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.

Not under my roof: A conversation w/author Amy Schalet

November 16, 2011

For the past 14 years I’ve received email from t(w)eens around the world. 80% of them fictitiously sign their letters “Confused.” They’re confused about a whole lot of stuff, especially sex. It’s cool that they use their confusion as a motivator to ask questions of an adult (by most measures, that would be me). Otherwise, how are they going to understand what they need to know so they can make good choices?

Here’s one that came in last week from a young teen:

If a male only sticks the tip of his penis into a girls vagina, is it considered “having sex”?

The next day this one arrived:

I was walking with my partner and as a tease he held my leg from the top and I think his hand hit near my vaginal hole but he didn’t put his finger straight in and I moved. It was literally one second but I had my trousers on and it was just whilst I was walking. Any chance I can get pregnant with that? I’m very young and scared.

Required reading for 21st Century Parents

Don’t let their ignorance of mechanics distract you from the bigger picture: Too many t(w)eens seem to view sexual contact as a casual activity with no serious relationship or emotional closeness required. I fear those kids will have trouble developing bonds of real intimacy.

Last week’s Glee episode featured two in-love high school couples (one gay, one straight – all four teens were 12th graders), crossing the threshold in their long-term relationship and choosing to have sex for “The First Time.” Kudos to the writers for showing us characters sensitive to each other’s needs. Rarely on TV or in films do we see teens willing to put so much careful thought into decisions having to do with sex.

It got me thinking how American teens might make different choices if they had more role models for talking about sex with their partners… or even with their parents.

I know it sounds totally crazy to imagine teens having real conversations with their parents about serious relationships, but after reading Amy Schalet’s new book Not Under My Roof: Parents, Teens and the Culture of Sex I learned the American way isn’t the only way. If we can agree the goal is to prevent teen pregnancy and to help older teens “navigate the challenges of sexuality and first relationships” then, generally speaking, American parents and educators are doing a lousy job.

As Schalet’s book thoroughly documents, Dutch parents have a more open attitude about sex education which results in Dutch teens having less casual sex and far fewer pregnancies. They also sneak around less and experience much less alienation from their parents during these years. Wow! I didn’t know there was an alternative to teen alienation. My view is tainted by emails from teens who don’t like lying to their parents and aren’t particularly enjoying random hook-ups or “friends with benefits” arrangements. Bottom line, they don’t seem to be having all that much fun doing the stuff they’re sneaking off to do and yet, they’re doing it anyway and not necessarily learning anything positive.

I was eager to talk to the Amy about Not Under My Roof. We had a great conversation which included many eye-openers. Check this out: When asked about their first sexual experience, a majority of American girls said: “I wish I had waited longer.” That indicates regret for whatever reason. There’s also a possibility that the girls felt pressured to have sex when they didn’t really want to. When Dutch girls were asked a similar question, 85% said: “We both wanted it. We chose it.”

Very interesting.

Here are my big takeaways from my conversation with Amy Schalet, “One narrative doesn’t fit all.” When we give our teens only one message we:

  1. Fail to give them the education/guidance/space they need to make responsible choices about their own sexual behavior.
  2. Build unnecessary walls between us and our kids based on deception and distrust and the false assumption that we can control their behavior.
  3. Prevent them from a basic understanding of what it means to “be ready” to have sex. This is something only the individual can determine but the parent can help with these guidelines:
    1. the partner is trustworthy
    2. the time you’ve had in the relationship thus far
    3. you and your partner have talked about having sex and what crossing that threshold means to each of you
    4. you both want to have sex
    5. you understand it will change the relationship. You’ve thought about and talked about how might it change your feelings for each other. How might it also change your expectations, your behavior, your agreements?

Some of you may feel that teen sex is never ok. If so, then you’re in agreement with the American cultural narrative of “Just don’t do it.” Even if that is your perspective, the teens in your life will still benefit from your talking with them about sex and relationships. They’ll also appreciate your listening to what they have to say. They need to hear your values because by 19 years of age, 70% of young people have had sex. That’s reality. Since that’s where they’re going, you want them making conscious, healthy choices.

btw, in addition to reading Amy’s book, you might also want to check out my interview on FoxNews.com where I talk about Teen Sex in the Family Home.

