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.

Urgent anti-bully message to educators: Do more to stop it

August 19, 2013

They say schools are no longer in the business of teaching good citizenship, character, ethics or whatever you want to call it because educators are too busy “teaching to the test.” There’s no test for character that can be graded to give districts bragging rights for getting their scores up, so why teach this stuff? Because there actually is a test for character. It’s called Life and we ought to be teaching to it. When we don’t, we get this…

Hey Terra,

People at school don’t like me because me and this popular girl got into a little fight and I won. To get even she spread rumours about me saying I was in a mental institution for weird and violent behavior (a complete lie). Then everyone started to insult and ignore me. She does it the most. They say stuff like “Hey freak! No one likes you, so why dont you take a long walk off a short bridge?” Everyday. I don’t get a break from it. I insult them back. I know I probably shouldn’t bother, but it’s really hard not to. It’s like automatic for me now. I don’ t like being told to basically die. It’s not right for anyone to be told that.

So Fed Up

See it. Name it. Stop it.

Dear Fed Up,

These kids are being rude and cruel. I know it’s hard to hear this crap and try to brush it off. I’ve heard it said that no one can bring you down without your permission. That’s kinda true and kinda not. Humans are wired to be emotional. We’re also wired to want other people to like us. So when someone shouts angry words in your face or online, your human wiring kicks in. Your heart beats faster (and not in a good way) and you feel attacked. Even if the person isn’t someone you know or care about. Even if what he or she says is a lie. Words hurt. We feel it. So I totally understand the temptation to attack back. Except… it doesn’t help. You’ve seen that. It just makes things worse. Like throwing gasoline on a fire. That won’t put it out.

But you need to learn to take care of yourself. That doesn’t mean yelling nasty stuff back at people who are mean to you. You need to take care of yourself by figuring out how to response so that

a) you don’t give anyone permission to push your buttons so you automatically react like a puppet and
b) at least one adult at school and/or at home steps in and gets to the bottom of this so that this girl and her followers no longer feel they’ve got the right to talk to you or anyone in this way.

I just took my fingers off the keyboard for a minute.  I’m taking a deep breath now, because hearing about this stuff every day really upsets me. I feel frustrated there are kids who believe it’s OK to be mean to other kids. I also feel frustrated that the adults who run schools (principals, counselors, teachers, coaches) have not done a better job making school a safer more accepting place for all students all the time.

Still breathing. It helps. Take some deep breaths on your own whenever you need to calm down. Then think about what would really make this situation better. Forget about trying to talk to the girl. Go to adults in power. Talk to your parents. Tell them what you told me. Tell them just how Fed Up you are. Talk to the principal (with or without your parents). Talk to the school counselor. This has to stop. Adults can make it stop. Remind them it’s their job.

Take care.
In friendship,
Terra

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I’m so sick of the situations that prompt these emails. Where are the adults in charge? Do they really not know what’s going on? Do they believe it’s not part of their “job” to get involved with fights between students? Do they worry they’ll get no support from their administrators if they step in? Do they worry they’ll get  in trouble with parents for calling out kids who are disrepecting other kids? Or have they just given up, believing that peer harassment is a problem bigger than any remedy they might offer in the moment?

I don’t know what school administrators and teachers think about the bullying that persists in their schools. Why don’t you tell me? I’m listening.

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Calling a truce in the Homework Wars

December 31, 2012

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

Homework doesn't make kids smarter, it mostly just keeps them busy and stresses them out

The long holiday break is almost over. I hope you and your kids made the most of the delights of the season. And that includes time to relax together as a family, kids and parents, savoring the freedom from school assignments. Yes, I’m an educator, but  I am no fan of homework. Especially not obligatory daily assignments that drill students on information and skills they’ve already mastered. Practice makes perfect. But over-practice makes for soul-crushing boredom and it turns kids off of education.

From my way of thinking, homework, if given at all, ought to be assigned sparingly. After all, kids have had a long day in class. They’re not machines. They need a break. And, yes, they need to play. Coming home from school every day to face a mountain of homework is dispiriting.

If a teacher assigns homework, students and parents ought to be confident that there’s a very good reason for the assignment, and a high likelihood that it will yield tangible benefits for the student. What kind of assignments are those? The ones that include:

  • a creative challenge
  • the opportunity to reinforce a new concept presented during class
  • practice using the concept for problem-solving

The result? S-T-R-E-T-C-H-I-N-G the student’s mind and transforming a new idea into an Ah-ha! learning experience. When homework offers these opportunities kids respond eagerly because, as learners, they win. This makes them eager to learn more. (And if that isn’t the ultimate goal of education, I don’t know what is.)

