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.

Teen questions her “path” in life

July 17, 2017

It's okay not to know where you're going.

Life is for learning where you’re going. .

When you were seventeen did you have a clue about what you wanted to do with your life? I only knew that I wanted to go to Cornell University and to have a boyfriend. (I might be messing with the order of my past priorities.) Did I know what I wanted to study in college or what I’d do with my degree once I graduated? Nope. But I don’t remember feeling pressure about it either. Not from my mom or any adults. That was a simpler time, after school counselors but before the invention of the word ‘stress.’

Many of today’s teens (and their parents and counselors) feel differing degrees of anxiety around the whole career-thing. I had a 6th grader tell me the thing he was most stressed out about was getting into medical school. So I wasn’t surprised by this recent email from a seventeen year old. Saddened by the unnecessary pressure she’s putting on herself, but not surprised.

Teen: I’m about to start my senior year in high school and next year I’ll have to choose my college course. I feel pressured every time people ask me my ambitions for the future. I understand they worry about me, but repeating over and over again the same question makes me want to remain a child forever (although I’m 17).

But the worst is when people ask about my grades. They say, “With such high grades you can choose whatever you want.”  That really doesn’t help, it does not reduce my options.  I know what I don’t want but I don’t know what I want. I’m also freaked at the idea of having the same job forever. What if one day I wake up and decide that it is not for me?

I think I am afraid to grow up. Now everything seems to be finally ok (not in a perfect way, of course, but having the best friends around me is everything). Maybe I’m a Peter Pan, but just a bit older.

Annie:  I understand what you’re saying. I am a bit of a Peter Pan myself. The idea of having to grow up and be stuck in the same job, doing the same thing forever sounds a bit like a prison to me. To avoid that, I freelance and have cobbled a career together using my interests and talents. Every day is totally different. A life without being on anyone’s payroll may not suit everyone, but it works for me.

Sometimes kids and teens feel sure of what they want to do in life. You know, like the eight year old who is certain she wants to be a lawyer because her mom is a lawyer. Sometimes that certainty never wavers and the child actually grows up to be a lawyer. More often, though, our ideas about what we want to do when we “grow up” change as we experience life, study different things, and get inspiration and encouragement from people we meet.

You are only seventeen. It is unreasonable to expect a high level of certainty about the kind of future you want. If people keep asking you about it, be polite, but be clear. You might simply say, “I don’t know yet what I want to do with my life. I’ve got plenty of time to decide.” And that’s the truth.

When you need to choose college courses, choose what interests you at that time. A course is an opportunity to learn new things. It is not a commitment to a long-term future. Please try to stop worrying about it. The future has a way of working itself out without our having to do anything. Keep your mind and heart open and think about what it is that you really enjoy doing. Follow your own interests in addition to school assignments and you’ll get clues as to what your path in life might become.

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Mom concerned by “touching” between 7 yr olds

June 9, 2017

We can learn to keep ourselves safe.

We can learn to keep ourselves safe.

This mom of a second grader is understandably unnerved by her seven-year-old son’s account of being “inappropriate touched” by one of his friends. She’s especially concerned about the possibility that the friend’s actions might have long-term negative affects on her son.

Dear Annie,

My 7-year-old son recently told me that he has been touched inappropriately at school by a friend. Apparently, this was happening for quite a while but my son didn’t want to get the other kid in trouble. I took the necessary steps: spoke with the principal, filed a complaint, etc. The disturbing thing was that my son was the only one the other boy was doing this to.

They have been separated at school because even after our report, the child was still doing this. How will this effect my son later on?  I don’t think my son understands the severity of what has happened and still mentions the other boy in conversation. Is this normal?  If he sees the other boy every day of school, how does that work in a child’s brain?  Do you think we should switch schools?  He has many friends in the school he is in now, but I want to protect him. Thank you for your help.

Dear Mom,

Obviously, these kinds of situations can upset a parent. It might help to remind yourself that it’s normal for young children to be curious about their own bodies and the bodies of their friends. Exploratory behavior driven by that curiosity is not the same thing as adult sexuality. I highly recommend this article to give you some reassurance about what’s ok and what’s not.

You say you don’t think your son understands “the severity” of what’s happened. You haven’t provided enough information for me to evaluate whether what happened is “severe” or not, but it’s clear you deserve support. If you haven’t already done so, please reach out to the school psychologist. Most school districts employ one either on a full-time or part time basis. If there is no school psychologist or school counselor, ask for a referral to a family therapist through your son’s pediatrician. Explain the situation and ask all of your questions. It’s possible the psychologist will ask to speak with your son, alone and/or with your being right there beside him. Hopefully this conversation will help you and your son.

Now let’s talk about the other boy for a moment. It’s good that you talked to the principal. I can’t imagine the principal has not spoken to the other boy’s parents. Repeated overtly sexual behavior in young children may indicate sexual abuse or exposure to adult sexual behavior or content. This child may need professional help and/or protection.

Back to your little boy, it sounds like he could use some practice standing up for himself. It’s not helpful to stay silent when he’s uncomfortable just because he doesn’t want to get someone “in trouble.” His private parts belong to him and no one else. He needs your help understanding how to take care of and respect himself. Before you begin this conversation (and it may well be a series of ongoing conversations), take a look at this Safe Touches Personal Training for Children created by The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. You’ll find very helpful tips on how to empower your son.