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A Parent’s Pledge to Raise a Responsible Digital Citizen

November 12, 2010

The following parent’s “pledge” was originally written for and posted on SafetyWeb.com. SafetyWeb is a thoughtfully designed tool that provides parents with a means and a context for ongoing family conversations about safety, friendship and how the choices we make, online and off, have consequences.

FOAD!!

3 out of 4 t(w)eens regularly use social media. (UPDATE Oct. 2013: The proportion of teens who say they don’t use social networks fell from 6% earlier this year to 2% the latest survey reports.) While the young ‘uns are scary good at navigating the tech, when it comes to connecting the dots between their digital choices and the resulting social consequences, most of them are clueless. If your kid has a cellphone and access to the Internet it’s up to you to teach them how to behave.

Q: If you don’t, who will?

A: Their equally clueless friends.

As a parent, I pledge to do the following to raise a responsible Netcitizen and teach my child about online safety:

  • Social media is part of my child’s world. As a Safety Conscious Digital Parent, I pledge to do my best to raise my child to be a responsible digital citizen.
  • I pledge to support my child’s use of age-appropriate social networking sites and to teach my child how to play safe and stay safe online so (s)he can grow in positive ways from online activities.
  • I pledge to teach my child the difference between what is and what is not responsible and appropriate online behavior. That includes teaching my child the best ways to respond to anything online that makes him/her uncomfortable, angry or scared.
  • I pledge to help my child understand the risks of giving out or posting personal information publicly online. (including photos, age, last name, name of school, home address, phone number.)
  • Digitally-savvy kids’ “status anxiety” (their need to be accepted) affects their online behavior. My child has the right to choose his/her friends, but not the right to demean, harass or intimidate others. I pledge to make sure (s)he gets this message and acts accordingly.
  • I pledge to have open, respectful dialogues with my child about how (s)he uses the services I give her access to online. When my child messes up (it’ll happen), I pledge to use the opportunity to teach him/her more socially acceptable behavior.
  • I pledge to help my child discern between a true friend and someone with bad intentions, so that (s)he can use good judgment regarding online “friends,” as well as his/her own behavior.
  • I pledge to educate my child on how their public online activity leaves a lasting digital footprint that teachers, college admissions officers, or future employers may see.
  • I pledge to help my child understand the implications of online behavior so that my child can maintain his/her privacy, safety and good reputation while we keep a healthy, trusting and mutually respectful relationship between us.

You don’t need me to tell you why this stuff is import. So… can we all count on each other to do this?

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Stepping back may be hard, but it’s what your kid needs

October 30, 2010

This article was originally written for and posted on SafetyWeb.com. SafetyWeb is a thoughtfully designed tool that provides parents with a means and a context for ongoing family conversations about safety, friendship and how the choices we make, online and off, have consequences.

Thanks for respecting me, Mom.

If your kids are 11-17, congrats! You’ve made it to the Major League of parenting. With little ones, you didn’t need fancy plays since you called all the shots. Now there’s often grumbling in the bullpen and effective parenting is all about nuance and negotiation.

As t(w)eens step up and make more of their own decisions, parents need to gradually step back. But your job’s not done yet! Kids still need us to be plugged in and monitoring their physical, social and emotional well-being. With 3/4 of middle and high school students actively engaged in social media, they need us more than ever.

But when does conscientious monitoring of young digital citizens cross the line and become disrespectful and intrusive? Good question! Hold that thought.

Just for the record, if you’ve got evidence or a vague sense that your child is engaging in harmful activities or is being hurt, threatened or harassed, monitor the situation very closely. Act on your gut. Question your kid at length. Tell what you know, suspect and fear. Dig deep and don’t give up until you get to the bottom of what’s going on. Then offer your strongest support, providing your child the help (s)he needs and follow up!

But what if nothing’s going on? How closely should you monitor then? I often hear from good, drug-free kids, who get excellent grades. They’re indignant because Mom/Dad snoop through their email and cell phones for no known reason. They’re exhausted by a so-called Velcro parent who can’t let go and constantly texts and phones their kids all the day.

