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.

How do we teach kids to play nice on social media?

September 2, 2015

Can you guys tell me how to use this thing?

Can you guys tell me how to use this thing?

Your kids might not have gotten a summer break from social media, but even if they did, they’re probably back on it now… in force. With all the time spent interacting with people they know and people they don’t, how do we teach them to play nice?

I use the word “play” because social media is the biggest unsupervised playground in the world. When kids run around on any playground, with no rules or supervision, kids will get hurt… by other kids. It’s the same with social media. Kids as young as eight and nine run amok and use a keyboard as a weapon to show off, to spout off, to grab attention, and to get back at other kids.

We all like to think of ourselves as responsible parents, right?  Responsible parents teach their kids the rules of behavior for different situations. We do it to keep our kids safe and to make sure they don’t hurt anyone or trample on anyone’s rights. Before we give a teen access to the family car we make sure s/he knows the rules of the road and has demonstrated proficiency. It’s the same with social media. When we give a child access to social media via any device, we need to provide rules and oversight. But in this relatively new arena it can be challenging to know exactly how to parent responsibly.  Maybe that’s why many parents seem checked out. Who knows? Maybe they’re thinking, “How am I supposed to tell my kid how to use it? She knows more about this tech or that app than I do! I don’t even know how to upload video!” That excuse doesn’t cut it. As parents we’re the ones responsible for raising good digital citizens. The only effective way to do that is to make it super clear to our kids that whatever standards and expectations we have for their behavior in face-to-face situations are the same when they’re texting a friend or roaming the vast social media playground.

We need to do this because kids are kids. They are immature socially and undeveloped cognitively. They have trouble connecting the dots here. They assume because they are alone with their phone and there is no one else around, they can’t be pegged for anything they do. It’s like hit and run. It’s like drone warfare! They press a button and because they can’t see the suffering they’re causing they somehow believe they did no wrong or they find ways to justify their actions. (“I didn’t start it!” “I wasn’t the only one.” “He did much worse to me!” ) They need us to teach them that their choices matter, online and off. Without our guidance, not only will they continue hurting other people, they are hurting their own reputations. They are also building up an inventory of bad deeds. When that happens it can change a child’s perception of the kind of person he or she is.

So as this new school year kicks off, I encourage you to take a look at The Parents Pledge to Raise a Responsible Digital Citizen. Go over it with your kids before you give them access. And if you’ve already given them access, then you need to pedal back a bit and say, “We’ve got to talk about some rules here, because I need to know that the choices you make whenever you express yourself or communicate in any way, always reflect the good person you really are.”

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Parenting Question: How do I teach my tween to set boundaries?

July 30, 2015

What's wrong with you? Can't you take a joke?!

What’s wrong with you? Can’t you take a joke?!

For better or for worse, our tweens and teens spend immeasurably more time with their friends than we did at their age. UOK wid dat? If we allow it, digital access enables them to connect every waking hour. These interactions strengthen interpersonal skills as often as they undermine them. Our kids must learn to set boundaries with other kids so they’ll develop confidence in who they are and what they need in a relationship.

Today’s question comes from a parent whose 10-year-old daughter has two challenging friendships.

Friend A says things to my daughter  that undermine her confidence (“Everyone knows your writing sucks.”) but then laughs it off as a joke. Friend B is very sweet and kind, but too clingy. She always wants to do whatever my daughter does.  Are there phrases she could use to help her tell the bitchy chick to change or go away, and to tell the lovely friend to be more independent?

– Frustrated Mom

Setting boundaries is something we all have to learn, because we need to teach people how to treat us. When we stay silent in the face of insults or we laugh along with the people mocking us, we send this message: “It’s OK for you to put me down.” Since that’s not the message your daughter wants to send, she needs to speak up for herself.

When Friend A makes nasty comments then hides behind “Just kidding!” your daughter needs confidence to let the girl know she just “crossed the line.” Ah, but how?

