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.

From Harold and the Purple Crayon to Caine’s Arcade

June 13, 2014


Imagination inspiration

In 1955, when Harold and the Purple Crayon was first published, lots of kids (including me and my brothers) sat too long on their fannies in front of the television set. Maybe author Crockett Johnson had some TV addicted kids of his own. So he wrote a story about a little boy who creates a big adventure using only an oversized crayon and his imagination? 1950’s parents made it a best seller, hoping it would inspire their kids to unplug from the screen and be creative! The book is still in print and 21st century parents are still hoping the same.

Summer should give kids a break from prescribed learning and an invitation to use their imagination. Instead, they often settle into a predictable routine of screen time. As an app developer I know there are loads of creative apps for kids, but often the most creative playtime involves no tech. Ask Harold and his 21st century real-life counterpart… Caine.

Cardboard+Imagination= Infinite possibilities+FUN

Cardboard+Imagination= Infinite possibilities+FUN

A couple of summers ago Caine went to work each day with his dad who owns a used auto parts shop in East Los Angeles. There wasn’t much for Caine to do, but there were plenty of cardboard boxes. So Caine decided to use his imagination and his hands to create his own fun. Watch Caine’s Arcade with your kids (a 10 minute film) and check out my Family Confidential podcast this week: Imagination Rocks and learn about the Global Cardboard Challenge.  Then talk about how your family can make this your most creative summer ever.


Self-respect: The anti-bullying drug

July 14, 2012

Here’s the final installment of this ‘expert’s‘ 4-part Bing Summer of Doing series. (Bing’s got lots of cool stuff happening through Sunday, but since the word of the week is Giving, tomorrow David and I are doing the AIDS WALK SF, so no blog from me. If you’ve missed anything I’ve served up on this shift, check out the blogs from Monday (Giving), Wednesday (Unplugging)  and Friday (Urban Gardening). Today we’re talking Anti-bullying, so let’s get at it.

Bing Summer of Doing - Be nice, do nice

When stuff comes up between real friends, they show how much they value the friendship by working things out. That can be especially hard when Friend A crosses the line (knowingly or un) and Friend B is upset. But with real friends it’s worth the effort it takes to talk and listen and understand each other’s point of view.

Friendships get damaged when stuff that needs to be said is left unsaid. Unexpressed emotions don’t just fade away. Often they work like acid, silently eating away at a relationship’s foundation. We start doubting our friend’s intentions. We look for evidence to reinforce our doubts while demanding reassurances that our doubts are ungrounded. We talk about the friend instead of talking to him/her. If you’re beyond middle school, you know this crap never helps. It only makes things worse.

Kids with the stickiest peer relationship issues are 6th and 7th graders. Their interpersonal challenges have become increasingly complex. Unfortunately, their ability to resolve conflicts in their multi-tiered friendship doesn’t match the challenges they face. And so it goes in the 21st century. We communicate with more people, but the way we do it, through texting, chatting and tweeting, increases the likelihood of miscommunication, which leads to hurt, jealousy, betrayal, retaliation, AKA social garbage. Unless we learn to effectively resolve conflicts with the folks we like, we’re not going to be able to stand up for ourselves with truly aggressive people, i.e., bullies.

The following question was asked of me by a 6th grader:

What do you do if your friend is bullying you and you don’t want to hurt them?

Sounds like you’re getting hurt by a friend but aren’t willing to stand up for yourself. You’ve got to learn to be your own best friend. That means acting like you deserve to be treated with respect. This new self-respecting attitude won’t guarantee respect from others, but it does mean that when people treat you badly, you  let them know it’s not OK.

You say you’re being hurt but you don’t want to “hurt” your friend by telling him/her to cut it out. I understand your hesitation. Nobody likes to be told that they’re out of line. Your friend might get mad at you and that’s never pleasant. S/he might say, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” In which case you’re left feeling confused and embarrassed. Your friend might even accuse you of trying to “ruin” the friendship and may turn other friends against you. OR… s/he might stop and think about what you’ve just said and make some positive changes. That would be a good thing, right? But when we stay silent about things that are bothering us, the person who is ‘bullying’ continues to bully. Things usually just stay the same or get worse. But when we’re brave enough to risk standing up for ourselves (or for others who are being mistreated) we open the door for change.