In case you’re thinking: “I have the right to check in with my kid whenever I want and to know everything my kid’s doing at all times!” With all due respect, if you don’t have probable cause for poking into the personal exchanges your kids have with their peers, you shouldn’t. All kids, especially teens, have the right to a degree of privacy.

How much privacy? How much freedom? At what age? Depends. I don’t know your child or his track record for making responsible choices when you’re not around. Besides, parenting isn’t a science, it’s an art. We’re all artists, trying to figure out how to use our tools to launch a masterpiece, i.e., a fully functioning young adult. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers. But the most effective parents create and maintain healthy boundaries with their kids.

In 21st Century parent-speak the word “boundaries” often means “rules.” As in: Parents set up the rules and the kids (hopefully) comply. This top-down, one-way approach can lead to rebellion in the ranks. Family rules are part of any discussion of boundaries, but the fact is, healthy boundaries are a two-way street. Our personal boundaries deserve respect and so do our kids’. For example:

You politely inform your 13 year old she can’t go out with her friends because she didn’t keep her agreement to finish her homework first. Furious, she blasts you with a choice sampling from her name-calling inventory. Boundary alert! Your daughter disrespected you. She deserves a consequence from you so she doesn’t think for one minute that her behavior was acceptable.

Your 14 year old mumbles something about Coach being a “jerk” for not letting the boy start in tomorrow’s game. Incensed, you grab your phone. Your son shouts, “Don’t! I’ll handle it!” Ignoring him, you call Coach and give the “jerk” an earful. Double Boundary alert! By disregarding your son’s wishes, you disrespected him. You also rudely overstepped your parenting role by intervening between coach and student.

We all want our kids’ respect. That’s why we’ve got to hold them accountable for respecting our boundaries. While we’re at it, we need to respect their boundaries too. Great advice, though not always easy to follow. But like I said, parenting is an art… you’ve got to practice to improve. Besides, we’re not looking for perfection, just progress.

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Bullying and our competitive edge

October 14, 2010

Who do you think you are?

Great gobs of  vitural ink have been sloshed around describing America’s “decline.” In a recent Newsweek story about the 100 best countries we didn’t even make the top 10. We’re Number 11.  But, it’s not like Newsweek dropped a bombshell. We’ve all noticed the slippage for a while. From family problems to school problems to dysfunctional legislators to holy book burners.

Oh yes, my friends, we’ve got Trouble with a Capital T that rhymes with D and that spells DECLINE. All the pity party laments boil down to just one thing: “America’s lost its competitive edge.”

Oh yeah? Not so fast, dude. Sure, we may be losing the competition for top world ranking in stuff like education, health, quality of life, economics, and political environment. But what about Top Dog status in stuff that really matters? For example, when it comes to vying for popularity within their peer group no kids on Earth come close to the clawing, biting, sheer grit of American teens.

In light of recent horrific in-your-face school bullying plus the cyber predator stealth assaults launched from smart phones and PCs, I think I’ve figured out what’s driving at least part of it. It’s competition. And we’re scary good at it.

I’m sure we’d all agree that we hate bullying behavior. And it goes without saying we hate bullies. Every last one of them. But for the record, there is no them. It’s all us. From time to time, to one degree or another, consciously or un, we all dismiss other people as unworthy of respect. Folks, that’s the core of bullying. And we behave that way when we’re competing with each other.

Think about it. If you’re hotter (or cooler) than me or I’m hotter or cooler than you, we may distrust each other. We may try to bring each other down in thought, word or deed. If you’re smarter than me or way stupider, you’re on my hit list. If you’re fatter than me or thinner, if you wear more or less expensive clothes, if you’re a super jock or a super geek… watch out! ‘Cause whatever we are that’s “different” may be seen as a threat to someone else’s never-ending quest for votes, money, power, friends… love. And we all know what happens when we feel threatened. We attack. Sounds ruthless, but we’ve gotta get real. We’re on the edge here. Each one of us adults and kids, we’re socialized and primed to compete with each other and often that means giving each other a hard time.

So, you still in this competition or are you ready to opt out?

 

UPDATE: 2/2/12: Just got this great bullying awareness and prevention info-graphic from @MAT@USC aka, Master of Arts in Teaching… because it is an art!

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