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.

Guest blogger: Keeping Kids Safer from Cyberbullying

May 13, 2015

by Amy Williams

Amy Williams is a journalist based in Southern California. Mom of two, she uses her parenting experience to help other parents raise their children to be the best that they can be. You can follow Amy on Twitter and Facebook.

Why don't they leave me alone?!

Why don’t they leave me alone?!

According to Chinese tradition 2015 is the year of the Sheep. I hope it’s better than last year, which I called The Year Of The Bully.

At the start of 6th grade our son had a physical altercation at football practice. The harassment continued at school, extracurricular events, and on Social Media. We didn’t know because our son didn’t let us in on it, a typical response from tweens and teens who are being targeted.

He’d come home from practice upset, shirt torn, and occasionally with missing his cleats.  At first we chalked it up to the rough nature of the game and forgetfulness. But other things indicated something was wrong.  Some of the puzzle pieces we observed:

  • Our son frequently complained about stomach aches and found it difficult to sleep at night.
  • He was visibly upset and often would erupt in anger toward his younger sibling for no reason.
  • We received emails from his teacher’s about his behavior and falling grades.
  • He didn’t ask for friends to come over or to meet up at the movies.
  • He suddenly stopped wanting to play on his tablet, the family computer, or use his online account with his gaming system.
  • He would cry and refuse to go to Scouting functions or Church activities.

Looking back I can’t believe how blind we were. He was clearly exhibiting signs of being bullied at school and online.

One day I picked him up after football practice. Waiting by the field, I watched our son interact with his teammates. He walked barefoot to the van, desperately trying to hold back his tears. Finally, he let it all out. We felt terrible that we had failed to keep our child safe, but now, we could help and we got right to it.

Our first action was to alert his teachers, bus drivers, and school administrators. It was comforting to know there were extra eyes and ears to monitor the situation. I had a wonderful conversation with the principal who changed the seating chart for the bus ride, changed how the children lined up for lunch, and added a few more sessions about bullying into their counseling rotation. She was trying to educate students on the differences between positive ways to interact vs. aggressive behaviors.

Because 1 in 3 children are victims of cyberbullying and over half don’t report it to an adult, we began an open dialogue with our son. To protect himself, he changed his profile and names on Social Media and gaming sites. During the beginning of our journey, we opened and read all messages together and limited online contacts to friends and family only. We began to actively monitor his Internet and cell phone activity, using a convenient app that allows us to view all his accounts in one place. We also started interacting online with our son so the kids who were targeting him couldn’t miss our presence. Finally, we made a rule that digital technology would only be used in our common living area, no more kids online in isolation (exactly what harassers hope for.)

With a little effort and a lot of emotional coaching, our son is doing very well.  He enjoys school again and now happily interacts with his friends online. His former harassers have improved their behavior, too. They probably didn’t understand they were crossing a line. All in all, with this situation behind us, I’d like to believe this experience will foster my son’s empathy and emotional fortitude to handle adversity.

Goodbye, Year of the Bully. Hello, Year of the Sheep. May it be lucky and prosperous for our family and yours.

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Defense Against the Dark Side: Where’s Harry Potter When We Need Him?

April 23, 2015

A Good Use of Power

A Good Use of Power

In our 40 years together, David and I have read many books. Add another hundred or so books on tape we’ve consumed on road trips. Yep, we’re addicted to good stories. So it wasn’t too weird when, after a business trip to Florida and a side trip to Universal’s Wizarding World, we decided to re-read all the Harry Potter books… aloud… to each other.

Starting in mid-December, I’d read a couple chapters over breakfast each morning. At dinner, with wine and candlelight, I’d read another chapter or so. If we were driving for more than 20 minutes in any direction, I’d read aloud in the car. (Yes, I can do that without barfing. Lucky me.) At the end of each day we’d watch the film adaptation of the current book, making sure to stop when we got to a new part (i.e., a section of film we hadn’t yet read.)

To date we’ve completed six books and six films. (When we get into something we really get into it.) We’re now half-way through Book 7.