Back to the question from the 6th grader. How would you have handled that situation when you were 11? How does the question and my advice, apply to any of your current relationships? Funny how our middle school experience can sometimes feel like it all happened in another lifetime… to someone else. Or it can feel like we’re still right there. sigh.


Something Green

July 13, 2012

OK, we’ve gotten to Part 3 of my 4-part Bing Summer of Doing blog series. As you’ve probably heard, I’m this week’s Bing Summer of Doing expert which means I blogged Monday about Giving and Wednesday about Unplugging. Today’s word is urban gardening. I’m going on record to say that a bit of green is welcome everywhere, expect inside that container of cottage cheese I’ve been ignoring in the fridge – which I’ll ignore a while longer as I write this post.

Bing Summer of Doing - Plant it, grow it, eat it

Before you adopt a goldfish, or a cat, and certainly before you attempt to raise a kid, test drive a plant. If you start with something green and indestructible, like a pothos or a geranium, success is virtually guaranteed. A live plant in a container doesn’t qualify you for parenthood, but it does certify you as an urban gardener.

I’ve been into plants since the day my best friend, Suzy B. and I “swam” through the bushes between our backyards. Before that I’d never paid much notice to greenery. But when I side-swiped my mom’s forsythia bush, accidentally breaking a branch, the snapping sound stopped me in my tracks. If I’d been 13 I’d have stashed the evidence in a heartbeat, but my 8-year-old brain secreted magical thoughts. I heard the plant’s cry of pain and I needed absolution. So I rushed into the house carrying the severed branch. My mom glanced at the twig and told me to toss it in the trash. This was surprising considering how often she’d remind me that the forsythia’s yellow flowers were the first sign of spring.

“What if I stick it back in the ground?” I asked hopefully. “Will it grow?”

Mom laughed, not unkindly. Her message was clear: “Silly, Annie.”

The kitchen curtains parted and I had an epiphany: “When someone mocks your idea, don’t pass up a chance to show that they’re the silly ones.”

Suzy and I dug a hole in another part of the yard, stuck in the branch, packed in the dirt and turned on the hose. Then we went back to playing Mermaids in the Storm.

Every Saturday, through April and May, I watered that twig, never telling my mom what I was up to. Then one day I noticed the stick had sprouted a couple of new leaves. WOW! Because of me, something was growing where nothing had grown before. What magical power was this?!

I’ve got my own garden now with all kinds of things growing in metal tubs, wooden boxes, tea cups, hanging baskets. No forsythia, but lots of other goodies, mostly of the edible variety. Along with eating chocolate, gardening is one of my 10 Most Favorite Things to Do.  So, if you’re looking to get your hands dirty this summer, how about planting something of your own? You don’t need land, just a container with some holes in the bottom, good organic potting soil and a bunch of veggie or herb seeds. Actually, you can skip the seeds and get some plant starts (baby plants). The best part of urban gardening is that there are no rules. It’s all about doing it your way wherever you find some space. There’s also the cool factor of growing your own food. What should you grow? Stuff you like to eat!

Most veggies are ridiculously easy to grow. Visit your local nursery for advice on what does best in your area. Little known fact: Most nurseries have a dumpster into which they toss plants that aren’t up to “retail quality” standards. I know a place with a high-end clientele. People who shop there expect perfection. If a plant has a single yellow leaf, it gets trashed. Seriously! Provided the discarded plants are still in their plastic containers and are not obviously dead or infested with bugs, go for it. I do it all the time. Just dive in and take what you want. If you feel uncomfortable, ask permission. Truth is, most people who work at nurseries would much prefer a droopy zucchini plant be “adopted” and cared for, than die from neglect in the trash and end up in landfill. Currently in my garden I’ve got several thriving tomato, squash, pea and bean plants, plus arugula, swiss chard, beets, chocolate mint, lemon balm, and oregano — all of which would have lost their chance to feed me and my family  if I hadn’t rescued them from the garbage.

The only thing better than an urban garden is an urban garden that didn’t cost you a whole lot which you can putter around in while eating chocolate.

UPDATE: We want our kids to eat more fresh fruits and veggies. Best way I know is to get them involved in urban gardening. When they grow some of the food they eat… instant connection!  I just harvested these beauties from my yard. Didn’t take a whole lot of effort on my part.