The alphabet coloring homework sheets my son received for 26 weeks during his kindergarten year were busy work. There was no mind stretching during those coloring sessions. Though, as I recall, there was some healthy resistance and a pointed challenge: “Mom, why do I have to do this?”

Why indeed? Teachers aren’t sadists. They must believe homework benefits their students. But is that really the case? According to Alfie Kohn, educator, educational critic, and author of The Homework Myth, “…there is no evidence that… kids who have better grades and test scores have them because they’ve had to do more academic assignments after a full day in school. (Also) there isn’t a shred of evidence to demonstrate that homework has any nonacademic advantages, such as teaching self-discipline and responsibility or teaching kids good work habits.”

And yet the homework continues piling up and the stress it causes in kids, and in families, is heartbreaking. If it feels like your child is spending inordinate amounts of time on homework, here are some steps you might take:

1.    Find out what your district’s homework policy is. The student handbook usually includes guidelines that describe how many minutes of homework per evening per grade level. Compare the guidelines to reality.

2.    Talk with other parents whose kids have the same teacher as your child. Sometimes the issue is “too much homework.” When that’s the case, parents have the right and responsibility to talk with teachers and let them know the impact all those assignments are having at home.

3.    Talk with your child’s teacher. Sometimes, the issue isn’t the amount of homework. Sometimes it’s your child’s ability to complete the assignment in a timely fashion. Ask your child’s teacher, “How much time did you expect that assignment to take?” If what you hear is: “10-15 minutes” and your child spent 45+ minutes, then you and the teacher may have a new topic of conversation. For example: “How can we work together to help this student (my child) be more successful and efficient in his/her work? Is an evaluation for learning differences an option we should consider?”

4.    Down with busy work! If teachers are assigning homework that clearly falls into the Busy Work category, speak up to the teacher (calmly and respectfully, of course), to other parents, and at PTA meetings.

A child’s mind is a terrible thing to waste. So is a child’s time to relax, dream, and be a kid without the ever-present dark cloud of “homework” hanging over their heads.

Here’s wishing you and your family all the best in 2013, More laughter. More opportunities to help others. More creative inspiration. And less homework.

Filed under: Education,Holidays,Parenting — Tags: , , , , — Annie @ 10:52 am
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NRA, come get me!

December 15, 2012

We have the right to be safe

There’s nothing more “right” than a child’s right to go to school in the morning and learn to read so she can open wide the windows in her mind and dream about the world and her place in it.

All children have the right to be loved and encouraged by their parents and teachers.

All children also have the right to be accepted by their peers, to play, and to come home safely to be with their family in the evening. And yes, all children have the right to sweet dreams. Sweet dreams are exactly right for children.

But last night, no parent who knew about Sandy Hook had sweet dreams. Not likely many children did either.

Something very wrong happened again. It’s been happening in America for a long time. It’s always hard to take it in, but we are experts at distracting ourselves. If it didn’t happen in our family, in our community… we forget.

It’s getting harder to forget.

But, as a nation, we are way past tongue-clucking, “what-a-tragedy” small talk. It’s absurd to pretend otherwise. It’s not as if we have no clue how to fix the problem. We know what to do to make it much less likely that another one of these will happen again. Does anyone really need to spell it out? OK. I’ll do it:

We have to do a better job identifying and reaching out to the troubled people amongst us (kids, teens, adults) and get them the professional help they need so they can feel “a part of” rather than “apart from” the rest of life. The rest of us will be safer.

We also need to reasonably restrict access to guns. There. I’ve said the four-letter word. Let the NRA come get me. I’ve got no gun here, so I’ll be an easy target. But please don’t bother posting comments about 2nd amendment rights. No hunter needs an assault weapon to shoot a target or a rabbit. Only a hunter of people needs an assault weapon. He has no license to kill so I don’t give a good goddamn about his rights.

I care only about the rights of children and the parents and teachers who love them. For those of you at a loss for the words to talk with your children about this tragedy, here is an excellent resource from the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement. (The fact that we even have such a place tell a lot about our current culture.)

Now please, email your Congressional representatives today and urge them to reinstate the federal Assault Weapons Ban.

Sign this petition from Mayors Against Illegal Guns. Or this pledge to take action for common sense gun legislation. Heck, sign every online petition on this issue. We have the collective power to do the right thing. ‘Bout time we got together and used it.

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The cure for “mean kid” behavior

November 27, 2012

I originally wrote this article for TakePart.com 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.

 

 

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