Many girls equate challenging a friend with being “mean” and that’s part of the reason they avoid “confrontations.” Make sure your daughter understands this isn’t a confrontation, it’s a respectful communication. Let her also know that standing up for herself (or others) doesn’t make her “mean” it makes her brave.

Advise your girl to stay calm and strong while she makes eye-contact, and simply speaks the truth. She might say something like this to Friend A: “That didn’t feel like ‘kidding’ to me. It hurts. If you’re really my friend, you won’t do that again.” Now Friend A has been put on notice and your daughter has taken back her power. If your daughter needs help saying these words, role play with her until she feels ready for the conversation. Hopefully this will work. If Friend A continues to make cutting remarks, then your daughter will have to continue standing up for herself and/or find the EXIT to this friendship.

In the case of  “too clingy” Friend B… that’s a bit trickier. Your daughter has the right to choose who she spends time with but she doesn’t ever have the right to intentionally hurt anyone. (Remind her how it feels to be on the receiving end of one of Friend A’s zingers.) But that doesn’t mean she must continue to allow herself to be smothered in her clingy friend’s embrace. She might say something like this to Friend B: “I like spending some time with you but not all the time. I want to spend time with other friends, too. So today, let’s hang out together during lunch recess. Then tomorrow I’m going to hang out with Friend C.” That’s a clear communication and it is sensitive and respectful. Friend B may not be happy to hear that she won’t be with your daughter tomorrow, but if your daughter stays calm and delivers the message clearly and confidently, Friend B will (eventually) figure out that she needs to widen her friendship circle.

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Parenting Question: Why Are Girls’ Friendships So Dramatic?

June 25, 2015

We’re up to Part 4 of this (mostly) parenting Q&A series. I’ll occasionally throw in a teen question because, hey, it’s always enlightening to hear kids talk about what we do that drives them nuts. Today’s question concerns the confusion of a parent whose daughter is having an emotionally difficult time (again) with a best friend.

Best friends forever, right?

Best friends forever, right?

Today’s Question: Why are girls’ friendships so dramatic? My daughter had a best friend from 2-5th grade. When that girl moved away, my daughter was distraught. Now she’s in 7th, with a new best friend who may be losing interest. My daughter is getting very worried and upset. What can I do to help her put this in perspective?

Since 1997, the #1 issue girls write to me about is betrayal or rejection by a friend. Specifically, “My bff has a new bff! What do I do?” The email writer goes on to describe how she’s crying herself to sleep, has lost her appetite and doesn’t want to go to school or anywhere! Parents are often confounded by the intensity of their daughter’s emotions in these situations. Moms and Dads want to know what they can do to help.

Here’s the way I see it: A girl’s dramatic response to a friendship that’s cooling off resembles how one might react to a romantic break-up. Some girls even refer to losing a friend as getting “dumped.” Girls’ attachment to other girls is a precursor to their search for the The One, aka the Soul Mate, if you believe in that kind of stuff. Even if you don’t, it represents a search for someone who “knows me” and “understands me.” Someone who will laugh at what I laugh at and be equally moved by the things that move me. Someone I feel so close to that I barely need to explain myself to them.

When a girl’s bestie loses interest, and, for whatever reason, wants to spend time with another friend, it’s a major loss. Girls often describe it in classic stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, until they can find their way to Acceptance. That’s where parents can help.

Tips for Helping Your Daughter Process the Loss of a Friend

1. Do not minimize your daughter’s angst. This “drama” she’s feeling and expressing is real. She needs your willingness to listen, without judgment. Dads, I know you want to help, and sometimes you may feel you have no idea where all these emotions are coming from. Moms, you’ve probably had some personal experience with friendship drama (past or present), so help your daughter’s father understand. Bottom line, the goal is not to commiserate with a sobbing girl, but to help her figure out a way through this.

2. Let your daughter talk about how she feels. Just listen with compassion and patience. When you do that, she will calm down because you are giving her an opportunity to express her feelings responsibly and appropriately.

3. Discourage her from getting on social media or her phone. Otherwise the whole thing will blow up like a conflagration, spreading like wild fire. Allies of both girls will feel pressure to take sides and rush onto the digital battlefield. That kind of drama is social garbage and no girl needs more of it in her life.

