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.

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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Holiday stress is coming to town

November 14, 2013

It’s Day 14 of National Novel Writing Month. For those of you outside of my family who are interested, as of this morning I hit 24,684 words toward my goal of 50K by Nov. 30th. (SFX of CHEERS) For all you fictionists… fictionaries? BS artists? Write on, comrades!

To free myself from blogging this month, I’m reaching into my archives for oldies but goodies. Found this one (SFX of DUST BLOWING off stack of yellowed pages)

Holidaze? It’s About Time

Hey, kids! What time is it?

Recently my Christmas cactus awoke from its summer stupor, which can only mean the holidays are racing up the front steps soon to lean heavily on my doorbell. If that sentence triggered a stress response, I apologize and feel your heart palpitations. Holiday stress is very real especially if you’re anything like me when I’m on a quest for the perfect gift, the perfect turkey-brining recipe, the perfect holiday.

But, wait! My handy dictionary defines holiday as: “a day taken off for leisure and enjoyment.” Who was this Noah Webster dude anyway? Obviously he never shopped, hit an ATM, circled a packed parking lot for the fourth time, polished, cleaned, cooked, served, or stared bleary eyed into a packed fridge wondering where three more containers of leftovers could possibly fit.

Before we write-off Webster please note that in a perfect world holidays are meant to be a pleasant break in routine for you and your loved ones – well-deserved time to de-stress and appreciate being part of a family. Who knew?

As a family, we celebrated an unscheduled holiday in January 1996 when a tremendous windstorm roared through our neck of the woods, knocking out the power. No school, no computers, no work. We gathered around the fireplace bundled in blankets as I read aloud from a giant book of obscure folktales. We paused at crucial plot points and guessed what would happen next. We acted out alternative endings. We played Crazy Eights by candlelight. We roasted marshmallows and shared memories from childhood. We ate outrageous ice cream sundaes for breakfast. Hey, we couldn’t just let all that Chunky Monkey melt, could we?

During that long blackout we depended on each other for warmth, comfort, entertainment, and connection. And we had a blast. Five days later when the lights went back on, we all felt a little sad.

21st Century parents and kids need family to provide a place to de-stress. Don’t think your kids are stressed? Here are typical responses I get when I ask kids “What does the word ‘stress’ mean to you?”

“A kinda mind overload.”
“Pressure and lots of responsibility on your hands.”
“Overwhelmed and overworked.”
“…a lot of stuff that I have to do like homework, chores and other things a girl my age should not be stressing about. If I have to do all those things in ONE day I would just pass out. It’s too much pressure!!!!”
“A tax on your soul.”

Heart breaking, huh? And those are from 11-13 year olds!

Most things in this world are constantly changing but our unconditional love for kids isn’t one of them. We hurt when we see our kids so freaked out and wound up, but what can we do? We can’t stop the world, but we can slow down our own little corner and bring the family in closer. Don’t believe your kids want to hang out with you? Probably not all the time. And be honest. You wouldn’t want to hang out with them all the time either! But they do want to spend time with you. Especially when you show them that you really enjoy being with them.

If everyone’s schedule is already packed and you just don’t see how you’re going to create a regular Family Time then I suggest you sit down with your kids and talk about the daily pressures each of you deals with. Discuss how spending time as a family can actually help you all stress less. Unplug the media for one night a week and do something you can enjoy together: Make a meal, work on a project, play a game, go for a hike, make music, dance, look at old family photos or videos, tell stories, read stories, laugh, relax.

Try it and you may get the same bonus our family got when the storm blew out the power… the gift of time, which is the first step to reclaiming the heart of your family during the holiday season and year round.

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