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.

“I’m a good kid, so why do my parents suddenly not trust me?”

October 10, 2017

'Mo-om, can I have a little privacy please??"

‘Mo-om, can I have a little privacy please??”

The most effective tool in a parent’s arsenal just may be a clear memory of what it was like to be a kid. This is especially true if yours are 11-17. Most of what frustrates and infuriates our tweens and teens is probably the same stuff that drove us nuts when our parents did it. Like invading our privacy, for example.

A kid’s need for privacy grows with the child. When it comes to teens, privacy is essential. They equate it to becoming more independent, managing their relationships, and taking care of their own business as much as they can.

Self-respecting teens (ones who think for themselves and resist blind compliance) will push back hard against rules that infringe on their privacy and independence. I’m not implying that “good” parents must dispense with all rules for teens and let them do whatever. Hell no! I’m just pointing out a simple fact: If you want to raise kids who know how to problem-solve and use good judgment when you’re not around, then bring your teens into all discussions about rules. Shutting down their questions with “Because I said so” is likely to encourage kids to  break rules and lie about it.

Today’s email comes from a 15-year-old who is having a hard time understanding some recently imposed parental rules. She’s also having a hard time getting her parents to discuss it with her.

Hey Terra.

I’m 15 and I’m a good kid who gets good grades and doesn’t do drugs or alcohol. I swear! I don’t have friends who do that stuff either! I have always tried hard to protect my parents’ trust in me and do whatever they told me. We used to really be close and I could talk to them about all kinds of stuff, but now it seems they don’t trust me and they’re making all these rules, including using an app to track my phone all the time without notifying me. I asked them “Why?” and they just said they’re worried about me. Then they said, “Why should you care if we track you if you’re not doing anything wrong?” I want to explain my feelings to them, but it’s really hard to talk about this without getting emotional.

Now it seems like we’re fighting all the time and it’s really taken a toll on me and my grades. I feel like I need to keep everything to myself otherwise they’ll just find fault and get into another fight. I really miss talking to them. What I should do to get them to trust me again when I don’t even know why they stopped trusting me in the first place? – Tired and Confused

Hi Tired and Confused,

You don’t understand why, with your long track record of being a “good kid” who consistently makes good choices, your parents are suddenly keeping such close watch over you. Since they aren’t giving you any specific reasons you are confused, frustrated, and resentful. I’m confused, too.

Parents don’t change their behavior out of the blue for no reason. Something must have triggered this sudden and overwhelming fear/worry on their part. Of course they love you and it’s their job to keep you safe. But that’s been true from the moment you were born. It’s also their job to prepare you for living on your own and managing your own life. That includes knowing what it takes to keep yourself safe.

You’re intelligent, mature and responsible. When there are new family rules, teens deserve to know what triggered the change. If you’ve got questions you deserve straight answers.

I’d suggest you write a letter to your parents describing your thoughts and feelings as best as you can. Print it out and hand a copy to each of them. That will show them you’re serious and you want to talk. Remember, the goal of this “talk” is not to change their minds about the rules. That may not happen. Besides, they’ve got the right and the responsibility to make the rules for your family. The goal of the talk is for you to understand better where they’re coming from and for them to understand better where you are coming from.

For example, you might write something like this:

Dear Mom and Dad,

I have tried really hard to protect your trust in me and always respect your wishes, but it seems like all the sudden you don’t trust me. Our constant fighting has really taken its toll on my grades and I really want it to stop. I try to be a good kid. I get good grades, don’t do drugs/ alcohol and I am not friends with anyone involved in that. That’s why I’m so confused that you’ve started tracking my phone. Why don’t you trust me all of the sudden?

I really want to talk about it more but every time I say anything I feel like you’re not listening. You ask me, “Why do you care that we are tracking you if you’re not doing anything bad?” It’s hard for me to explain my feelings. Maybe you felt the same way when you were my age and your parents made some rule you had to follow even though you didn’t understand why the rule was there.

I really miss talking to you but I feel like you have lost confidence and trust in me (and I don’t know why). Because of that, I feel like I don’t want to open up to you.

Can we please talk about this so I can understand you better and you can understand me better?

–Love, “Your Daughter”

Hopefully, a letter like that (in your own words, of course) will lead to a good conversation with your parents.

Good luck and please let me know how it goes.

In friendship,
Terra

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“How can I get my kids to turn off the TV, phone, etc.??”

February 24, 2016

Coincidence that I got this email and tonight I’m speaking at Pleasanton Library about Connecting for Family Time in the Digital Age? Maybe not so much. Parents feel frustrated by the amount of time their kids spend on their devices. The more kids connect to their friends on one device or another, the less they connect with their school work and their parents. So what can we parents do to help them succeed in school and bring the family closer?

by Jason Love JasonLove.com

by Jason Love JasonLove.com

Read what this mom is dealing with:

Dear Annie,

How can I get my teenagers to shut off the TV, social media, their phones, etc. and get their homework done? There are too many mornings when they are not prepared for school because they didn’t finish an assignment or they’re not ready for a test. Yet, they spent a lot to time the previous day(s) on their screens!
—Frustrated Mom

Annie: What have you tried, aside from yelling?