4. Work toward a reachable goal. After your daughter calms down, ask her “What is the best outcome you can imagine?” Likely she’ll say, “I want her to be my bff again!” Please gently remind her that she doesn’t have the power to control other people’s feelings or behavior, but she can help herself feel better about the situation. For example, instead of feeling sorry for herself, she could talk directly to her friend. This might result in a new awareness for your daughter in these areas:

a) what she needs in a friendship

b) where she draws the line in terms of how she lets people treat her

c) why it’s essential to have high standards for yourself and your friends

d) how important it is to be with someone who wants to be with you as much as you want to be with them

5. Encourage her to shop for a new best friend. Talk with your daughter about the qualities she deems important in a friend. Help her make a list (if she wants your help). Once she knows what she’s looking for she may decide that the “loss” she just experienced wasn’t so much of a loss at all. She may also be energized to go out and find a new best friend –one who provides more of what she needs.

I hope this helps you and your daughter. If you’ve got a question about parenting tweens and teens, email me.  If your 8-12 year old daughter could use some help navigating friendships, check out my latest book – The Girls’ Q&A Book on Friendship: 50 Ways to Fix a Friendship Without the Drama. 

 

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Parenting Question: What do I do when my kid is in a bad mood?

June 17, 2015

This is Part 3 of my Q&A blog series in which I alternately answer parenting questions and teen questions. If you’re just joining us, you can check out Part 1 How do I keep my child away from a bad friend?” and Part 2Who was that guy my mom was with?”

You've been warned!

You’ve been warned!

Today’s Question: I get that nobody is happy all the time. I’m not! But when my 9 year old son is in a bad mood, it’s not fun for anyone. I’ll admit, I’m not always very patient with him when he’s like that. Obviously that doesn’t help. So, what do I do when my kid is in a bad mood?

Bad moods are kind of like stinky cheese. You open the wrapper and they permeate everything and everyone. The unhelpful thing that parents often do is try to get a child out of a bad mood by distraction or becoming the court jester.  When parents rush in believing it’s always their job to turn that frown into a smile then they’re in for a lot of trouble and they’re not helping their children learn to deal with the ups and downs of life.

Life can be really frustrating. Life can be disappointing. And, if your child expects that everyone will be treated equally, then life is also unfair! OK, so we’re all agreed that crap happens and so do bad moods. Kids need us to teach them essential life skills: resilience and GRIT, which is all about being able to rub up against the challenging aspects of life without wilting and giving up. GRIT also involves the ability to figure out what’s your next best move in the current situation.

When a bad mood strikes there isn’t really anything that a parent has to do. That may be a newsflash for some. It’s only when the bad mood is accompanied by unacceptable behavior – rudeness, unkindness, destruction, etc.  that parents need to intervene. Otherwise, how will our children learn to be good people?

I was talking to my friend, Dr. Deborah Gilboa (AskDrG.com) about her most recent book, Get the Behavior You Want Without Being the Parent You Hate. One of the points she made that jumped out at me was about how we need to teach children that their feelings are less important than their behavior. She’s spot on. As caring parents and educators, we have focused too much on children’s emotions. (“What are you feeling!?”) When that becomes the end-all and be-all, kids assume that their emotions are more important than what they do or say. What little Max feels is not an acceptable excuse for everything he may do. The clear message for Max: Feel whatever you’re feeling. If you’re in a bad mood, be in a bad mood. But you do not have the right to intentionally be cruel or in any way disrespectful to anyone (online or off).

Instead of providing kids with excuses for bad behavior (“She just did it because she was upset.” “He only said that because he’s jealous.”) let’s do a better job teaching them how to deal with unsettling emotions. Let’s also help them understand that sometimes, even when we are disappointed, hurt, or frustrated, we can calm down and express ourselves without hurting anyone.  These life skills will help all of us behave in ways that make us feel good about who we are.

Got a parenting question about raising tweens and teens? Just ask.

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