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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“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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“I’m never going to win!”

August 3, 2017

What's the use?

What’s the use?

We all want our opinions and feelings respected, especially by the people we care about most. A guiding rule for a healthy relationship (the only kind worth having) is: “I will respectfully try to understand where you’re coming from and you will do the same for me.”

Doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes we’re too upset to be respectful so we do things we later regret. Sometimes others disrespect us and we’re too embarrassed or discouraged to speak up.

When it feels like nobody treats you with respect, what then? Do you have fight with everyone? Or is it better to just accept it? That’s what this teen wants to know.

Teen: When I hang out with my friends  they do PE-related things. I act like everything is okay, but they know I suck at that kind of stuff. Still they always hold obstacle courses, running races and monkey bar challenges. It’s as if they do it to mock me.

Next, my parents. If I get anything below B+ on a quiz or test, they don’t bother noticing me. What’s worse is that when my twin sister gets something below a B+, they offer to help her.

Lastly, my twin sister. She is intolerable. She has successfully managed to steal my friends by lying. Every time I tell her to stop, she acts like I am bullying her. To others, she seems sweet, but she is sociopathic towards me. Except when she has no one else to hang out with. Then I’m her fallback. I try and stand up to it, but my parents have her back. It’s as if they have taught me a silent rule: “Don’t try to stand up for yourself because you are never going to win these battles.” So I have to put up with it. What do I do? –So Unfair

Dear So Unfair,

I am sorry you’re going through such a difficult time. I really am. Feeling comfortable and accepted by our friends and family contributes to our sense of well-being. When people are with us, we relax and trust they will treat us well. When we don’t feel accepted,  everything else in life can be more challenging.

You don’t have to and shouldn’t accept disrespectful behavior. Ever. Relationships change when someone has had enough of the status quo and decides to talk honestly about her feelings. You took the first step toward improving your relationships by writing to me. Now take the next step.

Parents. You don’t get to choose your family. Sorry, no trade-ins allowed. So what can you do with the family you’ve got?

Find a time for a private conversation with the parent that is easier for you to talk to. You might start by saying something like this: “There are times I feel you respect (care for, love, etc.) my sister more me.” Then take a slow deep breath and calmly, respectfully and without whining, shouting, or crying, give one recent example to illustrate your point. After you’ve said your piece, close your mouth and really listen to what your parent says. Then respond calmly. Then listen so more. This is how you give someone the chance to understand you better and give yourself the opportunity to understand them. You sound like a very intelligent and articulate person. I am sure you can do this.

Sister. You and your sister also need a calm, respectful conversation. There are things she does that you don’t appreciate. There are also things that you do which she does not appreciate. Working together can make your relationship more peaceful. Your parents’ support can help. They want you and your sister to get along better, too!

Friends. Sounds like the problem comes from the difference between your friends’ interests and your own. Make a list of all the things that you deem important in a close friendship. For example you can try to fill in the blank in this sentence:

“I want a friend who __________.”

Keep filling in the blank until you’ve created a good long list of qualities you look for in a friend. If shares my interests is a high priority for you, then you need to look for friends who enjoy doing what you enjoy. If PE activities isn’t your thing, what is? Think about it and figure out how you can connect with people who share your interests during the school year, on weekends and vacation time.

I hope this helps.

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Teen questions her “path” in life

July 17, 2017

It's okay not to know where you're going.

Life is for learning where you’re going. .

When you were seventeen did you have a clue about what you wanted to do with your life? I only knew that I wanted to go to Cornell University and to have a boyfriend. (I might be messing with the order of my past priorities.) Did I know what I wanted to study in college or what I’d do with my degree once I graduated? Nope. But I don’t remember feeling pressure about it either. Not from my mom or any adults. That was a simpler time, after school counselors but before the invention of the word ‘stress.’

Many of today’s teens (and their parents and counselors) feel differing degrees of anxiety around the whole career-thing. I had a 6th grader tell me the thing he was most stressed out about was getting into medical school. So I wasn’t surprised by this recent email from a seventeen year old. Saddened by the unnecessary pressure she’s putting on herself, but not surprised.

Teen: I’m about to start my senior year in high school and next year I’ll have to choose my college course. I feel pressured every time people ask me my ambitions for the future. I understand they worry about me, but repeating over and over again the same question makes me want to remain a child forever (although I’m 17).

But the worst is when people ask about my grades. They say, “With such high grades you can choose whatever you want.”  That really doesn’t help, it does not reduce my options.  I know what I don’t want but I don’t know what I want. I’m also freaked at the idea of having the same job forever. What if one day I wake up and decide that it is not for me?

I think I am afraid to grow up. Now everything seems to be finally ok (not in a perfect way, of course, but having the best friends around me is everything). Maybe I’m a Peter Pan, but just a bit older.

Annie:  I understand what you’re saying. I am a bit of a Peter Pan myself. The idea of having to grow up and be stuck in the same job, doing the same thing forever sounds a bit like a prison to me. To avoid that, I freelance and have cobbled a career together using my interests and talents. Every day is totally different. A life without being on anyone’s payroll may not suit everyone, but it works for me.

Sometimes kids and teens feel sure of what they want to do in life. You know, like the eight year old who is certain she wants to be a lawyer because her mom is a lawyer. Sometimes that certainty never wavers and the child actually grows up to be a lawyer. More often, though, our ideas about what we want to do when we “grow up” change as we experience life, study different things, and get inspiration and encouragement from people we meet.

You are only seventeen. It is unreasonable to expect a high level of certainty about the kind of future you want. If people keep asking you about it, be polite, but be clear. You might simply say, “I don’t know yet what I want to do with my life. I’ve got plenty of time to decide.” And that’s the truth.

When you need to choose college courses, choose what interests you at that time. A course is an opportunity to learn new things. It is not a commitment to a long-term future. Please try to stop worrying about it. The future has a way of working itself out without our having to do anything. Keep your mind and heart open and think about what it is that you really enjoy doing. Follow your own interests in addition to school assignments and you’ll get clues as to what your path in life might become.

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