Mom: Telling them to set a timer for 10-15 minutes and do nothing else but schoolwork. They don’t comply.

Annie: Think about the addictive nature of screens and you’ll get a better idea of how hard it can be to drag yourself away. I’m not just talking about teens. Ever said to yourself or a family member, “I’m just checking my email. I’ll be there in a minute.”? Next thing you know, you’ve been swallowed and chewed up by the Space-Time Continuum. Yeah, it’s an actual thing.

Call a family meeting to discuss the problem as it relates to school performance. Your job is to open the conversation, not to lay down the law. Come on too strong and they will fight you. Simply tell them their job is to be good students. (Don’t even mention the TV and tech stuff.) Instead, ask them how they feel about how their school progress. Got evidence of grades? Bring it to the meeting.

Your long-term goal is to help your kids become fully responsible for their own school work and their lives. If your kids admit they could be doing better in school, simply say, “I agree. So what do you think is in the way of better grades?” Let them do most of the talking. Help them to connect the dots between their school progress and their screen time.

The best outcome is acknowledging how hard it is (for all of us) to get away from the screen… even when the timer goes off and we know we should stop now. By the way, if anyone in the family uses technology during family meals, that needs to stop. Tonight.

Part of the solution here is an open conversation where everyone has an opportunity to talk about the pluses and minuses of technology. Part of the solution is modeling and reclaiming unplugged time, for focused work and for play, as a family. And part of the solution is accessibility. If the technology isn’t at hand, then it’s easier to resist the urge to pick it up. (Of course this works best when the homework does not require technology!)

Mom: I will have the family meeting and discuss this with them. I was thinking they just didn’t want to do their homework and they were putting it off — which I totally understand.

Annie: Who likes homework?! So, sure, they’d rather do something more “engaging.” But it’s also very true that they don’t have the brain development to resist the lure of screen time. That’s where you can help, and having their buy-in makes you more of a coach and less of a prison warden. Good luck!

Watch my three minute video on Vidoyen about How to Reclaim Family Time in the Digital Age.

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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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Guest blogger: Keeping Kids Safer from Cyberbullying

May 13, 2015

by Amy Williams

Amy Williams is a journalist based in Southern California. Mom of two, she uses her parenting experience to help other parents raise their children to be the best that they can be. You can follow Amy on Twitter and Facebook.

Why don't they leave me alone?!

Why don’t they leave me alone?!

According to Chinese tradition 2015 is the year of the Sheep. I hope it’s better than last year, which I called The Year Of The Bully.

At the start of 6th grade our son had a physical altercation at football practice. The harassment continued at school, extracurricular events, and on Social Media. We didn’t know because our son didn’t let us in on it, a typical response from tweens and teens who are being targeted.

He’d come home from practice upset, shirt torn, and occasionally with missing his cleats.  At first we chalked it up to the rough nature of the game and forgetfulness. But other things indicated something was wrong.  Some of the puzzle pieces we observed:

  • Our son frequently complained about stomach aches and found it difficult to sleep at night.
  • He was visibly upset and often would erupt in anger toward his younger sibling for no reason.
  • We received emails from his teacher’s about his behavior and falling grades.
  • He didn’t ask for friends to come over or to meet up at the movies.
  • He suddenly stopped wanting to play on his tablet, the family computer, or use his online account with his gaming system.
  • He would cry and refuse to go to Scouting functions or Church activities.

Looking back I can’t believe how blind we were. He was clearly exhibiting signs of being bullied at school and online.

One day I picked him up after football practice. Waiting by the field, I watched our son interact with his teammates. He walked barefoot to the van, desperately trying to hold back his tears. Finally, he let it all out. We felt terrible that we had failed to keep our child safe, but now, we could help and we got right to it.

Our first action was to alert his teachers, bus drivers, and school administrators. It was comforting to know there were extra eyes and ears to monitor the situation. I had a wonderful conversation with the principal who changed the seating chart for the bus ride, changed how the children lined up for lunch, and added a few more sessions about bullying into their counseling rotation. She was trying to educate students on the differences between positive ways to interact vs. aggressive behaviors.

Because 1 in 3 children are victims of cyberbullying and over half don’t report it to an adult, we began an open dialogue with our son. To protect himself, he changed his profile and names on Social Media and gaming sites. During the beginning of our journey, we opened and read all messages together and limited online contacts to friends and family only. We began to actively monitor his Internet and cell phone activity, using a convenient app that allows us to view all his accounts in one place. We also started interacting online with our son so the kids who were targeting him couldn’t miss our presence. Finally, we made a rule that digital technology would only be used in our common living area, no more kids online in isolation (exactly what harassers hope for.)

With a little effort and a lot of emotional coaching, our son is doing very well.  He enjoys school again and now happily interacts with his friends online. His former harassers have improved their behavior, too. They probably didn’t understand they were crossing a line. All in all, with this situation behind us, I’d like to believe this experience will foster my son’s empathy and emotional fortitude to handle adversity.

Goodbye, Year of the Bully. Hello, Year of the Sheep. May it be lucky and prosperous for our family and yours.

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