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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.

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


  1. OH…I’m SO feeling your pain. Think I’ve messed up with an older daughter in much the same way. Right now, I’m feeling “right” and justified, but deep down I know it’s going to be me to make it better somehow. Glad you wrote back right away…I’m still thinking:) as I am deep down about this girl. I’m still wallowing in your FIRST response, not the much better…follow-up. Thanks, Annie

    Comment by Darla — March 20, 2011 @ 3:08 pm

  2. Hey Annie,
    You’re awesome! I’ve messed up so many times over the years with teens, parents, my own family, you name it. But the way you immediately took responsibility and owned it and said so to the girl, and offered some options to her, with such genuine care, is wonderful.

    I think that teens have two incredible capacities: first, they can sense judgment immediately. Second, they are forgiving, too, and open to honesty, which I admire so much.

    Thank you for sharing your story and for your humility and also for being willing to allow the experience to strengthen your convictions and skills.
    You have an amazing, beautiful commitment to truly being there for teens who ask for your support.



    Comment by Beth — March 20, 2011 @ 10:38 pm

  3. Oh my. That was a tough one, for sure, but you handled it well. It isn’t about always getting the right answer the first time. It’s about keeping the dialogue going and the lines of communication open….regardless of what comes up. It’s such hard work but it pays off in the long run.

    Thanks for sharing your story with us. 🙂

    Comment by ADDrift No More — March 21, 2011 @ 2:51 pm

  4. Annie~
    You are such an angel to the teens you chat with. I am sure this girl was judging herself for what she was doing and your words confirmed what she was already feeling.
    Either way, you are very good at what you do and you handled your response very well. With your immediate reply, she felt “worth it” and that, I am sure, proved above all else, that you DO care and she was worth your time.
    Blessings friend!
    You are amazing!

    Comment by The Butterfly Girlz Blog — March 21, 2011 @ 2:53 pm

  5. Oooh, OUCH!

    The minute I saw your reply I knew that the teen would not receive it very well. I’ve worked exclusively with teens for a long time and what I used to teach my residents/med students was that you’ve got to get your feelings/agenda out of the equation because they are not relevant to the encounter. What’s relevant is the person in front of you and his/her agenda. I don’t care if you were playing with dolls at age 13 and can’t figure out why a 13 year old today is collecting a spice rack of conquests, your feelings, your experience, nothing about you is relevant to that patient. If you want to help the patient, you meet them where they are and help them figure out their rights and wrongs…not yours.

    I know that you know all this, but sometimes it helps to get a reminder to stay on your own side of the street, as it were. With teens it is mandatory.

    Comment by Liana — March 21, 2011 @ 8:03 pm

  6. Out comes my psychologist hat.. maybe one extra step…. which may have been.. “If you feel too scared or too threatened tell a trusted adult who will keep it between the two of you – like a school counselor or psychologist”…. and then advise her to MOVE seats.

    Just say’in

    Comment by Louise Sattler — March 26, 2011 @ 3:06 pm

  7. You know what Annie, although things may have not gone as you would have liked. I think the questions you posed will be thought about by that young lady and your desired result might still come about.

    She stuck her neck out and contacted you for two reasons. because she trusted what you had to say and valued your opinion. She was also looking for someone to tell her what she should do without making her feel bad like a parent might.

    She was undoubtedly waiting anxiously for your reply.

    Sure what you gave her may not have been warm and fuzzy and smacked of “what the hell were you thinking” BUT perhaps that is what she needed to hear… You gave her the exact same thing she didn’t want to hear from those who know and love her but without the stunned look and perhaps the yelling to follow.

    She contacted you because she wanted an easier,less painful way of dealing with her “problem” but perhaps there isn’t an easy way to deal with it. perhaps she does need to ask herself those questions you posed and I think she will.

    Sure, you may not have been your regular non judgmental self but you still did good.

    I am sure good will come from your “(very bad) bad”

    Comment by Old School Parent — March 27, 2011 @ 10:26 am

  8. Thanks for putting it that way, Keith. I appreciate it. In fact, 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. And I’m grateful to you for taking the time to write.

    Comment by Annie — March 27, 2011 @ 11:10 am

  9. Hard to not mess up really. Indeed I thought your first response was a good one but then we think with an adult mind (since we are) and forget to think with the mind of a younger person. Scary that one could get themselves in that situation and I wonder how it happened. Only hope she isn’t pushed to resume at a later date.

    Comment by shallow sister — March 27, 2011 @ 2:15 pm

  10. This is an excellent reminder that sometimes the best responses are the ones it takes us a little stumbling to find. 🙂

    Comment by Deb — March 29, 2011 @ 11:51 am

  11. Annie,
    As a “professional advice-giver” and an auntie to 41 children (by relation), I’ve let indignation get the better part of me too. Like you, I’ve found that getting out in front of it is the best option. As you know, teens appreciate and respect authenticity.

    As a therapist myself, I point my clients, friends, family to your work often. Keep up the good work!

    Comment by Stephanie Baffone — January 30, 2012 @ 8:57 pm

  12. Thanks for commenting, Stephanie. Yes, I’m always learning to balance reaction and reflection. I appreciate your good work and am grateful that we’re on the same team, helping teens and families.

    Comment by Annie — January 30, 2012 @ 9:10 pm

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