… 180 days a year. That’s why they’re hyper-aware of the fragile pecking order in school. They know that just about anything they do or say could instantly condemn them to the Losers Slag Heap for eternity.

I’m currently working on Book 4 of Middle School Confidential. And I’ve been trying to figure out how to help kids deal with their fear of embarrassment – which for a typical 7th grader is probably life’s most dreaded experience.

You know how when you’re into something new the universe keeps sticking you with opportunities to think about it? Say you start flirting with the idea of going to Nepal, then within  a week, you meet no fewer than 17 people who all happen to have just returned from Kathmandu? Coincidence? I think not!

So yesterday the universe tossed an answer into my driveway in the form of a San Francisco Chronicle article on dieting. The story featured cognitive therapist Dr. Judith Beck, whose new book helps chronic dieters quit fearing hunger so they can relax and stop obsessing about their weight.

What’s that got to do with middle schoolers and embarrassment? The objective of cognitive behavior therapy is (according to Wikipedia, source of all knowledge): “… to identify and monitor thoughts, assumptions, beliefs and behaviors that are related and accompanied to debilitating negative emotions — to identify those which are dysfunctional, inaccurate or simply unhelpful, and to replace or transcend them with more realistic and useful ones.”

So I’m thinking, if I could:

a) help middle schoolers deconstruct their assumptions about embarrassment

b) help them see that their current strategies for dealing with embarrassing moments just might be making things worse

c) help them rein in the out-of-control fear of embarrassing themselves

d) help them create some more helpful ways of coping with the inevitable (we all have those moments)

…then they just might give themselves permission to see embarrassment for what it is… a normal human emotion that passes quickly if you let it go. And they might actually lighten up on themselves (and their embarrassment-inducing parents). Result? 6th-8th graders just might be willing to put themselves out there more and have fun.

So that’s what I’m working on at the moment.

If you have any comments about what has and hasn’t worked when helping your kids deal with the aftermath of an embarrassing middle school or high school moment, I’d love to hear from you!


#18: Mount Vernon – Welcome home, President Washington

February 1, 2009

President George Washington, age 57 from a forensic reconstruction

President George Washington, age 57 from a forensic reconstruction

My fascination with old houses probably began one day when I was 9 and wandered through a wooded area at the end of my street. The trail led into a clearing where I discovered the remains of an abandoned old mansion. Pretty cool find! Ever since, I’ve been hooked on the challenge of what could be pieced together about a life from the clues people leave behind.

Over the years I’ve gone out of my way to check out the former dwellings of the likes of Elvis Presley, William Shakespeare, President Franklin Roosevelt, Russian Czar Peter the Great, and Anne Frank.

That’s why, on our last day in DC, I was eager to visit Mount Vernon, home of George Washington. Turns out the  Father of our Country never spent a whole lot of time at home. OK, so he didn’t much help Martha around the house, but  let’s give the man his due respect. He was very busy serving his country, pretty much continuously from 1752-1797, without a lot of down time. He fought with the British in the French and Indian War (1754–1763).  Then he fought against the British as Commander of the Continental Army in the American Revolution (1775-1783).

With American independence won, Washington figured he’d retire to his working farm on the Potomac River. But in less than four years, he was off to Philadelphia to preside over the Constitutional Convention that drafted the U.S. Constitution.  And two years after that, in 1789, he was inaugurated as our first President. He served excellently for 2 terms – refusing to extend it to a third and thus setting a very wise precedent that two consecutive terms is all any US President gets. By all accounts, Washington was one of the top three of all times.

Done with public service in 1797, GW happily returned to Martha at Mount Vernon with the idea that he’d finally get to enjoy his home, his family, and his gardens. Unfortunately, just 2 years later, he died of pneumonia at the age of 67.  

Inside the slave quarters at Mt. Vernon

Inside the slave quarters at Mt. Vernon

Yes, Washington was a great man and as a nation we are incredibly fortunate to have had him as our first leader. But he wasn’t perfect. It might surprise you to know that Washington owned slaves. Probably not the way you want to think about him, but it’s true. And facts need to be remembered and factored into the mix for history to create a complete picture of the way things really were.

Here are some of the other sights from the wonderful and highly recommended Mount Vernon…

Mt. Vernon, as it is today

Mt. Vernon, as it is today

Not a bad view of the Potomac from the back porch of Mt. Vernon.

Not a bad view of the Potomac from the back porch of Mt. Vernon.

Annie gets needlepoint lessons from Lady Martha Washington, Oscar-worthy reenactor.

Annie gets needlepoint lessons from Lady Martha Washington, Oscar-worthy reenactor.

Recreation of General Washington at age 45

Recreation of General Washington at age 45

45 year old General Washington

45 year old General Washington from a forensic reconstruction

George Washington, taking the Oath of Office, New York, 1789

George Washington, taking the Oath of Office, New York, 1789

Ella from San Francisco

Ella from San Francisco

While we waited in line to get inside the house, we met a 9 year old girl and her mom. They were from San Francisco and pretty much like everyone else we’d talked to all week, they’d come for the Inauguration. I asked the girl why Obama’s election was important to her. Here’s what she told me:

Ella (age 9, San Francisco): I think it will  be part of the future. If there is a first black American President… who knows? We could be president too one day.

Annie: You mean women too?

Ella (smiling broadly): Yeah!

Yes we can.

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