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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.

For Parents: This is only a test

March 31, 2009

Beautiful Boy

If it were for real you’d probably have gotten instructions. You might have even had a chance to study. Sorry. Quiz time.

What would you do if you discovered that your child was a drug addict?

a) Never stop trying to fix the problem

b) Blame yourself for causing it

c) Grab the bait of hope again and again

d) Worry yourself into a brain aneurysm

If you’re David Sheff, author of Beautiful Boy – a father’s journey through his son’s addiction, you’d answer e) all of the above.

As Sheff meticulously chronicles his nightmare the truth is unavoidable – his son Nic’s addiction ravaged them both. While Nic uses – which he does with great regularity except for when in treatment – fear, worry, and guilt overwhelm Dad. He lives a shadow life. Unable to fully enjoy his relationship with his loving and supportive second wife and their cute little kids. Not for lack of trying. The problem: “A parent is only as happy as his unhappiest child.” Nic Sheff, is an addict. There are no happy addicts.

This is no easy read – which is why I’m blogging about it rather than reviewing it for my Parent Forum Bookshelf. Unlike those others, this book doesn’t have much in the way of parenting tips. Not that Sheff didn’t do his homework. My God did he ever! It’s just that when it comes to addiction science and treatment there’s so much that’s unknown. And the bits that are known often conflict with other bits. Anyone seeking help for a loved one is bound to be confused, overwhelmed, and wondering what the hell they’re supposed to do.

I didn’t enjoy this book, but I couldn’t stop reading it. Like, Dad, I was hanging in there for the happy ending. Spoiler ahead!

There isn’t one. Only Sheff’s epiphany: “My children will live with or without me. It is a staggering realization for a parent, but one that ultimately frees us to let our children grow up.”

It also allows us to create a life separate from theirs. Our love for them and yes, for ourselves, demands it.


For Parents: Meet them where they sit

March 26, 2009

Spider-Man to the Rescue

Spider-Man to the Rescue (AFP)

I like a nice bowl of oatmeal along with my morning paper. I also like good news whenever possible. Mostly I just get the oatmeal with a sliced banana on top. Sometimes there are strawberries.

I know that smile-inducing stuff still happens in the world, but why is it all relegated to the comics page? And even there, most of the place holders are cringe-inducing. Dennis the Menace? Blondie? Hello? 2009 here!

Maybe the lack of reporting about people behaving well requires more resources than struggling media outlets have these days. Could be. Anyway, here are some of the headliners on the breakfast menu: Funeral for slain Oakland officers. 10 civilians are killed in bombing of minibus. Sudan’s leader defies warrant. Nazi newspapers.

My sunny disposition faltering, I flipped a few pages and caught these opening lines: “The streets of Baghdad are calmer now. The fighting between Shiites and Sunnis has largely ceased.” Alright! Smiling and nodding, about to share the good news with David across the table, I read on and learn that Shiites and Sunnis aren’t killing each other in Baghdad any more because there aren’t any Sunnis in Baghdad anymore. 84% of the survivors of massacres that peaked in the first half of 2007 got the hell out of there. So much for peacful conflict resolution.

I’m ready to relegate the paper to the worm bin, when I spot this headline: Spider-Man to the Rescue. Could it be? It could. An 11 year old with autism, so freaked at his Bangkok school the other day, crawls out a third story window to give himself some Me-Time. Seems nobody, including Teacher and Mom, can coax him away from the ledge until a firefighter named Somchai Yoosabai is called in. Apparently, the child loves super-heroes and for some undisclosed reason Mr. Yoosabai (if that is his real name) happens to keep a Spider-Man costume in his locker down at the firehouse. Spidey shows up on the window ledge. The boy, teary-eyed, spots him and walks into his arms.

My hero. More oatmeal please.

You probably don’t need a Spider-Man suit to coax your kid off the ledge. Maybe all you need is a willingness to go out there and sit with him.

Filed under: Parenting — Tags: , , — Annie @ 12:36 pm

For Teens: Why would a so-called friend do that?

March 16, 2009

It can be a challenge not to feel jealous

It can be a challenge not to feel jealous

Here’s a recent email I got from a teen. Thought I’d share it since jealousy between friends comes up a lot.

Hey Terra,

My friend makes me really jealous. She has lots of friends who all adore her, a happy family and brains. Even though I am more successful than her at schoolwork I am not doing so good on the friend side. I try not to focus on her life but it seems to be exactly what I’m always doing. Everytime I feel like I’ve achieved something she seems to step in and tell me all about her great trip into town with this boy I like and how she hangs out with all these cool people and it makes me feel horrible. I really don’t want it to get to me because if I let something fester it makes me depressed. Please help!

Green with Envy

Dear Green,

I can understand why you might believe that your friend has a perfect life. She may not have the same challenges as you, but trust me, she’s got some. Otherwise no way would she be stepping on your achievements by bragging about all the cool things she does.

