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.

Happy New Year and mind the gap

December 31, 2009

The Gap of Dunloe, Ireland

The Gap of Dunloe, Ireland

The boy and his father stood in the middle of our quiet street. “What are you doing?” I asked.

“Throwing buckeyes!” the kid beamed as he and Dad playfully launched two more down the hill. I watched them in the Saturday sun and fell into a gap.

The world is full of gaps. Opportunity gaps. Credibility gaps. Some shouldn’t be missed, like Ireland’s fantastic Gap of Dunloe. And some, like the one in the London Tube, must be avoided. (Mind the Gap – lest you find yourself floundering between train and platform!)

Ever hear the term gap year? It usually refers to a break taken by high school or college grads that defers enrollment in the next phase of life. Ideally, one uses a gap year to do something completely out of the box: work, volunteer, intern, apprentice, self-study, travel… or any real world offering. The implicit goal is to figure out what you really want or don’t want to do with your life.

In January a couple of years ago, our daughter headed off for a travel adventure in SE Asia while our son and his girlfriend headed to Malaysia to teach English there. They each had vague plans for after. But gaps have a habit of transforming those who venture into them and that’s the whole point. I used their departure to ask myself, “Where can I find some gaps to give me more of what I need this year?” I realized I needed to get back to writing fiction. The result? My Middle School Confidential™ series.

Adults and teens say they want more time to do the stuff they really enjoy. Sounds like a worthy New Year’s Resolution. Instead of waiting for life to slow down how about looking for gaps? I’m not talking about major gaps that require chucking your “real” life for a year. I’m talking about tiny gaps we continuously overlook despite their fluttering, glowing and vibrating all around us. Gaps in the kitchen, in the car… in between gulping coffee and thinking about the next six things you have to do. The doorway into a gap might be the curl of your son’s hair or a bird flying over the freeway. Or… just about anything.

In the spirit of the new year, here’s a challenge. Right here, at your computer, fall into a gap. Go ahead, no one’s watching. As you read these words, stop for a minute. Breathe in… and notice yourself breathing in. Breathe out… and focus on breathing out. (C’mon, play along with me.) Slowly look around the room. Find something familiar and appreciate something new about it. Consciously turn off autopilot and life slows and quiets down a bit. What might happen if you consciously looked for gap moments and, for example, appreciated your children in new ways? How might your experience of parenting change? How about your perception of who you are and what matters to you as an individual?

Just to be clear, I’m not advocating dropping out and contemplating your cuticles 24/7. I’m simply suggesting that life offers more options than stress/productivity vs. nirvana/slackerdom. Look, I’m one of the most productive people I know and proud of it. So believe me when I say that you can find gap moments and still be productive. When I fall into a gap, which I’ve been doing more frequently (I’m in one right now), I simultaneously become calmer and more energized. That opens me up creatively, intellectually, intuitively… and my productivity soars.

I know from my email that teens are stressed. You can help them by finding gap moments in your own life. That can lower your stress levels which will decrease the overall stress in your home. Talk to your kids about the concept of a gap… a momentary break from day-to-day busyness. Model it for them. The payoff? You’ll begin to savor your life on a deeper level. And with your leadership your family will live in time instead of just passing through.

Happy New Year and watch out for flying buckeyes.

In friendship,

P.S. If you decide to take on my New Year’s Gap Challenge I’d love to hear from you. It doesn’t have to be anything cosmic, just a brief description of a moment when you slowed down and fell into a gap. Maybe I’ll include some of your gap stories in a future blog as inspiration for all of us who could use a break.

Filed under: Holidays,Parenting — Tags: , , , , — Annie @ 6:11 pm

Giving to Get vs. Giving to Give

December 29, 2009

And the tomato gods had a field day

And the tomato gods had a field day

I’m a gardener and by definition that makes me an optimist. Even my farming fizzles don’t deter me from continuing to bury peach pits or old potatoes. Those of you who’ve outgrown playing in the dirt may laugh, but every so often my efforts pay off big time. Like a couple of summers ago when the tomato gods smiled upon us. God did they ever! In fact, they were still laughing their heads off a full week before Halloween. Too bad you can’t carve a tomato.

When it comes to gardening, I’m not ashamed to say that I give only to get. I shower my plants with regular infusions of compost tea and worm castings because I want something in return. I believe that I’m entitled to a major payback for all my efforts otherwise I wouldn’t bother.

When it comes to raising kids, there isn’t really a payback. Not coming directly from them to you. Of course, there are rewards along the way. Like the joy we experience when they succeed at something they’ve worked for. And the pride we feel when our children honor us and themselves by making healthy choices­–especially when we’re not around to prod them. But those perks aren’t why we give to our kids. We’d still do it even if we got nothing to brag about. Why? Because, the simple fact is that we parents are in the business of giving to give. Parenting, unlike marriage, is a one-way street.

Does this mean that you’ll inevitably raise a young adult focused only on her own needs? Hopefully not! Because a big part of what you should be giving your kids is an education about what it means to be thoughtful, loving and compassionate. Hopefully you demonstrate that in the way you treat them. Set clear expectations for the behavior you want them to exhibit and you’ll see more of the good stuff. When you do shower those young ‘uns with praise. And pat yourself on the back. You’re helping to launch a loving spirit into the world.

Now there’s a harvest worth a whole lot more than a basket of tomatoes.

Filed under: Parenting,Tips — Tags: , , — Annie @ 4:59 pm

For Teens: What do you do after someone has lost trust in you?