Ever since the kids of Hogwarts took their education into their own hands, I’ve been thinking about the Dark Arts as it relates to the dark side of humanity. While we rarely hear about jinxes or debilitating spells, we’re plenty aware of public humiliation and shaming in social media. Character assasination is a curse, high on the list of Dark Arts. So how do we defend ourselves against the real and present danger of social garbage? How do we teach our kids to defend themselves, online and off, from the hostility of their peers? Where is Harry Potter when we need him?

When I think about what it means to defend oneself, I picture someone standing up for their rights or the rights of others and actively fighting back against the vitriol. But there is inherent danger when one uses vitriol to fight vitriol. The weapon we use has the power to infect us and make us more and more like the perpetrators we seek to vanquish. We can so easily become the enemy. Doing the right thing in a good way isn’t easy.

How do you help your children defend themselves against the prevailing Culture of Cruelty? How do you teach them not to succumb to its ways? Post here and let’s get into it. You can also follow my tweets at @Annie_Fox and @GirlDramaChat. Every Friday you can join the conversation as I host #girldramachat, a weekly Twitter chat (11AM PST) to help parents/teachers/counselors support girls thru friendship drama w/compassion, respect & social courage.

 

 

 

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Guest blogger: It’s Probably Not Hormones

April 16, 2015

by Jeannie Burlowski

Jeannie Burlowski is a full time author, consultant, and conference speaker.  Learn more about her services at JeannieBurlowski.com.

I can't do this anymore!

I can’t do this anymore!

15-year-old Luke had been in a dark, angry mood, starting from the moment his mother wished him a cheerful “Good morning!” and set hot scrambled eggs in front of him. Luke ate in broody silence and his mother felt momentarily thankful for the quiet. If Luke could just get off to school without his typical screaming and door slamming, it would be a good day.  “It’s probably just hormones,” she rationalized after her sulky son left for school. “There’s nothing I can do about that.”

Actually, Mom, it’s probably not “just hormones.” Your teen’s dark moods, depression symptoms, mood swings, blunted, flat emotional responses, and hair-trigger anger are more likely to be linked to a psychological condition called “launch anxiety.”  That’s good news since there’s a lot parents can do to help teens feel better.

Psychologists Laura Kastner, Ph.D. and Jennifer Wyatt, Ph.D. have defined launch anxiety as: “The near constant feeling of indecision, doubt, uncertainty, insecurity, and fretting that accompanies the transitioning of teens in late high school, and extending through college. It’s experienced by teens, but it’s also experienced by parents, who feel tied in knots by uncertainty, doubt, insecurity, worry, and fretting about this next step in their children’s lives.”

Recent research finds a near epidemic of anxiety among 21st century high school and college age students. Is your child one of them?

5 Action Items for Combatting Launch Anxiety

1.  Take this short quiz.  

To gauge whether your son or daughter might be experiencing launch anxiety, take a look at the symptom list below, excerpted from www.anxietycentre.com. Do these symptoms sound familiar?

____Continual feelings of anger, impatience                            ____Feeling “down in the dumps”

____Depression                                                                               ____Emotionally blunted, flat, or numb

____Emotional “flipping” (dramatic mood swings)                 ____Everything seems scary, frightening

____Frequently being on edge or ‘grouchy’                               ____Feeling like crying for no apparent reason

____Not feeling like yourself, emotionally numb                    ____Feeling anxious, apprehensive, or fearful

____Feeling you are under constant pressure                         ____Feeling detached from loved ones

If these symptoms sound familiar there’s a good chance your child has some form of anxiety.  Next steps…

2.  Quit telling your child that if s/he “doesn’t get into a good school, s/he won’t be able to get a good job after college.”  This is patently untrue, and the message is harmful.

3.  Ease up on your kids’ schedules. Exhausted students who’ve been run ragged by every club, extracurricular activity, and sport can build up layers of anxiety, making them less attractive to colleges. Don’t believe it?  Read this New York Times article where a Harvard admissions officer laments that student applicants “seem like dazed survivors of some bewildering lifelong boot camp.”  Ease up.  Please.

4.  Spend at least one hour per week with your child outside the house doing an activity you both enjoy. No nagging allowed.  No anxious questions about homework, grades, college applications, etc.  One of the greatest antidotes to anxiety is caring, face-to-face, human connection. So schedule time to simply enjoy your child for who s/he is, not for how he or she is currently performing in school, sports, extracurricular activities, or college preparation.

