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.

“I’m never going to win!”

August 3, 2017

What's the use?

What’s the use?

We all want our opinions and feelings respected, especially by the people we care about most. A guiding rule for a healthy relationship (the only kind worth having) is: “I will respectfully try to understand where you’re coming from and you will do the same for me.”

Doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes we’re too upset to be respectful so we do things we later regret. Sometimes others disrespect us and we’re too embarrassed or discouraged to speak up.

When it feels like nobody treats you with respect, what then? Do you have fight with everyone? Or is it better to just accept it? That’s what this teen wants to know.

Teen: When I hang out with my friends  they do PE-related things. I act like everything is okay, but they know I suck at that kind of stuff. Still they always hold obstacle courses, running races and monkey bar challenges. It’s as if they do it to mock me.

Next, my parents. If I get anything below B+ on a quiz or test, they don’t bother noticing me. What’s worse is that when my twin sister gets something below a B+, they offer to help her.

Lastly, my twin sister. She is intolerable. She has successfully managed to steal my friends by lying. Every time I tell her to stop, she acts like I am bullying her. To others, she seems sweet, but she is sociopathic towards me. Except when she has no one else to hang out with. Then I’m her fallback. I try and stand up to it, but my parents have her back. It’s as if they have taught me a silent rule: “Don’t try to stand up for yourself because you are never going to win these battles.” So I have to put up with it. What do I do? –So Unfair

Dear So Unfair,

I am sorry you’re going through such a difficult time. I really am. Feeling comfortable and accepted by our friends and family contributes to our sense of well-being. When people are with us, we relax and trust they will treat us well. When we don’t feel accepted,  everything else in life can be more challenging.

You don’t have to and shouldn’t accept disrespectful behavior. Ever. Relationships change when someone has had enough of the status quo and decides to talk honestly about her feelings. You took the first step toward improving your relationships by writing to me. Now take the next step.

Parents. You don’t get to choose your family. Sorry, no trade-ins allowed. So what can you do with the family you’ve got?

Find a time for a private conversation with the parent that is easier for you to talk to. You might start by saying something like this: “There are times I feel you respect (care for, love, etc.) my sister more me.” Then take a slow deep breath and calmly, respectfully and without whining, shouting, or crying, give one recent example to illustrate your point. After you’ve said your piece, close your mouth and really listen to what your parent says. Then respond calmly. Then listen so more. This is how you give someone the chance to understand you better and give yourself the opportunity to understand them. You sound like a very intelligent and articulate person. I am sure you can do this.

Sister. You and your sister also need a calm, respectful conversation. There are things she does that you don’t appreciate. There are also things that you do which she does not appreciate. Working together can make your relationship more peaceful. Your parents’ support can help. They want you and your sister to get along better, too!

Friends. Sounds like the problem comes from the difference between your friends’ interests and your own. Make a list of all the things that you deem important in a close friendship. For example you can try to fill in the blank in this sentence:

“I want a friend who __________.”

Keep filling in the blank until you’ve created a good long list of qualities you look for in a friend. If shares my interests is a high priority for you, then you need to look for friends who enjoy doing what you enjoy. If PE activities isn’t your thing, what is? Think about it and figure out how you can connect with people who share your interests during the school year, on weekends and vacation time.

I hope this helps.

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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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