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.

My parents won’t let me get a phone!

November 3, 2014

To tell the truth, I don’t remember how I met Vicky Thornton and Jen Rehberger. We probably connected on Twitter, as so many do. But I totally remember each of my visits to their podcast What Really Matters? where we always get real about 21st century parenting challenges, swap personal parenting stories, and laugh… a lot. I’m a big fan of their work and was delighted when Vicky and Jen each took the time to review The Girls’ Q&A Book on Friendship: 50 ways to fix a friendship without the DRAMA. They were also kind enough to interview me for their show (to be posted soon). And if that weren’t support enough, they are hosting today’s stop on my blog tour.

Here’s one of the tricky questions Vicky and Jen asked me for the tour.

I'm missing out on... everything!!

I’m missing out on… everything!!

Question: My parents won’t let me have a phone yet and I am the only one of my friends without one.  They are texting to each other all the time and I am left out.  I really want one, but I will not be able to get one until next year.  How can I still be a part of the group if I don’t know what they are always texting about?

Annie:  This is a tough one. Your friends are communicating through their phones. Each time they do, they share information and feelings that bring them closer to each other. I understand why you feel left out. Do you understand why your parents won’t get you a phone until next year? If you aren’t clear about their reasons for waiting, please talk to them. Find out why they don’t think you are ready yet. And during that conversation, hopefully you will have the opportunity to tell them (calmly and maturely) why you believe you are ready to have a phone and to use it responsibly. This conversation may not change your parents’ feelings about getting a phone, but at least you will understand where they are coming from and they will understand where you are coming from.

As for feeling closer to your “always texting” friends… talk to them about it. You might say something like this “You guys are always texting. I feel left out. How would you feel about putting down the phones when I’m around?” Then close your mouth and listen to what they say. Real friends want to make each other feel included… not left out. If your friends aren’t willing to make you feel more included, what might that tell you about the kind of friends they are? Something to think about!

Read the rest of Vicky and Jen’s girl friendship questions and my answers here.

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Eye and mind-opening event at the Microsoft Store

October 6, 2014

Let's learn about this together, kid!

Let’s learn about this together, kid!

Last Thursday’s Talk n Tech event at the MicrosoftStore in The Village (Corte Madera, CA) was a real eye-opener for me. And judging by the expressions and comments of the parents who came by to meet me and see what’s going, the same was true for them. I love technology. Especially for the ease with which it connects us and equalizes our access to information.

That said, I’m not a techie. I’m a people person. And visiting the tech stores I’ve been to in the past hasn’t been all that much fun.  But I’ve got to say that it felt really good to be in the Microsoft Store, and it wasn’t because I received compensation related to the event and to this post. Nope. I felt comfortable in the space because the folks who work at the store were so welcoming. Tea was offered! Along with nice wooden stools to sit on. One of my biggest surprises was learning how a Microsoft Store can be used by community groups for meetings and presentations at no charge! More than a store this felt like a 21st century community learning environment.

Beyond the latest in technology, what else could be learned in this space? After a tour of the store and an impressive demo of Surface Pro 3, five people and I were treated to lunch at The Cheesecake Factory, and we tackled that question. The conversation around the table was so dynamic and insightful, I wish we had recorded it for posterity!  We parents talked openly about the benefits of technology in the lives of our kids and families. We also shared our genuine concerns about content, access, balance, and guidelines for helping kids develop personal standards for their online behavior.

Big questions came up around the table, without concrete answers… yet. But the questions themselves are instructive, and they spotlight areas that most parents can relate to. For example:

1. How do I keep my kid safe(r) online? Kids are wired to push boundaries and take risks. Parents are wired to keep kids safe and to help them learn to keep themselves safe. “Spyware” doesn’t help kids develop good judgement. And “just say no” isn’t effective parenting. Our job must include helping them identify what it means to be a responsible digital citizen and why their choices matter, online and off.

2. How do I teach my kids to self-monitor and self-regulate without my having to play “Computer Cop” 24/7? Social media is the vortex where Character Development battles with Peer Approval Addiction. Social media is often a highly emotionally charged environment with no boundaries. What’s a parent’s role in preparing our kids to inhabit this digital landscape?

3. How do I personally fight my own connection addiction so I can model what I preach and my family can establish a healthier balance between screen-time and unplugged time? What do I do when my kids push back… hard?

4. After I’ve ’snooped’ and discovered my child has crossed the line… how do I have conversations that will help him/her a) manage those knee-jerk destructive emotional responses and b) get my voice inside his/her head to help my child to think more clearly when I’m not around.

Hopefully, what was begun will spark more discussion. The Microsoft Store and the technology there will definitely make having those conversation a lot easier.

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National Unplug Day – Time to pull it

March 7, 2014

You can do it. Just yank.

