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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.

Guest blogger: 10 ways parents can promote a healthy self

November 27, 2011

By Dr. Lyndsay Elliott

Dr. Elliott is a clinical psychologist and an eating disorder specialist in southern California. Learn more about her work here.

"Self esteem" Mixed media by Alexa Van Daam

A healthy body image means accepting and appreciating your body and feeling satisfied with your appearance. It also means being grateful for your body’s qualities and capabilities. Learning to love and respect your body is an important part of personal development and a major contributor to self-esteem. Once you connect to this inner confidence, while also letting go of unrealistic standards/expectations for what you think your body should look like, you can break free from not feeling _____ enough (thin, beautiful, young, firm!). You can then create a sense of self you can truly feel proud of. Without that, you leave yourself vulnerable to the development of disordered eating patterns, a poor relationship with food, depressive symptoms and low self-esteem.

The following list provides ways in which parents can promote a healthy self-image in their children. By utilizing these tips, parents can support their child’s self-esteem starting at an early age and establish a healthy body image. That will protect against the development of more serious eating disorders and body image issues.

1.  Instill Confidence: When you comment on internal qualities you instill self-assuredness in your child. Use phrases such as, “You are really good at….” Or “You seem to really know…” Reward effort and completion, instead of outcome.
2.  Encourage Movement: Find a physical activity that your child enjoys, and focus on how being active makes your child feel. Promote the health benefits of exercise, without emphasizing weight or the value of leanness.
3.  Be Aware of Influences: Monitor the sources that are influencing your child. Check out what your kids are reading though the media and facebook, and listen closely (without intruding) to the conversations they have with their peers. Encourage your child to discuss what is going on around them, and to have a healthy critical mind of what they have seen or heard.
4.  Be a Good Role Model: Eliminate the word “diet” from your vocabulary, do not discuss how much weight you want to lose, or how what you have eaten will impact your appearance. Be brave enough to remove the scale from your home.
5.  Develop Positive Self-Beliefs: Help your kids to set realistic standards in evaluating themselves. Praise achievements. Identify areas where they can grow, and give them positive, accurate feedback on their performance.
6.  Find Balance in your Kitchen: Offer a variety of nutritious and “junk” foods in your home for your children. Establish healthy eating habits. Help them to choose foods based on what their bodies need to give them energy. Do not limit portions or ban foods, and allow them treats as appropriate.
7.  Be Kind to Others: Avoid speaking negatively about other people’s appearances and weight. First, it’s just not nice. Second, your child will wonder if you critique them, and may become fearful of being judged too.
8.  Give Your Child Too Much Love: Consistently show your children how much you care about them. Give them physical affection, leave notes in their lunchboxes, offer praise frequently. But, be honest. Your kids will know if it is genuine!
9.  Remember the Joys of Puberty: Weight and shape may fluctuate with growth and maturity. Normalize changes, and make sure your child understands that these fluctuations are a natural progression of growing up, and not necessarily indicative of the future. Everyone has an awkward stage!
10.  Ask for Help: If you notice any concerning behaviors, seek the help of a professional as soon as possible. The quicker you can catch any blossoming disordered behaviors, the sooner you can help to resolve them!

Filed under: Parenting,Pop Culture — Tags: , , — Annie @ 7:20 pm

Not under my roof: A conversation w/author Amy Schalet

November 16, 2011

For the past 14 years I’ve received email from t(w)eens around the world. 80% of them fictitiously sign their letters “Confused.” They’re confused about a whole lot of stuff, especially sex. It’s cool that they use their confusion as a motivator to ask questions of an adult (by most measures, that would be me). Otherwise, how are they going to understand what they need to know so they can make good choices?

Here’s one that came in last week from a young teen:

If a male only sticks the tip of his penis into a girls vagina, is it considered “having sex”?

The next day this one arrived:

I was walking with my partner and as a tease he held my leg from the top and I think his hand hit near my vaginal hole but he didn’t put his finger straight in and I moved. It was literally one second but I had my trousers on and it was just whilst I was walking. Any chance I can get pregnant with that? I’m very young and scared.

Required reading for 21st Century Parents

Don’t let their ignorance of mechanics distract you from the bigger picture: Too many t(w)eens seem to view sexual contact as a casual activity with no serious relationship or emotional closeness required. I fear those kids will have trouble developing bonds of real intimacy.

Last week’s Glee episode featured two in-love high school couples (one gay, one straight – all four teens were 12th graders), crossing the threshold in their long-term relationship and choosing to have sex for “The First Time.” Kudos to the writers for showing us characters sensitive to each other’s needs. Rarely on TV or in films do we see teens willing to put so much careful thought into decisions having to do with sex.