Plant a dwarf apple tree, water and wait 2-3 years.

Great for munching or for apple sauce


Fill a large old container with soil (make sure it’s got drainage holes). Throw in some potatoes that have begun to sprout.

Cover with more soil. Water and wait 6 months.

Who doesn't love potatoes?


Buy some onion sets, throw ’em in the ground (or in a large outdoor container) Give ’em room! Water and wait 3 months.

Sweet red Italian onions


Filed under: Bing Summer of Doing,Parenting — Tags: , , , — Annie @ 3:00 am


July 11, 2012

This is Part 2 of my 4-part Bing Summer of Doing blog series. If you just got here and missed Part 1, let me explain. I’m the Bing Summer of Doing ‘expert‘ of the week. Part of this awesome responsibility involves blogging about the word of the day.  Today’s word is unplugging. The irony of writing about unplugging while plugged in doesn’t escape me, but if I wrote on the back of this envelope, you wouldn’t see it, so…

Bing Summer of Doing - Pull the plug and.. DO

Winnie-the-Pooh said, “Sometimes I sit and think. And sometimes I just sit.” He also called himself a bear of “little brain” but I disagree. Just “sitting” is the best thing you can do at certain times. And if you’re just sitting in a park, on the beach, on a fallen tree in a forest… you’re probably in a good place, mentally and emotionally.

I’ve noticed that it’s summer. Funny how a whole season can sneak up on you like that. Actually, it’s more scary than funny.  Sometimes, my time on the computer seems endless and I feel like I live in a casino – no windows or evidence the earth is turning. But I see that it’s beautiful outside (yes I do have a window) so I’ve decided to unplug. Not forever,  just for some significant part of each day –  as a way to grab back some balance in my life.

What am I unplugging from? How about these three things for starters? Negativity. Routine. Technology.

Unplugging from destructive emotions: Instead of marinating your soul in anger, frustration, jealousy when the mood strikes, how about simply recognizing the feeling? And then… take a few slow deep breaths. (INHALE s-l-o-w-l-y and evenly through your nose. Relax your jaw and open your mouth.) Then EXHALE s-l-o-w-l-y and evenly through your mouth. Repeat. …. again. Again. Now smile (a half smile will do). Good. You’ve just unplugged from an upset and hopefully you’ve done it before causing any damage. Nice going.

Unplugging from routine: Routines offer security. They can also be fun and creativity drains. Fight back by changing something you’ve been doing automatically every day. Try a miniscule shake-up like brushing your teeth with the opposite hand. Dang, unplugging from your routine could be as simple as sitting in a different place at the kitchen table. Or skipping the table altogether and taking your salad or sandwich out on the front steps. There are so many ways to dance through your day, why not make up some new moves? When you do, you’ll find your usual dance partners have to come up with some new moves of their own.

Unplugging from technology: Life isn’t virtual. It’s real. Simple truth. So easy to forget. Years ago, a storm blew out our power for 5 days. No school. No computers. No work. Me and David and the kids read aloud from a big book of obscure folktales. We paused at crucial plot points and took turns guessing what could happen next. We acted out alternative endings. We played Crazy Eights by candlelight. We roasted marshmallows. We all shared memories from childhood. And by the second or third day, we were eating outrageous ice cream sundaes for breakfast (hey, we couldn’t let all the Chunky Monkey melt, could we?). I was more than a little disappointed when the lights came back on and we all plugged in again. But you don’t need a power outage to take a healthy break from social media and the rest of it.  I’m not saying you should become incommunicado for a week and freak out your friends and family. I’m just saying that by spending most of your waking hours with your head in a screen, you miss a lot of the juice of life. That’s just a waste, because the real stuff — the shared joys and disappointments between friends and family — need to be experienced face to face, not just via text and FB posts.

So I’m unplugging today. When I mentioned this to David, he said, “So you’re not going to do anything?” Wrong! I’m going to do plenty of stuff… not sure what yet, but I know, for sure that I’m not going to check my email 75 times. Tweet. or Surf. Just for today. And see what unfolds when I push back the digital infringement and make some room for other things. I’ll report back later. In the meantime, how about if you slowly take your hands off the keyboard, step back from your computer and go outside and play with a friend?

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