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 have to be perfect in everything!

April 8, 2014

I'm trying hard, Dad, but I'm not perfect

I’m trying hard, Dad, but I’m just not perfect

All parents want their kids to succeed in school. But what does the word “success” mean to you, as a student? Do you know? Is it all about getting a 4.0 GPA? Being accepted into a top-tier college? Getting a high-paying job so you can buy great clothes, an awesome car and (some day ) and equally amazing house? When it comes to actually defining “success” are you and your parents on the same page? If there’s a possibility you’re not and/or that you and your parents might need to to e-x-p-a-n-d your definitions, check out Challenge Success, where students, parents and schools are learning there are many many ways to be successful in life.

But when a parent’s definition of success equals: “All A’s and nothing less,” life can become way more stressful than it needs to be. Take, for example, this email from a high school student who seems to be cracking up under the strain of his parents’ pressure to be “perfect.”

Hey Terra,

My parents are super successful and push me to be like them. Not only do I have get straight A’s, I also have to get 100% on all tests. If I don’t they take everything from me till I get them. It’s impossible to get 100% in everything. Now all I do is obsess about schoolwork. In fact, everything I do has to be perfect. If there’s a stain on my shirt I spend the entire day trying to get it out. If I have a zit I can barely stand being out in public. I think I’ve become a perfectionist and I hate it. I have no friends any more because I’m just soooo focused on everything else. My parents think I’ve got a great attitude, but it’s a curse to have to have everything be absolutely perfect. Can I change? – Too Perfect

Dear Too Perfect,

You’re right, it is impossible to get 100% in everything. Human make mistakes. It’s how we learn. Your parents are holding you to unrealistic expectations. They have good intentions, but you seem to have reached a point in your life where you are a) unhappy with your need to be perfect and b) would like to make some changes in yourself. The good news is that you can. Talk with a counselor because these behaviors (the compulsion to “spend the whole day trying to remove a stain on your shirt”) are deeply rooted and hard to change without help from a trained professional. Either you can talk honestly with your parents and tell them what you think and feel or you can just walk into the school counselor’s office and be honest with him or her.

 Hey Terra,

My parents are fully aware of my perfectionism and they have told me that’s it’s good for me. That there’s nothing wrong with striving to be perfect. So they’re in another world. I don’t want to see a counselor because I can’t have a flaw and needing to see a counselor is a flaw. You know, I used to be a normal guy who had fun and friends. It’s just gotten out of control. I’m a neat freak now and constantly find flaws with myself. That with a need to get 100% on everything. This just sucks. I literally cried one day when I got home because I got a 98 on a test. – Too Perfect

Dear Too Perfect,

Your level of perfectionism is not a “good thing.” It’s unhealthy. This much stress will continue to make you unhappy. To get healthier talk to your parents about seeing a counselor or talk to them about lightening up or take yourself in to talk with the school counselor. btw, needing counseling doesn’t mean you are “flawed.” It simply means that you (like all humans) feel a bit overwhelmed at times (like now!) and you need some help understanding your behavior so you can lower your stress levels and be healthier. Not flawed… smart!

Hey Terra,

I’ll go and see the counselor.

Dear Too Perfect,

Smart move! Good luck.

In friendship,

Terra

PS If you want to find out more about how stress can work on your body and your brain (in good ways and not so much) check out my book for teens, Too Stressed to Think? It can help!

 

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GirlWorld: Twisted values, twisted friendships

March 25, 2014

We can be mean to her and still be nice, can't we?

We can be mean to her and still be nice, can’t we?

“Do unto others” makes no sense to middle schoolers.  (Ideally it should, but that’s not how TweenWorld currently operates.) To help our kids navigate the turbulent and toxic waters of peer relationships, we’ve got to wake up and smell the reality stinking up their world (online and off).

Of course both girls and boys have middle school friendship woes. And yes, both boys and girls can become Peer Approval Addicts. But girls often take their feelings of hurt, jealousy, betrayal and rejection to dramatic and damaging heights. So let’s talk about girl friendships.

The social garbage girls throw at each other is the stuff of rumors, gossip, harassment, and exclusion. And it often happens under the radar. Because even though a girl may be eviscerating a former bff at school and online, she still wants to think of herself as a nice girl.  (I said it was twisted, didn’t I?)

Parents are rarely aware of what’s going on on the battlefield of their daughters’ friendships. It usually comes to light when their girl feels victimized and can no longer contain her distress. At that moment she may spill the whole story of her so-called friend’s bad behavior.  In response a parent might logically advise:

“Tell her how you feel about this.  Tell her she’s got to stop.”

“I can’t tell her that!”

“Why not? It’s true!”

“Because it will hurt her feelings!”

“Excuse me!?  You won’t tell her she’s hurt you because you don’t want to hurt her feelings?!  What about your feelings?”

