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 try to tell my best friend I don’t want her help, but she gets mad.”

January 5, 2018

Twenty years ago I set up shop as Hey Terra at TheInSite.org to help teens manage their emotions responsibly so they can develop self-respect and maintain healthier relationships. 50K teen emails later, the most common question I get is still about the challenges of dealing with feelings and speaking up for oneself in a friendship.

Unknown

I know exactly what you need!

Our kids don’t know how to  resolve peer conflicts non-violently. Retaliating with social garbage is a form of violence. Suffering silently is a form of self-inflicted violence. If teens can’t master interpersonal skills, it doesn’t matter how high their GPA is, they’re not going to be happy and successful in any measure that counts.

Teen email question #50,001:

Hey Terra,

I’ve never really trusted my best friend with my secrets because she always blurts them out even if she promises she won’t. Recently a boy has been messaging me and telling me that he likes me. Of course went to my best friend and told her. She asked if I liked him. I said I did. That was a mistake! She told my other friends who I really didn’t want to know because they gossip. Now my best friend is messaging the boy and telling him everything I’ve said about him.

“I’m not really one that stands up for myself cause I don’t want to make other people mad at me. So, sticking up for myself is not really an option here. I know I sound pathetic but I can’t help it.”

Anyways, she keeps saying, “He really likes you!” and it’s making me feel bad because I now realize now that I just want to be friends with him. I’ve told him I don’t want a relationship with him right now and that we are just friends. He’s okay with that but now that my best friend is messaging him he’s like “When will you be ready to date???” I know she is telling him to say this stuff.

I’ve tried to tell her that I’m not really into him any more but she gets mad and is like, “You are so annoying! If I had a chance like this I wouldn’t pass it up, so if you do we won’t be friends anymore.”

I know any person would stick up for themselves but I physically can’t. She will get mad at me and I really don’t want to lose her as a friend. She is my comfort zone we’ve been friends forever. I have other friends but if me and my best friend aren’t friends anymore she will turn them all against me and I’ll have nobody.

I guess what I’m really asking is: What should I say to my friend to make her not be mad if I “breakup” with this boy…? – Scared

Dear Scared,

I understand why you’re scared. Most people would be a little nervous to have a conversation like this. But I don’t buy that you can’t do it. You can. And you really ought to learn how. Slow deep breaths can help make you feel calmer and braver. So does practicing what you want to say before you’re standing in front of the person who needs to hear it.

As scary as talking to your friend may be, it’s important to do it any way. Why? Because if you don’t learn to how to tell people what is and is not okay with you, then you will continue to feel powerless. But if you speak up when someone’s not treating you well, you are much more likely to be respected. And for sure, you’ll have more respect for yourself.

Your friend may mean well or she may just like to be in charge… of everything. Either way, this is your life, not hers. You say if you stick up for yourself she will get mad at you and you’ll risk losing her as a friend. That’s a possibility. But before you decide that is not a risk you ever want to take, please answer this question: What is your definition of a friend?

In your mind, is a best friend someone:

  • I can’t trust with my secrets because she “always blurts them out even if she promises she won’t?”
  • who texts a guy and tells him “everything I’ve said about him?”
  • who blabs my business to other people?
  • who doesn’t seem to care what I want (in this case: no romantic relationship with this boy)
  • who keeps pushing forward as a matchmaker when I don’t want her to?
  • who doesn’t listen to what I say and tells me that I am “so annoying” for wanting to decide when I want to date someone or even if I want a boyfriend at this time in my life?

If your definition includes any or all of the above, you’ve got the perfect best friend. If not, maybe it’s time to reimagine what kind of friend would be a better fit for you.

I hope this helps!

In friendship,
Terra

P.S. Happy New Year. May 2018 bring you many opportunities to shine your light.

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“Sometimes I get really angry!”

November 13, 2017

What are you looking at?

