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.

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.



  1. Right on Annie! I’m already on the Butt In campaign. I model it for our daughter much to her chagrin… It feels so much better to speak up kindly and with respect but to speak up.

    So sorry we missed you and the Girls Summit event yesterday in San Rafael.

    Comment by Jane Hall — March 6, 2011 @ 4:43 pm

  2. Annie, I agree 100%. I’ve been parenting for 17+ years, and have been “butting in” re: kids behaving badly for most of that time. So many times, kids are not getting ANY feedback about their behavior, they almost seem to appreciate getting even negative feedback. And in the many instances when I’ve been able to complement kids on their excellent behavior, good insights, or responsible actions, there’s just that extra level of payoff. Kids need adult feedback. Period.

    Comment by Fiona May — March 6, 2011 @ 5:03 pm

  3. Annie!
    You are onto something here. Everyone’s greatest experiences in life usually have something to do with feeling connected or with experiencing some universal truth. If it is true that we are connected, why not act like it? Butting in is just being responsible to the moment, being present and fully alive, paying attention and participating.
    Count me in!

    Comment by William Passero — March 7, 2011 @ 7:52 pm

  4. When I showed this to my husband, he said that I had obviously found my soulmate…and it wasn’t him! I’m always encouraging parents that I know and admire to go ahead and parent my kids when they need it. I certainly do the same with the kids I see! They (and we) are better for it.

    Butt-inskis unite!

    Comment by Kelly Eng — March 9, 2011 @ 5:06 pm

  5. You are so right, and I admire your passion. I’m curious to find out if you’ve fallen in the parent trap? The parent trap where you tell a kid their behaviour wasn’t very nice and then you’re facing the wrath of Mama Bear?

    Comment by K5 Learning — March 9, 2011 @ 5:36 pm

  6. Hi K5 Learning, No, I’ve never encountered the “wrath of Mama Bear” simply because the butting-in that I do is targeted at kids who are old enough to be out in the world without parents around. You see them in malls, in parks, playgrounds, at schools, and walking around in neighborhoods and towns. But I certainly can imagine that correcting a kid’s behavior when Mom is right there could definitely earn you a few claw marks on across the face! In that case, I’d address my comment directly to Mom, and I’ve done that… compassionately, of course. “I can see that you’re tired and I’ve raised two kids of my own, so I know it’s hard, but when you let you kids fight like, it’s telling them that you think what they’re doing is OK. I know you don’t, but that’s the message they’re getting.”

    Comment by Annie — March 9, 2011 @ 6:50 pm

  7. I was a substitute teacher before I secured a full time position, and got into the habit of reprimanding children who didn’t know me. Now, I do it all the time. 😉

    p.s. Ironically, the secret code I need to enter so that this comment posts starts with “assert.”

    Comment by layinda — March 13, 2011 @ 10:49 am

  8. Concise and makes perfect sense. Wish more adults would speak to my kids with kindness by telling them where they are going wrong.

    Comment by shallow sister — March 13, 2011 @ 3:37 pm

  9. Dear Annie –

    Along these “Butt-in” lines, how far should one go? We’ve been ‘ding-dong-ditched’ a number of times over the last 3 years by the same kid. This is when the kids ring your doorbell and run away. The first time we caught this boy we told him how disruptive he was being to our family (always during dinner) and how stressful it was for our old, sick dog. He promised he wouldn’t do it anymore. But he has. Last week it happened twice. We caught the kids the second time and it was 2 boys new to us but who told us this same boy was the one who “made them do it.” My husband is for calling the police. I’m for calling his parents. Advice?

    Comment by Jenn Bailey — March 14, 2011 @ 11:48 am

  10. Calling the police seems like an over-reaction, though I empathize with your husband’s frustration, since this has been going on for 3 years. It sounds like you’ve known for quite a while who’s responsible for this annoyance. So, I’m assuming you’ve already talked to the boys parents, right? If not, then you should immediately and give them the history and make it clear that you deem this to be unacceptable and that you expect them to keep their son away from your home. If you’ve already spoken to the parents in the past, it clearly hasn’t worked. Talk to them one more time and tell them if their son harasses you again, you will be speaking to your attorney.

    Comment by Annie — March 14, 2011 @ 1:53 pm

  11. I had a village when I raised my now grown children. They grew up in a small town and everyone would remind them to say thank you and please. I loved it and now that I live in a very large city I can see how extremely important that village was for me and my children.

    Comment by Frannie — May 4, 2011 @ 10:50 am

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