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.

Moms helping daughters with friendship issues

November 7, 2015

We've got the tools and we're brave enough to use 'em!

We’ve got the tools and we’re brave enough to use ’em!

Last month I began partnering with the Girl Scouts of Northern California by presenting my  Girls Friendship without the Drama Workshops.  In the first hour I teach girls to navigate all kinds of sticky peer conflicts while the moms (and the few cool dads who’ve shown up) sit back, listen and observe. During the second hour the girls skedaddle into another room where they engage in more (supervised) friendship-building skills while the parents and I circle the wagons and get to the heart of what girls need from those of us who love them.

To date I’ve done nine of these workshops with another seven scheduled. Girls can’t wait to start using what they’ve learned. Moms are reminded how painful it can be feel “replaced” by a friend. Dads are stunned at how hard it is for girls to tell a friend, “Stop. I don’t like that.” Parents are thrilled to have new insight, language, and context to help their daughters do a better job navigating friendships.

Here are some tips to help you help your daughters and sons resolve the inevitable issues that come up between our kids and their peers.

Dealing with Friendship Challenges

  • Calm Down. No matter what awful thing some child has done to your daughter or son, calming down first makes it easier to get through the upset. So take some slow deep breaths and encourage your child to do the same.
  • Show that you get it. Acknowledge that it hurts when a friend turns against you. Reflect back what you hear, “You sound really hurt, angry, and confused.” Share one of your own “hurt by a friend” stories. Share what you learned and how you used it to become a more thoughtful person and a better friend. This models empathy and reassures your child that (s)he will survive.
  • What Can/Can’t You Control? Tell your child,You can’t control a friend’s behavior or feelings, but you can get a handle on your own.” When we try to control things we can’t control, it stresses us out and makes us feel powerless. Don’t let your kid go there!
  • You’ve got options! Even after a blow-up with a bff, your child is  far from powerless. She always has options. For example, your child might:
    • Never talk to that friend again
    • Get back at her by spreading gossip
    • Suppress the hurt and act like it didn’t bother you
    • Find new friends

Brainstorming should be open-ended. Encourage your child to freely explore ideas without your judging them. They’re just ideas and this is a clearing process. Even the worst, knee-jerk options offer great (and totally safe) learning opportunities. In addition, you’ll give your child a gift by talking about all of this. When s/he doesn’t have to worry about your rushing in to “fix” the problem, your child’s thinking process will be accelerated. Hopefully, she’ll move closer to the time when she no longer accepts disrespectful behavior from anyone, including herself!

At the end of the process your child may decide to take a vacation from the drama or to find the EXIT out of the friendship. That’s her choice. But just because she’s finished, doesn’t mean she has the right to make life unhappy for an ex-friend. I put it is this way: You have the right to choose your friends, but it’s NEVER okay to be cruel or disrespectful. Keep your distance if you choose, but always treat others the way you want to be treated. Old rule. Still applies.

 

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A Tale of Two Jars

September 16, 2015

Was that really helpful or not so much?

Was that really helpful or not so much?

Imagine two empty glass jars. One labeled Helpful. One labeled Not Helpful. Imagine each time you say something to someone (online or off) you must put a marble in one jar or the other. By the end of the day which jar has more marbles?

Getting along with each other has always been a major challenge on this planet. Each day, each of us has the power to increase hostilities or increase feelings of friendship and cooperation at home, at school. Everywhere. It’s really that simple.

Think about the two jars with this hypothetical situation:

A group of kids sit at a lunch table with one empty seat. A new kid comes over carrying a lunch tray and asks “Can I sit here?”  For each choice, which jar gets a marble, Helpful or Not Helpful?

Someone says “No way!” H or N

New Kid throws a french fry at someone. H or N

Someone lies and says, “Sorry, but I’m saving this seat for my friend.” H or N

New Kid lies and says, “No problem.” H or N

New Kid says, “I don’t want to sit with you. You’re mean.” H or N

Someone says “Sure” and makes room. H or N

Someone frowns but doesn’t move. H or N

Someone quickly puts her sweater on the empty seat. H or N

Someone says, “No weirdos at this table.” H or N

Someone laughs. H or N

Someone feels bad, but says nothing. H or N

Someone says, “Don’t be mean. Let her sit with us.” H or N

Someone whispers, “Why can’t she sit here?” H or N

Someone shrugs and says nothing. H or N

Someone pretends to text. H or N

Someone from another table and invites New Girl to sit with them. H or N

Now count your marbles. How many in each jar? What would you personally do in this situation? Not sure? That’s honest. Think about it some more. I understand this isn’t an easy question. Talk to your children. Your partner. Encourage your kids to talk to their friends. Share the idea of the two jars with them. We all agree that everyone wants to be treated with kindness and respect. That’s so clear. But when it comes to how we treat others, moment to moment, not so clear. Which jar are filling up today?

NOTE: I’m leading a series of Girls’ Friendship Without the Drama Workshops for the Girl Scouts and anyone else who wants to get a group of 15+ together to learn to be more helpful.

 

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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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