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.

The cure for “mean kid” behavior

November 27, 2012

I originally wrote this article for where I write a weekly education post. Check out the rest of my articles there.

Get the message? Got it? Good!

Whenever I communicate from a school stage or from my computer, I tell students that our choices should reflect the kind of people we really are. Most of us are good people who care about others. We have a strong sense of fairness. We like to be helpful. We try to understand the other person’s point of view.

Very few of us are truly “mean.” And yet, we often exhibit downright mean behavior (online and off). Whenever I get the chance, I challenge students to think about why that’s the case. I also challenge them to stand up for what’s right, acknowledging that it’s not always easy, especially when no one is standing with you.

Most kids older than the age of five, really do know the difference between right and wrong. But they don’t always do the right thing. Our 21st-century culture of cruelty coupled with a sense of entitlement has taught kids (and many adults) that looking out for anyone but themselves is a sign of weakness.

More: What Every Parent Should Know: How to Help Your Kids Deal With Peer Conflicts at School

Going out of one’s way to be nice to a popular kid, however, will likely earn a student some popularity points of his/her own. But being kind to an “underdog,” especially when popular kids are watching, well, that can be a high-risk move. So can turning down a demand from another student to copy from one’s test paper or refusing to cheat in other ways. And so, kids may feel stuck between their natural inclinations to do the right thing vs. doing whatever it takes to be liked or to get ahead.

We’ve taken a tunnel vision approach to school for long enough, with most of our resources going toward test taking. What’s the point of education without a focus on improving one’s character? Parents and teachers need to make a concerted effort to help students develop the social courage it takes to stand up and be moral leaders. How? Well, here’s an excerpt from my book Teaching Kids to Be Good People, that shows a simple way for us to begin lessons in social courage.

Share this quote with students: “The time is always right to do what is right.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

Ask, “What do you think about this? Is it true? Too simplistic?”

Talk about a time when you or someone else was being treated unfairly and you stepped up and did the right thing. What happened?

Talk about a time when you didn’t help promote respect, peace, and fairness. What held you back?

Create a challenge to increase acts of social courage. You’ll need paper strips (11 x 2 inches), tape, and a pen.

  • Think about a time you stepped up and did the right thing when someone needed a friend or a message of peace. Write a sentence about what you did on a strip of paper and sign your name.
  • Connect your strip with someone else’s and create “links” using tape.
  • Got more than one act of social courage? Make another link!

Each day keep adding to the chain by actively looking for opportunities to be “brave” in situations where someone needs to do the right thing. As a group, talk about any positive changes you notice in yourself, your family, your school.




Asking for love in the right places

November 20, 2012

The following is an excerpt from my new parenting book,  Teaching Kids to Be Good People. It’s from the chapter on Emotional Intelligence.

If you try you might get what you need

Right before Thanksgiving a few years back, my dear friend Bettina, who was having some health issues, emailed me: “I know this is incredibly presumptuous and Miss Manners would be scandalized, but I’m wrangling for an invitation.”

I was blown away. Not by her directness (God no!), but by her feeling that she had no right to say, “I’m not feeling well and I don’t want to be alone. Can I come over?” Immediately I called and thanked her for trusting me to understand her vulnerability. I also gave her top marks for the way she had honored herself by asking for what she needed. She was relieved to hear that she’d done the right thing by speaking up.

Most of us are much quicker to stand up for others than for ourselves. On some level we must believe we don’t deserve to get our emotional needs met. But where does that foolishness come from? Here’s my theory . . .

Babies are irresistibly cute so adults fall hard and take good care of them. Once they’ve gotten their sweet baby hooks into our hearts, they are experts at expressing their physical and emotional needs, nonverbally. As our children grow, our conversations with them center mostly on the physical aspects of life: Sweetheart, are you hungry? Do you want something to drink? Is it nap time? Why don’t you put on a sweater? As a result, asking for tangible stuff is very easy for kids: Dad, I need a ride. Mom, I need you to sign this. I need a new phone. I need money.

Because most parents don’t teach kids about expressing emotional needs, teens rarely say: I need a hug. I need to share this exciting news! I need you to listen. I need you to tell me the truth. I need help.

I asked a bunch of sixth–eighth graders to rate themselves on these two statements: “It’s easy for me to ask for help” and “I pretend things are OK when they aren’t.” The results? Twenty-five percent of the kids said it was “never or almost never” easy to ask for help. Another 25 percent reported that “sometimes” they had trouble asking for help. And here’s another sad finding: A whopping 83 percent admitted that “sometimes, always, or almost always” they pretend things are OK when they aren’t.