It got me thinking how American teens might make different choices if they had more role models for talking about sex with their partners… or even with their parents.

I know it sounds totally crazy to imagine teens having real conversations with their parents about serious relationships, but after reading Amy Schalet’s new book Not Under My Roof: Parents, Teens and the Culture of Sex I learned the American way isn’t the only way. If we can agree the goal is to prevent teen pregnancy and to help older teens “navigate the challenges of sexuality and first relationships” then, generally speaking, American parents and educators are doing a lousy job.

As Schalet’s book thoroughly documents, Dutch parents have a more open attitude about sex education which results in Dutch teens having less casual sex and far fewer pregnancies. They also sneak around less and experience much less alienation from their parents during these years. Wow! I didn’t know there was an alternative to teen alienation. My view is tainted by emails from teens who don’t like lying to their parents and aren’t particularly enjoying random hook-ups or “friends with benefits” arrangements. Bottom line, they don’t seem to be having all that much fun doing the stuff they’re sneaking off to do and yet, they’re doing it anyway and not necessarily learning anything positive.

I was eager to talk to the Amy about Not Under My Roof. We had a great conversation which included many eye-openers. Check this out: When asked about their first sexual experience, a majority of American girls said: “I wish I had waited longer.” That indicates regret for whatever reason. There’s also a possibility that the girls felt pressured to have sex when they didn’t really want to. When Dutch girls were asked a similar question, 85% said: “We both wanted it. We chose it.”

Very interesting.

Here are my big takeaways from my conversation with Amy Schalet, “One narrative doesn’t fit all.” When we give our teens only one message we:

  1. Fail to give them the education/guidance/space they need to make responsible choices about their own sexual behavior.
  2. Build unnecessary walls between us and our kids based on deception and distrust and the false assumption that we can control their behavior.
  3. Prevent them from a basic understanding of what it means to “be ready” to have sex. This is something only the individual can determine but the parent can help with these guidelines:
    1. the partner is trustworthy
    2. the time you’ve had in the relationship thus far
    3. you and your partner have talked about having sex and what crossing that threshold means to each of you
    4. you both want to have sex
    5. you understand it will change the relationship. You’ve thought about and talked about how might it change your feelings for each other. How might it also change your expectations, your behavior, your agreements?

Some of you may feel that teen sex is never ok. If so, then you’re in agreement with the American cultural narrative of “Just don’t do it.” Even if that is your perspective, the teens in your life will still benefit from your talking with them about sex and relationships. They’ll also appreciate your listening to what they have to say. They need to hear your values because by 19 years of age, 70% of young people have had sex. That’s reality. Since that’s where they’re going, you want them making conscious, healthy choices.

btw, in addition to reading Amy’s book, you might also want to check out my interview on where I talk about Teen Sex in the Family Home.



November 12, 2011

Annie Fox, on the air at 415.ASK.AFOX

Annie Fox, coming soon to a radio near you.

You know how sometimes a conversation can be life-changing? We had one of those yesterday. Even before we finished talking, we knew we were on to something. It was raining. Good day to be inside. Me and David and two neighbors around our dining table. And yes, there were muffins involved. Let me just say for the record, Robin Gianattassio-Malle and Rose  Malle-Gianattassio aren’t just folks we wave at while walking the dog. These women are seasoned, savvy professionals in the areas of media production and business strategies with their own Blue Egg Media company. David, Rose, Robin and I are also kindred spirits. And friends. Lucky for us.

What started as a general question “What are your goals for the coming year?” turned into… “Let’s create a radio show where Annie talks about raising healthy kids by answering parenting questions. And since there’s nothing more compelling than actually hearing the voice of a parent describing what they’re going through, let’s bring in those voices.”

So we’re creating a pilot for a radio show. First step, collect the voices of people who could use help with a parent-child relationship.  If you’re interested in getting your parenting question answered in a future radio show, please call 415.ASK.AFOX (415.275.2369) and leave a voice mail message.  By leaving your question on our voice mail, you give us permission to use your voice recording. You can include your name if you want to or not, but we will need your email address.  Even if we don’t use your recording in the show, I promise I’ll answer your question anyway.

Oh, and one other thing, when you call, you won’t be put “live” on the air so don’t worry about how you look. It’s just a recording.

That’s it. That’s the big idea. I can help you and together we can help other parents. Just call 415.ASK.AFOX and tell me about your current parenting challenge. I’ll take it from there.

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