Our kids live in a faster, noisier, more stressed out world than the one we grew up in. That contributes to more people “losing it” more often. Not surprising kids may wonder if they’ll grow up behaving as poorly as some of the adults they observe at home, at school, on TV. That was on the mind of this teen who recently reached out to me:

Teen: I get angry kind of easily and I’m afraid that I might abuse when I get older. Please help.

Annie: What makes you angry? Just certain things? Or everything and everybody?

Teen: Sometimes I just get angry because someone is bothering me and I ask them to stop and they don’t stop so I get really angry. I get angry over little things sometimes, too.

Annie: Humans have lots of emotions. Sometimes we get angry over little things and bigger things. Frustration, annoyance, irritation… those are parts of anger. Emotions are just emotions. They come and go, right? We don’t always get to choose how we feel about someone or the situation we find ourselves in. You feel whatever you feel in the moment. But here’s the thing, your emotions can’t hurt other people, but your behavior can. Sounds like you’re worried you will have trouble controlling your behavior in the future. Is that it?

Teen: Yes. I worry about that. A lot.

Annie: The future doesn’t exist. There is only now. This moment. But the choices you make, the way you act in this moment and the next one can lead to the kind of person you will become in the future. It’s all about your behavior. So, tell me, what do you do now when you get angry?

Teen: If I’m in class I go out in the hall and just cool down. But when I’m not in school I usually just hit something soft like a pillow.
Annie: I’m proud of the good job you’re doing cooling down. You recognize that it’s never ok to be violent. When you get angry you know what you need to do so no one gets hurt. Awesome! You said you were worried that you “might abuse” when you get older. Is there someone in your family who is not doing such a good job when he or she gets angry? Someone who is verbally or physically hurting others when they are mad?
Teen: I don’t know anyone in my family that abuses.
Annie: I’m really glad to hear that! You are being very responsible with your behavior when you’re angry and it sounds like the people in your family are doing the same. You’re learning from them to do the right thing. I don’t think you have anything to worry about.
Teen: Ok. Thanks.
Annie: You’re welcome. Email me any time you need to talk about something that’s worrying you.

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“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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“I miss him, but…”

September 25, 2017

Joni Mitchell wrote: “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone?” In other words (not as concise and rhythmic as a Joni lyric): “Damn! If I’d only nurtured and appreciated my honey pie before I blew the whole thing to hell!”

Lost love is often lovelier in hindsight than it was in fact. And, as this teen describes, the disconnect between wanting the relationship and wanting out can be so confusing!

You can get it if you really want it, and you do the work.

You can get it if you really want it and do the work.

Teen: I recently broke up with my boyfriend because he was very overwhelming and overpowering. Also, I’m taking the SATS for the first time, which is another reason I can’t have him being so overpowering because I need to study and take practice tests and focus on me and my future. But I miss him, and being apart from him made me realize this…

Annie: Love can be confusing, right? Strong emotions can pull you in opposite directions at the same time and make it really hard to think clearly! First off, props to you for having clear goals and working toward achieving them. You sound like a very smart girl. You realize that you need space to consider some of your options moving forward in your education. The future doesn’t exist, but we create a path with every choice we make. You’re making important choices that will give you many options for the future.

Missing someone can be excruciating. I get it. But you broke up with your boyfriend for a reason. And even though you miss certain parts of the relationship, I’m guessing you do not miss feeling “overwhelmed and “overpowered.” Correct? What else do you not miss about being with him?

Teen: It’s true. My future is so important to me! I really want to be a marine biologist. And no, I do not miss how overpowering he was but I miss him, his personality, and how immensely happy he made me feel (happy until he got overpowering, of course). I just feel very confused as to what I want because he would tell me he was in love with me and I think it was genuine. I started to lose how I felt towards him since he got to be too much.

Annie: It sounds like what he said and the way he treated you did not align. Love has nothing to do with power and everything to do with cooperation, communication, and compassion. Please know that you should never have to put up behavior that makes you uncomfortable.

Here’s my best advice: Move forward with your life. You have so much going for you. Don’t waste it.

 

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