An unwillingness to ask for help, coupled with a habit of pretending things are fine when they’re not, is unhealthy. When we deny our human need to connect heart-to-heart, we end up short-changing ourselves and the people we’re closest to.

A parent’s role is to raise an emotionally healthy young adult. That includes helping a child recognize what s/he’s feeling and learning to ask for support when needed. Of course self-reliance is essential and being able to calm yourself at times of stress is a life skill, but there’s no denying that we all feel vulnerable at times. It’s also true that we’re all interdependent. When we let people know how we feel and allow them to love us and help us, we honor our humanity. We do the same when we love and help others.

On that Thanksgiving, my family and I were heading out of town, so our home was going to be cold and dark. I couldn’t offer Bettina a warm place at our table. But with my encouragement, she was confident enough to express her needs to another friend who gladly opened his heart and home. What would surely have been a sad and lonely day for her, turned into a wonderful occasion. Less than two years later, Bettina died. Thinking about her, then and now, I’m comforted knowing that she wasn’t alone on one of her last Thanksgiving holidays. She was brave enough to reach out and ask for what she needed. Bettina taught me a powerful lesson, especially important when we’re vulnerable: When it comes to friends and family, hold nothing back. Allow yourself to love and be loved fully, without limits.

Happy Holidays, from our family to yours.



Kids with special needs need pushy parents

November 17, 2012

I originally wrote this article for where I write a weekly education post. Check out the rest of my articles there.

Fighting for our kids

All living things, with the exception of clones and genetically modified food, are unique. Of course, that includes children. Every kid has a collection of traits, quirks, interests, annoying habits, talents, and abilities that makes him or her truly special. That’s why education should be special for every child. But unfortunately, it’s not.

Many schools could do a better job fostering creativity and problem-solving skills that 21st-century students will need to solve 21st-century challenges. The same can be said for the low priority most school place on character education. So, on many levels, students in the “mainstream” are not getting a lot of what they need to succeed. It’s also true that millions of kids with special needs are being grossly underserved, despite federal law mandating that these children receive truly special education in public schools.

While I am a seasoned educator and a parent, I have no direct experience with the challenges of raising a child with special needs, nor the complexities of navigating an education system to best meet those needs. But here’s what I do know from talking with parents who have lots of experience in this realm: Crippling state budget cuts aside, one major obstacle to providing effective special education may be educators who pre-judge a child’s ultimate learning potential and then design programs based on what the student can’t do rather than acknowledging what s/he may not be able to do yet.

More: Special Education in the U.S. Has a Long Way to Go—Here’s What Schools Can Do About It

As school psychologist Jan Baumel, M.S., states in her excellent article,Understanding Special Education Laws and Rights, “The courts have said that a child must receive ‘some benefit’ from his education, but schoolsdon’t have to maximize your child’s potential. (That’s what’s meant when you hear that the schools have to provide ‘a Chevrolet not a Cadillac’ education.)”

But why not push for maximizing potential? Every child deserves that! No one can ever predict exactly where anyone else’s path may lead. For that reason, education must help all children construct a path toward their own unlimited future. Because that doesn’t happen in every school, all kids need parent advocates. Kids with special needs may need especially loud and pushy parents to go to bat for them.

Here are some tips to help you advocate most effectively for your child:

Know your rights. Educate yourself about what your state law guarantee in terms of special education. Each state’s Department of Education also has its own division for Special Education and Support. Search the Internet for “Special Education (your state)” to find the programs and services to which your child is entitled.

Connect with other parents. It doesn’t matter that one child’s special needs are significantly different from another’s. What counts is the simple fact that parents working together, supporting each other, brainstorming questions in advance of district meetings, sharing information after such meetings, are more powerful and effective advocates for the rights of children.

Communicate with your school. To understand and navigate school district policy on behalf of their children, parents need to keep the lines of communication open with teachers and other school support staff. It is helpful to take the point of view that you and the professionals who work with your child are on the same team. Your appreciation for the job teachers do helps build trust, and it can ease the way to get the services your child deserves.

Bottom line. The challenges of advocating for a child with special needs can be stressful for families. The challenges of providing excellent special education can be stressful for educators as well. Parents and schools need to work together to understand the diverse educational requirements of every child with special needs and how best those requirements can be addressed and fulfilled. It often takes tremendous patience and persistence. And yes, pushiness helps!

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