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.

Kids from hard places need soft places to reside

March 31, 2014

An essential book for adopting parents

An essential book for adoptive parents

When kids “act out” you’d better believe strong emotions are the drivers. Parents and teachers usually pay attention to the behavior without taking time and patience to dig deeper and discover the trigger that unleashed the storm. What’s causing such distress in this child that s/he is acting this way? Discovering the answer is key to understanding children and ultimately helping them a) understand themselves better b) effectively manage their destructive emotions c) express themselves in socially responsible ways so that d) they can get their needs met without causing harm to themselves or others.

This truth was illustrated beautifully in a story Dr. Karyn Purvis told me during our interview for my podcast, Family Confidential back in 2010. Dr. Purvis is a Developmental Psychologist and Director of the Institute of Child Development at Texas Christian University (TCU) in Fort Worth. For the past decade, she and her colleagues have been developing research-based interventions for at-risk children. Dr. Purvis is also the co-author of The Connected Child: Bring Hope and Healing to Your Adoptive Family, a book that has helped countless adoptive and foster parents better connect with their children who have come from “hard” places.

In our recorded conversation Dr. Purvis tells me about a little girl playing in the kitchen while her mom makes dinner. The girl asks for a candy bar. Mom says, “No, sweetheart. Dinner will be ready in ten minutes.” The girl has a full-fledged meltdown, screaming, crying inconsolably. She throws things and physically and verbally abuses her mother. Mom has no idea what’s going on and feels powerless to help her daughter.

In desperation, Mom turns to Dr. Purvis and comes away with a better understanding of what was going on and how to meet her little girl’s needs without giving her candy every time she asks. Turns out this child was adopted from an orphanage where she often did not get enough to eat. When her mom said “no” to the candy, the girl panicked and remembered feeling powerless as she cried out in hungry, only to be ignored. Dr. Purvis’ compassionate response helped the mom and the child immeasurably. What was the solution?

You need to hear my never-before-published interview with Karyn Purvis, an educator for whom I have the highest respect and admiration. Listen in. 

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GirlWorld: Twisted values, twisted friendships

March 25, 2014

We can be mean to her and still be nice, can't we?

We can be mean to her and still be nice, can’t we?

“Do unto others” makes no sense to middle schoolers.  (Ideally it should, but that’s not how TweenWorld currently operates.) To help our kids navigate the turbulent and toxic waters of peer relationships, we’ve got to wake up and smell the reality stinking up their world (online and off).

Of course both girls and boys have middle school friendship woes. And yes, both boys and girls can become Peer Approval Addicts. But girls often take their feelings of hurt, jealousy, betrayal and rejection to dramatic and damaging heights. So let’s talk about girl friendships.

The social garbage girls throw at each other is the stuff of rumors, gossip, harassment, and exclusion. And it often happens under the radar. Because even though a girl may be eviscerating a former bff at school and online, she still wants to think of herself as a nice girl.  (I said it was twisted, didn’t I?)

Parents are rarely aware of what’s going on on the battlefield of their daughters’ friendships. It usually comes to light when their girl feels victimized and can no longer contain her distress. At that moment she may spill the whole story of her so-called friend’s bad behavior.  In response a parent might logically advise:

“Tell her how you feel about this.  Tell her she’s got to stop.”

“I can’t tell her that!”

“Why not? It’s true!”

“Because it will hurt her feelings!”

“Excuse me!?  You won’t tell her she’s hurt you because you don’t want to hurt her feelings?!  What about your feelings?”

“Forget about it, Mom/Dad. I’m sorry I said anything. You just don’t get it.”

Bingo! Parents can’t fathom the logic here. But to the girl, the logic is clear. She will swallow her pain because she (justifiably) fears that complaining about bad treatment will cause her friend and all the others in their friendship circle to ditch the plaintiff, swiftly and completely. Our targeted daughter will be friendless and she knows it.  And because that is a fate worse than death she puts up with the ongoing abuse. Pretends it doesn’t hurt. Continues to think of these girls as her friends and continues to hang out with them and be abused.

Her confusion over the love-hate/comfort-pain mix may cloud her judgment when she starts dating. If she puts up with emotional abuse in a friendship why assume she’ll choose a thoughtful caring romantic partner over one who dominates, demeans and controls?

As parents we need to help our daughters develop enough self-respect to demand respectful treatment from others, especially those closest to them. Let’s help them acknowledge the truth of what’s going on in their friendships. We won’t be able to change “mean” girl behavior in others, but we can, at the very least, help our daughters acknowledge that their pain at the hands of friends is real, undeserved and unacceptable.  Then we can point out their options:

1. Stay silent. Stick with friends who hurt you and expect more of the same.

2. Talk to them about it and let them know you’re no longer giving them permission to disrespect you. If nothing changes, consider option #3.

3. Take a (permanent) vacation from the drama. Reach out to people who share your values about what it means to be a real friend.

Here’s to Real Friends vs. the Other Kind. 

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Helping teens debunk the myth of ‘Normal’

March 24, 2014

I was in high school when I read David and Lisa, by Theodore Rubin. (The book and the ground-breaking film on which it’s based, are both profound and well worth checking out.)

David and Lisa are a couple of teens with “issues” who meet and fall in love in a residential treatment center. When the kids from the center go on a neighborhood field trip they encounter a group of “typical” teens who mock them viciously for not being “normal.” To which David counters: “If you’re normal who wants to be normal??” (Best comeback ever!)

The character’s self-confident defiance launched a personal revolution inside my head. Come to think of it, that single line of dialogue has probably been the engine driving much of what I do, what I write, and what I teach.

User's manual for parents of teens

User’s manual for parents of teens

So what is “normal”? That’s what I wanted to explore when I sat down recently with my Family Confidential podcast guest, Dr. Jennifer Wider MD. Jennifer aka, Jena, is a nationally renowned women’s health expert, author, and radio host. Her weekly radio segment on Cosmo Radio is called “Am I Normal?” Dr. Wider’s latest book (co-authored with Logan Levkoff, PhD) is Got Teens? The Doctor Moms’ Guide to Sexuality, Social Media and Other Adolescent Realities. Learn more at DrWider.com.

Jena and I had such a dynamic conversation about the myth of “normal” I wanted to share it here. I can’t think of anything more essential to the emotional well-being of young people than helping them bust out the confines of living up to someone else’s idea of how they should look, feel and think so they can gain confidence to be themselves. Listen in on our conversation here.

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