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.

My (very bad) bad

March 20, 2011

My batting average for giving helpful advice is above .500. Like anything else, if you keep practicing you get better and I’ve been at my Hey Terra! online teen advisor gig for 14 years now, so I know I’m improving. But I don’t always hit it out of the park. I really messed up the other day and I’m going public because I want you parents to know that even if you f-up, you can give it another shot and try to redeem yourself.

So I got this email from a girl who described how she was masturbating a guy during class. I know, I know… it made me crazy too, which is exactly why I messed up! But I’m getting ahead of myself. She wrote to me because she was afraid if she discontinued service the boy would “get mad.” Her question: What do I do?

I wrote back:
Can I ask you a few questions so I can understand this situation better?
Why did you think this was a good idea in the first place? (Just curious)
Now it seems like you don’t think this is a good idea. What made you change your mind?
One more question: Why is it so important that this guy continue to think that you are a girl who will do whatever he wants?

On the surface my response sounds reasonable, right? But just below the pixels on the screen I was SCREAMING with justifiably righteous feminist indignation! And the girl picked it up immediately and wrote back how she regretted writing to me. Didn’t appreciate how I mocked her and busted me for being “unsupportive.”

OW! That hit hard. I felt crappy. I mean, I’ve been doing this all these years because I want to help teens sort out their feelings when they’re confused. I want to help them make choices that reflect who they really are, not who someone else pressures them to be. I pride myself in offering non-judgmental support. But I eviscerated my own policy and totally judged that girl. She felt attacked because I attacked her!

I wrote back immediately:
Please forgive me for judging you. I was wrong and I apologize. I was trying to help you but I didn’t express myself very well. I’d like to try again.

I’m glad you wrote to me and I respect you for it. I think it’s important for you to get some help understanding why you got into this situation to begin with. Until you understand why you chose to do this then you are very likely to get into these uncomfortable situations again. I’m sure you don’t want that.

As for getting out of it now, you can do that! Here’s how: Either you either tell the guy, “I’m not doing that anymore” and if he gets mad, so be it. OR you can simply make it clear by the way you sit (with your hands away from him) that you’re no longer going to do it. If he asks you what’s going on you can simply say, “Not doing that anymore.” End of conversation.

In any situation you find yourself you always have options. I hope what I’ve written gives you something to think about. Your email has given me lots to think about and I want to thank for that.

In friendship,


UPDATE: The girl wrote back to me two days after my second email to her and she thanked me for my help and wanted to let me know that her “problem” was resolved. So I guess it worked out well. Truthfully, I was grateful for what I learned from the interaction.

Filed under: Parenting — Tags: , , , — Annie @ 2:58 pm

Guest Blogger: Quirky kids – When to worry

March 12, 2011

by Susan N. Schriber Orloff, OTR/L

Susan Schriber Orloff is CEO and executive director of Children’s Special Services, LLC, an Atlanta-based occupational therapy service for children with developmental and learning delays. Her book, Learning Re-enabled, is a practical guide for parents, teachers and therapists.

Different isn't necessarily a problem

Five-year old Johnny’s a mess. His teachers float between anger and frustration about him. He has few friends and those he makes he cannot keep.  His parents walk around on eggshells never knowing how he’ll react.  He insists on wearing the same clothes. He talks about not liking himself and how he hates “everyone.”

In school he can be great, but if the fire alarm goes off, he’s a unable to “reset” himself and stays “on guard” and anxious. He doesn’t like to stand in line, because other kids “hit him.” Lunchroom smells “make him sick.” On the playground he’s a “wild-man” running and bumping into people and barely noticing.

Six-year old Brent is academically bright, though very forgetful. Turning in homework is a problem. The kids at school are friendly to Brent, but he rarely gets invited for play dates. During recess he seems to be a loner or randomly hangs with the same 1-2 classmates. While he is not the “star” athlete, he’s not the worst either, though he’s at the lower end of physical performances.

At home Brent is interactive and plays well with his 8 year old brother Max and Max’s friends. He insists on wearing long sleeves even in the summer and will not go in the water without a full body suit or at minimum a long sleeve t-shirt. Although congenial and generally obedient, Brent always seems to be in a “fog” needing guidance and redirection.

Brent and Johnny are displaying developmental “red flags.” Both have sensory processing issues but at opposite extremes. Breaking observed behaviors into auditory, visual, tactile, movement, body awareness (muscle/bone/joint), olfactory/taste, and emotional categories it is easy to see the patterns of a skewed sensory processing impacting all of the above areas.