5.  If the anxiety becomes severe, seek professional help. Are feelings of anxiety just part of growing up?  Should we just stand back and let our kids deal with it?  Not if anxiety symptoms are constant and debilitating. If that’s the case, please seek help from a school psychologist or other licensed professional who specializes is working with teens.

Have you seen any anxiety symptoms in your teens or college students?  What remedies have you seen work?

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It’s Not Easy Being Teen

March 30, 2015

Yes, I am!

Yes, I am!

I answer lots of email from tweens and teens. From time to time I share letters here to gently remind parents, teachers, coaches, and counselors what it’s like to be a teenager. With that in mind, you’ll be better at helping the kids in your life. Of course, there isn’t one “right” way to ease a young person through an emotionally confusing time. I offer my advice to them (and to you), as one of the possible ways to proceed. You might use it as a suggestion if you ever find yourself in a position to mentor a child (your own or someone else’s).

Teen: I’m a 14 year old ignorant child who has a problem.(Obviously) I’ve been feeling like my life isn’t going great and that I’m already wasting it. Before you say “Oh, you’re only 14. Don’t worry about that! You have so much time” I just want to say I’ve seen plenty of kids do something with their lives at my age. I’m honestly scared to dream big. I’ve been doing theater for nearly 5 years and I’ve sometimes done public performances and feel like I can take it somewhere. I’m just not supported for it. No matter what my ambitions are my mom ignores it, or no one seems to take me seriously. I wanna follow my dream but I feel like my life doesn’t call for it. It makes me depressed and even now, writing this, there’s tears in my eyes because I feel so doubtful. I get jealous of people my age doing great things and I feel I’m nothing compared to them. I don’t even know were to start to make anything happen. What should I do?

Annie: Of course, it helps, if you are supported in your dreams by parents and other family members. I won’t lie to you and say that it doesn’t matter. But just because you don’t get support, doesn’t mean you can’t achieve your dreams, whatever they are. You love theatre. That’s awesome. (Many 14 year olds haven’t a clue what they are interested in. So you are already ahead of those kids!) Ultimately, if you want something in life, you are the one who must figure out how to make it happen. So let me ask you this: What is in the way of your doing more theatre and getting better and better at it? What is your biggest obstacle? (HINT: The answer is not “Lack of support from my mom.”) Think about it and write back. We’ll talk some more.

Teen: Hey, thank you for taking the time to reply :) Appreciate it. I guess what’s been stopping me is usually when I think about my future and what I can do, I can’t help but feel like nothing good is going to come out of the future and that I might not even be alive honestly. I feel limited, which I know I am, but when I see some girls at my school presue things such as modeling or acting or art-related, the first thing that comes to me is “My life doesn’t call for it.” Well not now, obviously, but I was thinking later in the future. I know it’s negative, but if I’m not very lucid and realistic with my life I won’t know what to do later if or when I experience disappointment. I’m a little scared for that. So it’s myself that’s been holding back.

Annie: Yes. It’s you, who’s been holding you back. 50 points for that right answer. Just to let you know, “the future” doesn’t exist. We create our path in life right here… in the present moment… and in the next moment… and the next. It’s all about the choices we make. The choice to have a positive vs a negative attitude is a key factor in success. Comparing yourself to others only works if it inspires you to do your best. Comparing yourself to others with an attitude of “They’re so much better than me, why should I even bother?” is unhelpful. So… quit sabotaging yourself and get on your own team! Yes, there will be set-backs and disappointments along the way. That’s to be expected, not feared. Think about it this way, for each disappointment, there will be something useful for you to take and move forward with. You can make the life you want. A positive attitude, hard work, and belief in yourself are the keys.

Teen: I know this is late but thank you so much :)

Annie: Sounds like you found my advice helpful. I’m glad! Be well, my friend.


 

Sometimes the best support we can give teens is to listen as they share their self-doubts, let them know we believe in them, and assure them they have what it takes to succeed.

Filed under: Parenting — Tags: , , , , , , — Annie @ 7:54 pm
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