This comes down to your definition of a “real” friend. A real friend celebrates your wins. A real friend wants you to succeed. When your friend tries to shift the focus from you to her, she shows that she is a) insecure and/or b) jealous of you and/or c) completely clueless about her annoying habit of stealing the spotlight. Does that sound like someone who’s got it all together?

You say “I really don’t want it to get to me” so don’t let it. Jealousy isn’t a terminal illness. There is a cure!

It starts with examining some of your assumptions. Like this one: “I am not doing so good on the friend side.” In other words, “I assume that people don’t like me as much as they like her.” There are no hard facts here, just the decisions you make based on your assumptions and beliefs. To release the jealousy, you need to de-construct the assumption. Ready to try? Then answer these questions:

  1. Where did the assumption “People don’t like me as much as they like her” come from? You weren’t born believing this. When did you start and why?
  2. How does that assumption help you? For example, assuming that “People don’t like me…” might protect you from getting rejected. That could be helpful in a way. You’d stay “safe” because you wouldn’t put yourself out there socially. (“They don’t like me, so what’s the point?”)
  3. How might that assumption cause problems? “Since ‘People don’t like me’ I withdraw and they think I’m not friendly so I get left out of stuff.” Does that happen to you?
  4. What if that assumption were WRONG? If people really do like you, how would your behavior be different? Would you let go and be yourself more? Have more fun?
  5. Do you want to hold on to your assumption? You have the power to do that, you know. Don’t need anyone’s permission.

Green, it’s your life. If you decide to hold on to the assumption, then know that it’s your doing, not something that your friend is doing to you.

In friendship,

Filed under: Teens,Tips — Tags: — Annie @ 2:27 pm

For Parents: They’re growing up! So where’s your smile?

March 14, 2009

Sixteen and taking on the world

16 and taking on the world

Remember your “job description” posted at the bottom of your child’s birth certificate? No? Understandable. At the time they handed over the document you were still drunk on the radiant beauty of your newborn – experiencing something cosmic and way beyond the reach of words. If you had any cogent thoughts during those first few weeks, perhaps what filtered through was a sublime awareness that you were now officially part of the Chain of Life and thus inalterably altered. Simultaneously softened and strengthened. And now forever unable to watch (without weeping) any film or news report where children were hurt, sick or scared.

You were a new parent, so who could blame you if you didn’t read the fine print?

Not to worry. I’ve got a magnifying glass and my daughter’s birth certificate right here. They’ve all got the same clause at the bottom so I’ll just tell you what it says:

Congratulations on the birth of your child. It’s your job to transform this sweet little pumpkin into a fully functioning adult. You’ve got just 18 years. And your time starts…. NOW.

Each milestone in our kids’ lives is a reminder that they’re progressing toward not needing us at all. (Anyone wince at that? If you did please re-read the previous paragraph.) That’s what you signed up for:  to help them move toward independence. Which is why you should rejoice along with them when they climb out of their crib, learn to open the refrigerator, and choose their own books, bedtime, music, clothes, hairstyles, food, interests, friends, ideas, plans, beliefs.

Graduation season is around the corner. Whether your child is advancing into kindergarten, middle school, high school or college, they’re on to a new chapter. If you’d rather hang on to the old one, sorry, but that’s not an option. You do have a choice though. You can deny that they’re outgrowing their need for round the clock parenting (not a path I’d recommend as it will only lead to major push-back starting from 5th or 6th grade) OR you can prepare now for your emptier nest. Here’s how:

  1. Create some new goals for yourself — If you chose well, working on a personal goal will sustain you as your child races toward independence.
  2. Make some new friends — The majority of your friends may be the parents of your kids’ friends. Nothing wrong with that, except that it often leads exclusively to kid-centered conversations. Following your own interests (see #1) connects you with new friends who share those interests.
  3. Revitalize your relationship — If you’re fortunate enough to be part of a loving couple, plan together for your emptier nest. Support each other’s feelings about the changes. Schedule fun time together as a couple. Hopefully you’ll rediscover what’s at the core of your relationship and create a healthy new chapter for the two of you.
  4. Re-focus on your social life — If you’re single and you’re interested in dating, but haven’t as yet because of parenting obligations, now may be the time to start letting friends know that you’re “looking” again.
  5. Avoid over-parenting your younger children — Of course you need to continue parenting, but redirecting all of your energy toward your younger kid(s) spells trouble and is very likely to cause resentment and conflict. Don’t go there!

Life within a family is constantly changing. We just don’t always notice it until things like graduation remind us “Oh, yeah. They’re growing up!” Hopefully we’re all learning to deal with our emotions when we find ourselves in a new chapter. Give your kids a vote of confidence by showing them that not only do you know how to let go, but you’re happy to do it. (‘Cause you trust them and because you’re going places too!)

Catch you later. David and I are going to the movies.

Filed under: Parenting,Tips — Tags: , , — Annie @ 1:55 pm
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