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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.

Is she even my friend any more?

August 6, 2016

The pieces don't always go back together

The pieces don’t always go back together

In 1964 Bob Dylan wrote his classic I Shall Be Free No. 10. A line from that song has stuck with me:

Now I gotta friend who spends his life
Stabbing my picture with a bowie-knife
Dreams of strangling me with a scarf
When my name comes up he pretends to barf
I’ve got a million friends!

A million friends. Imagine. And that was way before social media. Guess it depends on how you define friend. That’s a much discussed topic in the email I get. Like this recent one:

Hey Terra,

Me and Serena have been besties since kindergarten. One day we got into a little fight and stopped talking to each other for a while and during that time she goes to her cousin’s birthday party and meets Katie. Suddenly Serena and Katie are really good friends.  They post selfies of them together all the time.

One day I call I ask if she would like to meet and she says: “Umm I don’t think I can because I’m with Katie” and I get kinda hurt because it kinda sounded like she didn’t want me around. Since then she hasn’t called me or respond to any of my texts. The other day I called her and asked if she would like to have a sleepover and she says “Not really.” and hangs up.  She doesn’t really talk to me anymore. I don’t understand. What did I ever do to her? I really would like to have an answer please!! Are we even best friends anymore? – So Confused

Dear So Confused,

I understand why you’re confused. I don’t know why Serena’s acting this way either. It sounds like your “little fight” meant more to her than it did to you. She’s still upset and unless you two talk about it, you might spend a long while wondering what’s going on.

A “best friend” for all these years is definitely worth keeping, Of course, you can only maintain a friendship if both people are invested in it. It’s not going to work if you’re the only one who cares. While it’s worth trying to get to the bottom of this, it might not be so easy to have that honest, heart-to-heart conversation. Especially if she keeps hanging up on you and refuses your invitations to hang out.

You can send her an “I need to talk to you” message. If she doesn’t respond or she says “I don’t want to talk to you.” then you have to let it go for now. Please try to turn down the volume on the worrying. You can do that by trying my Breathing Challenge. You can also reach out to other people you enjoy being with. Make some plans. Enjoy what’s left of the summer. Getting closer to other people now will give you some new friends to start off the new school year. One more thing: If looking at her posted pictures makes you feel bad,  don’t look. That’s going to help, too.

Good luck!

In friendship,
Terra

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Thanksgiving as an intentional act of world peace

November 17, 2015

Terrorism. Roast turkey with stuffing. Refugees. Sweet potatoes with marshmallows. Fear. Trust. Violence. Kindness. We need Thanksgiving more than ever. But who gets the invite and who doesn’t?

Hello, dear friend. You are welcome.

Hello, dear friend. You are welcome.

A few years back, my dear friend Bettina was having health issues and emailed: “I know this is incredibly presumptuous and Miss Manners would be scandalized, but I’m wrangling for an invitation for Thanksgiving.” (Yes, she actually wrote that.)

I couldn’t believe she assumed she’d crossed the line by saying, “I’m not feeling well and I don’t want to be alone. Can I come over?” I called immediately and gave her top marks for asking for what she needed. She was relieved knowing she’d done the right thing by speaking up.

Most of us are quicker to stand up for others than for ourselves. On some level we must believe it’s a sign of weakness to ask for support. But where does that foolishness come from? Not long ago I asked a bunch of 6th-8th graders to rate themselves on two statements: “It’s easy for me to ask for help” and “I lie and 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. Another sad finding: A whopping 83 percent admitted that “sometimes, always, or almost always” they fudge the truth and pretend things are OK when they aren’t.

An inability 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 short-change ourselves and the people who love us.

Teaching kids to be good people includes helping them get comfortable asking for support. Sure, self-reliance is essential, so is resilience and learning to calm yourself when stressed. But inner resources aside, we all feel vulnerable at times. We are also 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 welcome others to our table, our classroom, our community. 

When Bettina reached out to me, I was filled with love for her. I wanted to help, but our family was heading out of town for Thanksgiving. With my encouragement she confidently expressed 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 experience of friendship and a sense of belonging.

Less than two years later Bettina died. I’m comforted knowing she wasn’t alone that Thanksgiving. I admired her courage in reaching out and asking for what she needed. She taught me a powerful lesson: 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.

Peace

Peace

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Parenting Question: How can I help my child deal with rejection?

August 21, 2015

"Why doesn't she want to be my friend anymore?"

“Why doesn’t she want to be my friend anymore?”

Today’s question comes from the mom of a 12-year-old who is feeling her daughter’s pain at being rejected by a long-time bff.

How can I help my daughter deal with rejection? Her friend of six years has a new best friend. My daughter is hurt and desperately trying to win her friend back. What can I do to help her accept that sometimes friends move on?

Rejection comes up a lot in life, so we get lots of practice dealing with it. Either we didn’t get chosen for the team or didn’t get into the school we wanted or didn’t get the job we interviewed for. These are as “institutional” rejections. They sting, but at least they are not truly personal. This 12-year-old is grappling with a very personal form of rejection, being ditched by a close friend who has moved on into the embrace of a new bff. Ouch!