You can do it. Just yank.

It’s official. We’re now all so connection addicted we need a National Unplug Day (March 7-8) to remind us that life is not virtual. I’m thrilled because I know the difference a (national) day makes. What paltry lives we’d live were it not for:

  • National Beer Can Appreciation Day (Jan 24)
  • National Lost Sock Memorial Day (May 9) 
  • National Be Bald and Be Free Day (Oct 14)

Or the one I just declared: National Control Your Destructive Emotions  When Your Dog Has Eaten Your Favorite Gloves for the SECOND Time Day!!! (March 1)

Breathing….. ahhhh….. I think I’m OK now.

I am unplugging at sundown this evening through sundown mañana. Join me. Be prepared for push-back from your family (especially tweens and teens). But you know, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Any amount of unplugged time you commit to, as a family, benefits the family. (Sleeping doesn’t count.) Unplugging creates unique non-digital opportunities for your family to:

Look into each other’s eyes– Unplugging clears our vision and helps us see and understand our children and partners. Understanding often leads to empathy and love. Or it may lead to confusion and frustration which can be resolved with a family meeting. (Another great use of unplugged time.)

Have fun together – Remember face-to-face laughter? How good it feels to enjoy each other’s company? This doesn’t happen with a screen between us. Get creative. Use your imagination. Model what that looks like and encourage your children to use theirs. Be inspired by what this 11 year old did with cardboard!  Be together, as a family, without a keyboard. Let loose and laugh.

Problem solve together – In the next 24 hours how about playing a strategy game? Or brainstorm and work together on that back-burnered home improvement project? With music and a team spirit, even painting a room or clearing out closets can be fun! (Don’t forget to donate the discarded toys and clothes.)  

There is fungus among us and it's beautiful!

There is fungus among us and it’s beautiful!

Get out in nature – When was the last time you and the kids took a walk, a hike, a bike ride together? How about getting out there and exploring the real world this weekend? Last time I looked, it’s still pretty awesome… and all 3D rendered!

Get to know each other – Our teens are  rapidly morphing into adult versions of themselves. Not always easy for them or us. Disconnecting from technology helps us connect with our children so they get more of our love,  support and guidance. They need this time with us. We do to.

Ready. Set. Unplug! Have fun and let me know how it goes.

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Holiday Focus on Family

December 17, 2013

Excerpted from my book, Teaching Kids to Be Good People.

A no-tech solution to connection addiction

While we’re all moving in ten directions at once, online and off, the notion of evenings and weekends where parents and kids spend unplugged time together is laughably retro. But life is neither virtual nor infinite. We’ve got to create an antidote to 21st century craziness otherwise our kids will grow up without us really knowing them and without them knowing us.

Listening (the old- fashioned way) with open eyes, mind, and heart is the best way we connect with our kids, and teach them how to connect with others. That’s what we want from them and for them. They need it now while they’re still learning about healthy relationships from us, so they can use it later when they’re creating intimate relationships of their own.

How do we teach them that the people we care about aren’t just on Facebook and Twitter, they’re right here in the real world and they deserve our attention?

Fuel for Thought—Think about a relationship you have where the other person is often “distracted.” What’s it like being with him/her? Contrast that with someone who is normally “there” with you. Now think about the level of “there-ness” you give to your family. Set a goal for the next week: Do a better job being with your family when you’re actually with them. Do not allow distractions to get in the way. Observe what happens.

Conversations That Count—Talk with your partner and child(ten) about digital distractions, including phones, games, TV shows, and computers. Ask them to rate the family (on a 1–10 scale) regarding the presence of distractions while people are talking to each other.

(Scoring scale: 1 = When we talk to each other, we’re not doing anything else; 10 = When we talk to each other there’s always a “distraction” present.)

Your 21st century child may not even have noticed or considered these “distractions” as anything other than “normal.” Ask what s/he thinks family life (vis-à-vis “distractions”) might look like when s/he’s grown up with their own family.

Teach—Create an Unplugging Challenge. Start small and doable. For example, “On Saturday from 4:00–5:00 p.m. we’re unplugging for an hour to do something fun, together, as a family.” Be ready for pushback from tweens/teens. Remind them it’s only for one hour. “Surely you guys can last 60 minutes w/o FB?!” “Yeah, of course we can, but we don’t want to!!!”  The more resistance, the more likely your kids have a connection addiction. But don’t cave. Be upbeat. Take suggestions for a non-tech activity the family can do together for that short time. Play a board game, card game, make popcorn, build something, cook something, bake something, create something, take a walk, go for a bike ride, have an impromptu meal outside, read aloud from a mystery book, look at old family photos and tell stories. Etc. etc. Be together. Focus on each other. Have fun. Repeat often. Appreciate being a family. It’s the best gift there is during any season.

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