December 28, 2009

When someone like a bf/gf or a bff trusts you enough to tell you personal, private information it probably makes you feel pretty special. And it should! Because this person means a lot to you and you want those feelings of trust to continue growing, you promise not to tell a soul. And you totally mean it. But then you find yourself talking to someone else and without meaning to hurt anybody, you tell the thing you promised you wouldn’t! As soon as the words are out of your mouth you get that “uh, oh” feeling. And things usually go downhill from there.

Has anything like this ever happened to you? It’s not uncommon.

Hey Terra,

My boyfriend broke up with me because he said I’ve changed. I have lost his trust, because I was telling people things he told me.  For example he told me that he was going to beat up this guy and then I told my friends. The topic of that particular person came up in the conversation and I thought my bf wouldn’t mind me telling my friends because they are like best friends with him.

I regret that I told them anything. I want to gain his trust back but I don’t know how to really “show” it. When I chat with him online he seems like he doesn’t want to talk to me and that really annoys me.  Today I was talking to him and he said that nobody could ever gain his trust back and that people only get one chance. I screwed up my chance. I really want his trust back again. I told him that but he said I should have thought before I acted. I’m not sure what to do please help !

Sorry Serena

Hi Serena,

We all make mistakes. (Welcome to the club!) But not everyone knows how to use a mistake to learn something about yourself and other people… and move forward with your new wisdom. I admire your self-awareness and I respect the fact that you’re not making excuses for what you did. You made a mistake, you’re sorry and it’s over. You need to forgive yourself.

If you can, try to remember what was going on in your head at the moment you decided to tell your friends what your ex told you. Whatever pressures or temptations you were feeling, it’s important to be honest with yourself about it. That’s really the only way you can avoid doing the same thing again. As for your ex not trusting you 100% any more, well, I’m sure you can understand that he feels betrayed. It’s a human response to pull back and protect oneself from being hurt again.

You’d probably like things between you to be back the way they were… instantly. But that’s not going to happen right away. It takes time to build trust in a relationship, and that can all vanish in an instant (as you’ve experienced). The long road back from betrayal to trust is just that… A long road. You can’t apologize or talk your way back into someone’s trust. Your actions, over time, will either prove to him that you are trustworthy or not.

My advice (since you asked) is that you forgive yourself for your mistake and continue to be the best, most trustworthy friend you can be. That’s all you can do. The rest is out of your hands. No sense stressing about it. Just promise yourself that in the future you will try to be more aware of what you promise and what you deliver through your actions.

I hope this helps.

In friendship,


Filed under: Teens — Tags: , , , , — Annie @ 8:02 pm

Love is all we need, so why not ask for it?

December 21, 2009

Sometimes we choose to walk alone. Sometimes we've got no choice.

Sometimes we choose to walk alone. Sometimes we've got no choice.

Right before Thanksgiving a few years back, a dear friend emailed me: “I know this is incredibly presumptuous, and Miss Manners would be scandalized, but I’m wrangling for an invitation.”

I was blown away. Not by her directness (God no!) but by the fact that she felt she had no right to say, “I need a place to be on Thanksgiving. Can you help me?”

We were heading out of town for the holiday, but I immediately called my friend and thanked her for trusting me with the truth and for honoring herself. She was relieved she’d done the right thing by speaking up. Most of us are much quicker to stand up for others than for ourselves. Especially women. On some level we must believe that we don’t deserve to get our emotional needs met. But where does that foolishness come from?

Babies are irresistibly cute so adults fall hard and take care of them. Once they’ve gotten their sweet baby hooks into our hearts, they’re great at expressing their physical and emotional needs. But as our kids grow, our conversations with them center mostly on the physical aspects of life: Sweetheart, are you hungry? Do you want something to drink? Is it nap time? Why don’t you put on a sweater?

As a result, asking for that tangible stuff is very easy for kids: Dad, I need a ride. Mom, I need you to sign this. I want a new computer. I need some money. Because most parents don’t focus on helping kids express emotional needs, tweens and teens rarely say: I need a hug. I need to share this exciting news! I need a shoulder to cry on. I need a kind word. I need a friend. I need you to tell me the truth. I need help.

I asked a bunch of 6th-8th graders to rate themselves on these two statements: “It’s easy for me to ask for help.” and “I pretend things are OK when they aren’t.” The results? 25% of the kids said, “It’s never or almost never easy for me to ask for help.” Another 25% reported that “sometimes” they had trouble asking for help. And here’s another sad finding: A whopping 83% admitted that “sometimes, always or almost always” they pretend things are OK when they really aren’t.

An unwillingness to ask for help coupled with a habit of pretending things are fine when they’re not is no way to live. In fact, when we deny our human need to connect heart-to-heart, we end up short-changing ourselves and the people we’re closest to.

A parent’s role is to raise an emotionally healthy young adult. That includes helping a child recognize what he/she is feeling and learning to ask for support when needed. Of course self-reliance is essential and being able to calm yourself at times of stress is a life-skill, but we’re all interdependent. When we let people love us and help us, we honor the most human part of ourselves.

Turns out my friend was brave enough to express her needs to someone else who gladly opened his heart and home. Consequently she had a wonderful holiday.

This season, hold nothing back. Allow yourself to love and be loved fully, without reservation.


Filed under: Holidays,Parenting,Pop Culture — Tags: , , , , — Annie @ 4:03 pm
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