When we talk to our kids about feelings of rejection it’s important to give them a chance to talk about it. “I feel bad! What did I do wrong? Why doesn’t she want to be my friend any more?!” These aren’t necessarily questions that require answers from you. A child asking these questions is most helped by a parent who listens with compassion and patience and understanding. But when this girl talks to Mom about “trying to win her friend back” that is when a parent ought to do more than listen and empathize.

The daughter seems to believe she can change her friend’s mind. Mom can help by providing a  reality check (compassionately, of course). Mom needs to tell her there are certain things in life that we can control and certain things we can’t. In the area of what we can’t control: the thoughts, feelings and behavior of other people. In the area of what we can control: our response to what’s going on inside and out.

If someone were to kick me in the shins, I’d yell “Ow!” because it hurt. If someone says, “I don’t want to be your friend” that’s going to hurt, too. But how long will it hurt? And how many times will I play over in my mind those hurtful words? If I’m a healthy, resilient child or adult, I won’t replay it much. Why re-hash something when the hash didn’t taste great to begin with?

Talk to your children about the concept of re-hashing negative thoughts and mental movies. Then say to your child, “Sweetheart, you already have what it takes to be a good friend. You were Emma’s best friend for six years! And that is a great accomplishment. But friendships don’t always last forever.” Now would be a good time to remind your child of the friend she was close to in preschool or third grade who, now in sixth grade, is no longer a close friend. That might help her understand the evolution of feelings and friendships.

My best advice for helping children dealing with rejection:

a) Let kids express how they feel without your interrupting, correcting, or invalidating those feelings.

b) Prompt kids to think and talk about what, if anything, they might have done to contribute to the rejection. Relationships are a two-way street and it’s good for them to acknowledge what they might have done or failed to do to keep the friendship healthy and strong.

c) Brainstorm with kids about how they might respond next time they are rejected. It’s important for them to recognize they always have options in the way they behave.

d) Encourage them to think about a candidate who might become their next best friend.

These conversations will empower your child. It will also strengthen your bond and help your child become more resilient.

 

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Parenting Question: How do I teach my tween to set boundaries?

July 30, 2015

What's wrong with you? Can't you take a joke?!

What’s wrong with you? Can’t you take a joke?!

For better or for worse, our tweens and teens spend immeasurably more time with their friends than we did at their age. UOK wid dat? If we allow it, digital access enables them to connect every waking hour. These interactions strengthen interpersonal skills as often as they undermine them. Our kids must learn to set boundaries with other kids so they’ll develop confidence in who they are and what they need in a relationship.

Today’s question comes from a parent whose 10-year-old daughter has two challenging friendships.

Friend A says things to my daughter  that undermine her confidence (“Everyone knows your writing sucks.”) but then laughs it off as a joke. Friend B is very sweet and kind, but too clingy. She always wants to do whatever my daughter does.  Are there phrases she could use to help her tell the bitchy chick to change or go away, and to tell the lovely friend to be more independent?

– Frustrated Mom

Setting boundaries is something we all have to learn, because we need to teach people how to treat us. When we stay silent in the face of insults or we laugh along with the people mocking us, we send this message: “It’s OK for you to put me down.” Since that’s not the message your daughter wants to send, she needs to speak up for herself.

When Friend A makes nasty comments then hides behind “Just kidding!” your daughter needs confidence to let the girl know she just “crossed the line.” Ah, but how?

Many girls equate challenging a friend with being “mean” and that’s part of the reason they avoid “confrontations.” Make sure your daughter understands this isn’t a confrontation, it’s a respectful communication. Let her also know that standing up for herself (or others) doesn’t make her “mean” it makes her brave.

Advise your girl to stay calm and strong while she makes eye-contact, and simply speaks the truth. She might say something like this to Friend A: “That didn’t feel like ‘kidding’ to me. It hurts. If you’re really my friend, you won’t do that again.” Now Friend A has been put on notice and your daughter has taken back her power. If your daughter needs help saying these words, role play with her until she feels ready for the conversation. Hopefully this will work. If Friend A continues to make cutting remarks, then your daughter will have to continue standing up for herself and/or find the EXIT to this friendship.

In the case of  “too clingy” Friend B… that’s a bit trickier. Your daughter has the right to choose who she spends time with but she doesn’t ever have the right to intentionally hurt anyone. (Remind her how it feels to be on the receiving end of one of Friend A’s zingers.) But that doesn’t mean she must continue to allow herself to be smothered in her clingy friend’s embrace. She might say something like this to Friend B: “I like spending some time with you but not all the time. I want to spend time with other friends, too. So today, let’s hang out together during lunch recess. Then tomorrow I’m going to hang out with Friend C.” That’s a clear communication and it is sensitive and respectful. Friend B may not be happy to hear that she won’t be with your daughter tomorrow, but if your daughter stays calm and delivers the message clearly and confidently, Friend B will (eventually) figure out that she needs to widen her friendship circle.

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