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.

School Climate: Changing the forecast by raising EQ (Emotional Intelligence)

June 27, 2012

The following is an excerpt from the keynote speech I delivered yesterday at the 18th Annual Character Education Conference in St. Louis.

Showing we care is a good thing

We are human and by definition that means we are vulnerable. Unlike any other creatures, we are aware of our own mortality and so we experience worry and grief. We also know the joys of working together and supporting each other. We celebrate. We nurture. We protect. Because we can be so loving, we sometimes suffer rejection and loss. We trust. We open up and give of ourselves, and sometimes we feel betrayed.

In Teen World, aggressive anger is OK, but real vulnerability, are you kidding me? Teens get clear messages from peers to stay away from vulnerable emotions… especially in public. If you are hurt, don’t show it. If you are disappointed, don’t show it. If you love someone, don’t show it. Slip up and let some vulnerability bleed through the veneer and you are a baby. A wuss. A wimp. You are a pathetic loser.

Wrong! I am a human being.

Teaching kids to be good people means helping them understand and accept the broad spectrum of human emotions. Being afraid is not a cause for shame. Tears are no less acceptable than laughter. It’s all part of the package. If my tears are an honest expression of sadness, grief, joy, why should I hide them from you. Or be embarrassed in front of you?

We are mistaken when we buy into the notion that vulnerability is weakness. Our strength comes from our vulnerability. This may seem counter-intuitive since the word vulnerable derives from the Latin vulnere (meaning “to wound”) A wounded individual is hardly at her strongest, but I see emotions in a different light. Our feelings are our most authentic responses to life. If I am hurt, I cry. If someone is with me, my tears are likely to remind him of sadness he has felt. By responding to me, he acknowledges his own humanity. But if he mocks my tears or tries to push them aside, that indicates he is afraid to respond with compassion. Afraid to show how he has been touched. That he holds himself back from experiencing his full humanity makes me want to reach out and teach, because he is in desperate need of an education.

Unless we can embrace the vulnerable emotions underneath the Anger Lid, it is impossible for us to reach our full human potential. When we feel hurt and choose instead to plaster over our vulnerability with indifference, cool detachment or social aggression, we build walls between us. But if, instead, we are willing to honor our vulnerability, then we can strengthen our connections to other people. Isn’t that exactly what we’re trying to teach our students by creating positive school climates? When we recognize on a deep level that we all experience the same emotions, how can we not empathize with each other? How can we help but reach out in friendship to a person who needs a friend?

Schools that encourage kids to be humane graduate people of good character who are also, good judges of character. When it comes to how we treat each other, the graduates of those schools, have learned to set the bar very high for themselves and for their peers.



The facts – and the rest of the story

June 10, 2012

Sad news. Our sweet Josie dog died yesterday. She was just 3. We still can’t really believe it, but they say facts never lie. In this case, I wish they would.

Josie was fine yesterday morning. After breakfast we went on a hike and as was her custom, she went off for a bit on her own on the trail, then came back to us when we called. She was fine. Happy. We finished the hike and walked back home. Within moments of our being back in the house, she began having seizures. We had no idea what was going on. It had never happened before. We called our vet and were directed to the emergency animal hospital in San Rafael. We carried her into the car. David drove and I held her in my arms in the back seat, the whole time comforting her while she kept having seizure after seizure. I thought, “She’s not going to be able to take much more of this.”

About 10 minutes into the ride, she had yet another seizure. But this time, her legs, which had been rigid throughout, when limp. At first I thought the worst had passed. She had relaxed and it was easy to believe she was napping. But something told me she wasn’t, and  I said to David, “I think she just died.”

Five minutes later we were at the vet hospital. Two doctors came to the car. They confirmed what we already knew. Their best guess from our description was that she had ingested something poisonous and very very toxic. Even if we had gotten her there 10 minutes earlier, they could not have done anything. We’ll never know what she ate.

Anyway, that’s what happened yesterday. The facts as we know them.

David and I are very sad, but we’re ok. The rest of the story is what I learned from having Josie as my friend:

  • Encountering humans is a cause for celebration. It makes any moment better. And often, when you show those people how happy you are to see them (even if you’ve never met before) you brighten their day too.
  • Sitting and observing helps you get the bigger picture. You never know when you might have a chance to be helpful, so keep looking.
  • Being outside is always a gift. Take the opportunity whenever it’s offered. The natural world (backyard, neighborhood, hills, creeks, forest, beach) is filled with indescribable wonders. To be out there in it, taking it all in with eyes, ears and nose wide open… is to be alive. At least once a day get up from the computer and go for a walk, a run, or a hike. Do.
  • Play is essential. Anyone who wants to play with you is, by definition, a friend. The game itself doesn’t need rules… though it often involves a ball. Sometimes it’s simply a game of chase with no special requirements, except the spirit of fun you bring to it.
  • Sticks are cool, though no one is sure why. Holding a good smooth stick while you walk along a trail can make you feel like a top dog.
  • Having a family that loves you is the best feeling there is. Knowing you belong with them and they are there to take care of you and keep you safe, helps you relax. Relaxed and happy, you are your best self, which inspires others to be happy too. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

Thank you, Josie. Up, up, up!



Filed under: Parenting — Tags: , , — Annie @ 2:39 pm
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