I wish you well.

In friendship,
Annie

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No confidence and no boyfriend. Is there a connection?

May 25, 2017

Must be spring because my teen email is all about crushes. Most from middle schoolers. I won’t bore you my history, but…  occasionally I dream about my 7th grade crush. So believe me, I get romantic insanity. Either you’re out-of-mind euphoric or in a hopeless funk. Sometimes feeling both within five minutes.

No one but you can un-do this negative self-talk, sister

No one but you can un-do this negative self-talk, sister

This 7th grader is crushing hard. Slight problem: the guy is dating her best friend.

Hey Terra,
My best friend’s new boyfriend happens to be my childhood crush. He and I were very close throughout elementary school. We even liked each other in the third grade. So her being with him doesn’t feel right to me. I should have been his first kiss and his first girlfriend. Last year, in 6th grade, I liked him a lot but I got over him. Then this year I found out him and my bff liked each other the whole time! Most of my friends have boyfriends. I should have one too! I am very insecure and I need a boyfriend to feel confident about myself. What do I do to feel confident? Please Help.
-Insecure Girl

Dear Insecure Girl,

You say you got over this guy and maybe you did. But emotional attachments are tricky and sometimes you believe you’re “over it” then, suddenly, your ex is in your face and in your heart again. Seeing your crush with your bff isn’t easy. It’s also not easy to see a bunch of your other friends coupled up when you’re not.

You can’t control other people’s feelings (obviously). But you can stop making things harder for yourself. For example, you’ve been thinking you need a boyfriend to be less insecure. That a boyfriend would solve all your self-confidence issues. That’s just not true.

I understand you want a boy to like you the way your crush likes your bestie. That’s fine. Everyone wants to be loved and admired. But when you try to convince yourself what happened in 3rd grade ought to put you first in line to be his girlfriend, that’s wrong-thinking. You don’t get to decide who becomes this guy’s first kiss or girlfriend. That’s his decision. You’re a smart girl. You don’t need me to tell you that.

You asked my advice. Here it is: Stop feeling sorry for yourself. It will only bring you down. So will all the “I need a boyfriend” thoughts. That’s a form of self-bullying. Not helpful. Instead, focus on what you love to do and do more of it. Art, writing, sports, dance or music, theatre or science, photography, technology, entrepreneurship, cooking, or a zillion other things the world has to offer.

Focus on being the unique and awesome girl you already are. You have everything you need. Nothing is missing from this equation. No boyfriend required. Use your interests to guide you, create short-term and long goals and achieve them. That’s what makes a person confident in herself.

I hope this helps.

In friendship,
Terra

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Parenting worry: Am I playing favorites?

May 3, 2017

What if I don’t love them equally?

Conventional parenting wisdom dictates: Parents should (must) love their children equally. “Equal” implies “exactly the same.” Not buying that in theory or in practice. We all savor different qualities in the people we love. We cherish the time we spend together for very different reasons. Why compare? It’s pointless.

I have a daughter and a son. I would drop everything in a hot minute if they asked for my help because I love them both deeply, but not equally.

Got an email from a mom who seems uneasy with how differently she feels toward her 14-year-old son and his twin sister.

Mom: He always had good grades in middle school, even if he missed some homework. Now in high school he realizes that not doing homework actually affects his grade so he is doing all of it, except math.

He doesn’t do his pre-calculous homework since the teacher doesn’t check it everyday. He can’t keep up with the material during the class. He frantically studies the night before each test and he got B+ last semester. At least he studies before the test, but If he did his homework regularly he could have received an A easily without studying like that the previous night.  I know B+ is okay but I’m more worried about his habit of procrastination as well as his grade.

Even though I’m suffering inside watching him putting off his work we have a good relationship. He has friends and does sports, but no other club – he has no interest in putting his effort into anything other than sports.

His twin sister is doing great in every way – she has good friends, doing a lot of club/sports, as well as she gets perfect grade (because she DOES her homework in time even though she is super busy). The problem with me is that I know what homework they have because of her. If I didn’t know what homework he should be doing I would be less anxious.

I try not to say too much about it but it’s really hard (HARD) for me to watch him just spending time looking at his iphone even though there is homework to do. Should I just watch him and hope he will realize or should I have a some sort of conversation about it? I just tell him something like “Why don’t you do your homework before it’s too late?” He says, “OK,” but it never has any effect on him.

Annie: I think it would be helpful if you tried to step back a bit. Your son is doing so much that is “right.” He really is. In your own words:
“He got a B+ last semester in pre-calculus.” (A strong grade)
“He studies before the test.”
“We have a good relationship.”
“He has friends.”
“He does sports.”

Your worrying seems misplaced. He is young and time management is a challenging skill to master.

I understand it’s hard not to compare your son to his twin sister, but please remind yourself that he is not his sister. He is also not you. He is developing at his own pace with his own strengths and challenges. He will figure this out. He already has “realized that not doing homework actually affects his grades…” At this point, his good relationship with you is much more important than how he is progressing in pre-calculus.

Please try to relax about his math studies. At this point you should not be involving yourself in his school work to this degree. The “contract” is between your son and his teacher. When you step back and let him work it out on his own, he is more likely to realize the connection between attentiveness in math class, homework, studying, etc. and grades a lot faster than if you make this your project.

I hope this helps.

In friendship,
Annie

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