Johnny needs sensory “calming” while Brent needs sensory stimulation. Johnny needs to learn how to slow it down and Brent needs to learn how to be more fluid.   Johnny needs to learn how to be more discriminating and make better activity and behavioral choices. Brent needs to learn to be more assertive and to try new things. Clearly they both need help developing skill sets more in line with their life demands.

When to seek outside help and when to not? There are many online developmental checklists. I caution you to use them sparingly and in conjunction with input from an occupational therapist or other related professional. One concern does not make an “issue.”

Here are some questions you can ask as a guide to whether you should look deeper. Does my child_____________

  • Seem to need more “protection” than other children
  • Fidget excessively or appear “on the go” most of the time
  • Seem to be unusually forgetful
  • Struggle at school
  • Refuse certain foods
  • Reject certain textures in clothing and/or habituate wearing the same clothes
  • Appear intimidated by learning new motor skills
  • Resist combing his hair/getting it cut
  • Seem to have “weak” muscles; tire easily
  • Have a difficult time calming down when upset
  • Have difficulty accepting criticisms
  • Experience social issues as a top school concern
  • Resist going to school
  • Act depressed* (*angry, does (s)he “show off”, act bossy, have hypochondria to name a few)

If your “quirky” kid has a reasonable number of friends, gets good grades, is generally an easy member of the family, has age-appropriate interests, is able to transition and go with flow, etc., no worries. Just accept and love his quirks.

If, however, any of the above concern you, I suggest you consult a developmental pediatrician rather than a general pediatrician. The developmental pediatrician looks at neurological, emotional, physical and motor/cognitive development.  S(he) can discern if there are ambiguities that need to be addressed. Developmental pediatricians are one-stop shopping in the discovery process of how and why your child is performing the way he/she is.

Do not wait for your child to “grow out of it” or to “mature.”  Specific issues evolve but they do not go away and research clearly supports the benefits of early intervention.


Butt in, lady. You too, mister.

March 6, 2011

Red alert! Kids behaving badly.

I don’t know how to mind my own business. It’s not like I snoop or gossip (much), but when someone needs help I usually offer. When kids are involved, no hesitation.

It’s occupational conditioning. Every day t(w)eens invite me into their business through emails like:

  • My best gal friend just broke up with her boyfriend and I wanna ask her out but I don’t know how long I should wait.
  • I’m scared that I might be pregnant.
  • I go to school everyday wanting to cry in the bathroom and stay there forever.

They ask: “What should I do??” So I tell them what I think. This has been going on for 14 years, so it’s pretty much a habit online and off. But come to think of it, I’ve been this way for much longer than that. It probably started when I was 10 and joined my school’s Safety Patrol. My first day I was assigned to the kindergarten playground and broke up a shoving match between two very upset boys. Somehow I managed to get them to stop crying and start talking to each other. Watching them go play together, I was hooked on helping.

I turned in my silver badge at the end of 5th grade, but my license to butt in never expired. I’ve stepped right in when I witnessed a kid:

  • steal an umbrella from a parked car
  • mercilessly yank her dog’s leash
  • choke his “friend”
  • mock another kid
  • tell a racist joke

These kids were messing up, they needed help, so I offered a course-correction. I’m not a hero so don’t nominate me. Simple truth, I speak out because I’m afflicted with the “I’m Part of the Village” form of Tourette’s and in these situations I literally cannot keep my mouth shut (ask my husband or our mortified children.) I’m sure a muzzle would help, but I’m not looking for a cure. In fact, I’d like to infect all of you.

Kids out in the world on their own make mistakes and they need correction from adults. When they get that timely feedback, especially from a stranger, it’s a huge wake-up call. Guaranteed, they’re less likely to do it again.

So here’s what I’m proposing… join my Butt In campaign. It comes with a free license to respectfully speak to any kid who needs to hear that what (s)he’s doing right now isn’t OK. If the idea of spontaneous intervention evokes thoughts of: “What other people’s kids do isn’t my business!” I say, I’m not buying it. I mean look where you are. You’re reading Annie Fox’s blog! The only people who show up here take parenting/mentoring very seriously.

Kids growing up right is everyone’s business. Which reminds me, your Butt In license also gives you unlimited rights to toss a smile and a passing compliment to any kid who’s doing something admirable. “Thanks for holding the door.” “Good job helping Mom.” “He’s lucky to have you as a friend.” “What a terrific big sister you are!”

Compliment or course correction, either way, it’s not that hard. And even when it is… think of the good karma points you’re racking up.

OK, Butt-inskys. We’re in this together, right? Good luck! Let’s keep each other posted.

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