“Forget about it, Mom/Dad. I’m sorry I said anything. You just don’t get it.”

Bingo! Parents can’t fathom the logic here. But to the girl, the logic is clear. She will swallow her pain because she (justifiably) fears that complaining about bad treatment will cause her friend and all the others in their friendship circle to ditch the plaintiff, swiftly and completely. Our targeted daughter will be friendless and she knows it.  And because that is a fate worse than death she puts up with the ongoing abuse. Pretends it doesn’t hurt. Continues to think of these girls as her friends and continues to hang out with them and be abused.

Her confusion over the love-hate/comfort-pain mix may cloud her judgment when she starts dating. If she puts up with emotional abuse in a friendship why assume she’ll choose a thoughtful caring romantic partner over one who dominates, demeans and controls?

As parents we need to help our daughters develop enough self-respect to demand respectful treatment from others, especially those closest to them. Let’s help them acknowledge the truth of what’s going on in their friendships. We won’t be able to change “mean” girl behavior in others, but we can, at the very least, help our daughters acknowledge that their pain at the hands of friends is real, undeserved and unacceptable.  Then we can point out their options:

1. Stay silent. Stick with friends who hurt you and expect more of the same.

2. Talk to them about it and let them know you’re no longer giving them permission to disrespect you. If nothing changes, consider option #3.

3. Take a (permanent) vacation from the drama. Reach out to people who share your values about what it means to be a real friend.

Here’s to Real Friends vs. the Other Kind. 

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Believing Lies: A cautionary tale in 8 emails

March 5, 2014

Why don't they believe me?

Why don’t they believe me?

It ain’t easy being teen when the social stuff takes up so much time and emotional and mental real estate. A teen’s ability to resolve conflicts in multi-tiered relationships doesn’t match the challenges. We are communicating with more people than ever, but all our texting, chatting and tweeting only increases the chances of miscommunication.

Another problem, peer conflicts rarely involve only two people. Maybe it started with Isaac and Charlotte, but within minutes all their friends become combatants. Increase the number of fighters on any battlefield, real or virtual, and you increase the intensity of the fight and the number of casualties. For example:

Hey Terra, I am new this year and have worked hard to make friends. Now someone has been telling my close friends that I talk behind their back, which I never did! And they actually believe it! Now everyone hates me, even people I don’t know. They call me a FAT HIPPO! They even made a picture of me with Ho, Liar and Skank written on it.  No one wants to be my friend and the rumors keep building up. It’s like I’m being tortured for something I didn’t do! Honestly, I would rather die than be here! I’m innocent and no one believes me. –Feeling depressed!

Hi, Feeling depressed,  I’m sorry this awful stuff is happening to you. It’s so unfair when people refuse to listen to the truth and continue spreading lies. It’s hard enough moving to a new place and it doesn’t help having all this drama to deal with. Do you have a school counselor? If you haven’t yet talked to a caring, trusted adult, you should. Don’t feel powerless because you are not! –Terra

Hey Terra, I did talk to my counselor and he told me to ignore them and keep hanging in there. He called the girls in to “sit and talk” to me and IT GOT WORSE! They called me a baby and worse things! I hate it soo much and they still don’t believe me! I wish everything would just go away!  Your reply has actually made me feel better cuz I feel like someone finally cares! :) thank you!  btw, my name is Kate.–Kate

Dear Kate: Glad you talked to the counselor. That took courage. He thought if you “ignored” the girls their mean behavior wouldn’t have the power to upset you as much. But it’s not working. Go back and tell him “It got worse!” He needs to make it clear to these girls that what they are doing is not acceptable and if it doesn’t stop then their parents will be called in. If this harassment continues, talk to your parents so they can let the principal know what’s going on.–Terra

Hey Terra,Umm, do you know how I can prove to the girls that I’m innocent? If you don’t then that’s fine. I will talk to my parents and counselor. – Kate

Dear Kate, I’m glad you’re going to talk with your parents and to the counselor again. Sorry, I don’t know how you can prove your innocence. If your word isn’t good enough, nothing will be. Stop trying to convince them of anything.  –Terra

Hey Terra! Guess what?! Yesterday everyone apologized to me! They really felt bad for believing those lies! I said it’s OK, but inside I know I need to watch who I trust and what I say around people! Everyone’s hanging out with me more. They said it’s cuz they think I’m a strong person! They said they’re proud of me :) –Kate

Dear Kate, I’m proud of you, too. Sometimes, when we say: “It’s OK” what we mean is “I am letting go of the bad feelings I’ve been holding.” That’s called forgiveness and it’s wise. It’s also wise to carefully choose who to trust. Especially after trust has been broken. Take what you learned and move forward with confidence! –Terra

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