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.

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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Day 21: Kindness and Respect Challenge (The Apple, through my eyes)

October 21, 2013

My friend, filmmaker Tiffany Shlain, has created another cultural fog-buster in Technology Sabbath. In six minutes she sounds an alarm and gently nudges us to unplug and create time for the people we love and the non-tech activities that make us whole.

Inspired, I stayed offline from Friday evening til Sunday morning. No email, Twitter, FB. No IMDB, Wiki, Yelp. And absolutely no regrets. So what did I do for 36 hours without the Internet?! I did not climb walls, turn into Super Bitch, nor eat massive amounts of chocolate. Instead…

Early Saturday morning, after bagels and blueberry smoothies, David and I romped with The Pupster through the wet grass at the beautiful park over the hill. From there, we headed south to Puppy Training Class. Then up, up and up to Mt. Tam, for a hike through redwoods high above the bay. In the evening we met up for dinner with our lovely son and daughter-in-law, and her awesome parents.

And in between? While David worked and The Pupster sacked out in the sun? I crawled through a portal of my own devising, out of the 21st century and into a timeless time. And there I stayed for who knows how long, content simply to observe and draw an apple.

I started with this:

Simply beautiful. Beautifully simple.

 

Expressed it as this:

 

Gala Time Unplugged by Annie Fox

Then, like a guiless Black Widow, I devoured my model:

Delicious sweetness

And still, this remnant of a remnant continued to draw me into itself:

 

Trapped potential

Trapped potential

And hold me there:

Power unlocked

Until what remained was:

All that's needed to start anew

All that's needed to start anew

Enjoy your week, my friends. Be kind and respectful to yourself. Take the time you need to be outside of time.

 

 

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Still waiting for bullying to end by itself?

September 15, 2013

Another make-shift memorial mourns another bullying victim

Another kid pushed to the edge by bullies. Another disheartened sheriff addresses a news conference. “(She) was absolutely terrorized on social media.” Another disbelieving mom tries making sense of life without her little girl. “I never, ever thought it would happen to me or my daughter.”

This tragedy happened in Florida, though it could have been any place. Fitting, since the internet isn’t really any place but, at the same time, it’s every place. This case of peer abuse picked up fuel on ask.fm before it exploded Monday inside a 12 year’s mind, with the thought her life was worthless. Do ask.fm and other social media sites have any responsibility for the vicious behavior of its users? Yes. Because it happened on their turf. Could they do more to make their sites “safer.” Absolutely. Kids haven’t yet learned to manage their destructive emotions. They flip out of control frequently. That’s why adults monitor what goes on during school recess. Someone has to  keep the peace because kids can’t do it themselves. Is it a perfect system? No, but it helps.

Social media is the largest unsupervised playground, yet where are the monitors? If anyone 15 years ago thought that kids online would naturally treat each other with respect, he’s surely woken up by now. We’re all awake now, aren’t we?

Social media sites need human moderation. That won’t completely solve the problem of bullying, but it will help to lessen it. Parents, find out which sites your kids frequent and what level of moderation (if any) those companies use. Bottom line: Your kids should not be on social media sites that don’t have human moderation in real time. Anything less puts your child at an unacceptable level of risk. Take away your business and see if that gets them to clean up their act.

Pressuring social media sites to take responsibility for the well-being of their tween and teen users, is an essential step. We also have to do our part, as parents and teachers. Our children seriously need an education at home and at school.  Kids are so vulnerable to peer approval addiction, their thinking about right and wrong can get totally warped in the moment. Parents, kids, teachers, school administrators, counselors, coaches, youth leaders, mentors, all of us need to do more to reel in the culture of cruelty. Every day in which we react to a tragedy with a make-shift memorial, instead of the daily work of building schools and communities of compassion and respect, is a day we’ve failed our kids.

Filed under: Cruel's Not Cool,Parenting,Pop Culture,Technology,Teens — Tags: , — Annie @ 5:40 pm
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Helping Kids Deal w/Social Garbage, Online & Off

November 8, 2012

I originally wrote a version of this article for TakePart.com, an interactive publisher and the digital arm of Participant Media.  Check out my weekly Education posts there.

"Help! I'm drowning in social garbage!"

I’ve been answering teen email since 1997. The ongoing Q&A has made me an expert on the social garbage many 11-17 year olds slog through every day. Typical teen questions include:

  • What do you do if your friend is mad at you but won’t tell you why?
  • What do you do if people are spreading rumors about you and no one believes that they aren’t true?
  • What do you do when friends pressure you to do stuff you don’t want to do, but you’re afraid not to because they’ll make fun of you?

Sound familiar? These might be the same issues we once dealt with, but our children aren’t responding to them the way we did before social media. When 21st-century kids experience peer conflicts, online and off, they typically respond with a level of social aggression (aka verbal violence) that damages individuals in profound ways and pollutes school climates everywhere.

In September I spoke with nearly a thousand students at a couple of international schools, one in Singapore and another in Chiang Mai, Thailand. We talked about Real Friends vs. the Other Kind, based on my Middle School Confidential series. In each presentation the kids and I discussed tough issues like: stress, peer approval addiction, and the brain’s occasional habit of working against our desire to do the right thing. Even though I was 7,000 miles from home, the comments and questions coming from these students expressed the same conflicts and emotional confusion I’ve heard repeatedly from kids in San Jose, St. Louis, and Philly.

Back in the last century, when we had a problem with someone at school, we went home for dinner with the family, did homework, and watched TV. Sometimes we even read a book to take our minds off school and social garbage. The next morning in class combatants were usually less combative and we were all better able to concentrate on whatever we were expected to learn.

Today’s kids are mind-melded with peers 24/7. School and home are equally conducive for frantic texting and getting more people involved in the drama du jour. Status anxiety regularly submerges so much mental real estate, our students are often flooded with destructive emotions. They can’t think clearly when they’re upset. No one can. Which is why the adults who live and work with kids need to actively teach kids to be good people, otherwise, their moral compasses will be calibrated solely by their equally clueless peers. (Not a pretty thought!)

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