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.

What are Halloween’s teachable lessons for kids?

October 22, 2015

I'm a bad ass. Just for tonight.

I’m a bad ass. Just for tonight.

Around here we’re experiencing a black and orange explosion. Each year the Halloween house make-overs get more impressive.

We’ve still got nine days to go, so I thought I’d get ahead of the curve and write about Halloween’s teachable moments for kids. Non-spoiler alert: This is not a parent tip sheet on how to put reasonable restrictions on kids’ sugar consumption. (That’s not a bad idea, but I leave it to the nutritionists.) Instead, let’s talk about the “mask” kids put on for Halloween vs. the mask many of our tweens and teens wear every single day. Halloween is a time to pretend to be someone else. It can be great fun and I’m a huge fan. But what happens when your child wears a mask all the time, hiding who he or she really is because of fear of disapproval from peers or even from you?

I’ve been thinking about the fine art of faking it for a long time because I work with tweens and teens and, face it, they can be masters of deception. When I talk to kids about consciously putting on a “mask,” as we do  when we get up on stage to perform in a play or dress up to explore other identities, it fits right into the idea of figuring out who you are, which is the manifesto of adolescence. But when we get so attached to hiding behind the mask that we’re no longer conscious of wearing it then we are faking it without knowing it. That’s never a good place to be, especially at a time when our tweens and teens ought to be exploring what it means to be one’s authentic self.

I have asked kids: How do you know when you’re faking it? They’ve provided profound responses, like these:

I get a sinking feeling in my stomach.

I feel like what I’m doing is not really me, but I continue doing it anyway.

I feel like a fraud in my own body.

I feel like a jumble of very confused spaghetti.

We ought to encourage our kids to reflect deeply on who they are and who they are becoming. They need to think clearly, despite the cacophony of judgments and opinions happening around them and within them. The best way I know to do that is by telling them how much we appreciate who they are when they are being authentic. We need to also model authenticity in own our lives. That doesn’t mean that we are always a certain way. Our behavior and attitudes change depending on circumstance and setting, and that’s appropriate. But when it’s “just us,” in the family, we need to create opportunities to talk about what it means to be true to oneself and to have integrity. No faking it.



How do I keep my kids from fighting with each other?

October 5, 2015

"I hate you!" "I hate you more!!!"

“I hate you!” “I hate you more!!!”

My two older brothers constantly picked fights with each other. I’m talking about shouting, punching, wrestling and chair throwing. While I wasn’t engaged in any of the physical stuff, one of my brothers took special delight in teasing me to the point of tears. My mom did a lot of totally ineffective yelling. Thankfully, the three of us get along very well now, but, man, it didn’t have to be the way it was back then.

I swore, as a parent, I’d do my best to raise my children in a way that gave us peace in the house. We all want that, right? We want our kids to get along with each other so that this life-long connection of theirs will be a loving and supportive one. We want them to grow up looking forward to visiting each other on holidays, with their own kids in tow, and really enjoy being together. Right? Of course!

So how do you get there if you’re currently entrenched in sibling wars? 

Start by taking a good hard look at the way you respond to your kids’ conflicts with each other. Your response can make a whole lot of difference when it comes to turning this ship around. Sometimes our kids fight and bicker and argue so frequently that we become desensitized to the noise and tension and just tune them out. You may only wake up when someone outside the immediate family notices the decibel level and comments, “Wow, it’s kinda loud in here. What’s going on with your kids?” To which you may respond, “Oh, they’re always like this.”

When you, as a parent, turns a blind eye to sibling conflict, the message you’re sending to your kids (especially to the current aggressor) is: “What you’re doing is OK with me.” But it’s not OK. Don’t accept the unacceptable. What you put up with you promote. Time for a change.

Tips to help you make a more peaceful home:

1. Tune in to the your kids’ conflicts. Disagreements are normal and beneficial in the social and emotional development of children. They need lots of practice negotiating, compromising, and problem-solving. But when hostilities between siblings heat up to the point of aggression (verbal and/or physical) your parental leadership is needed… now.

2. Stay calm. To teach kids to be respectful with each other, you need to respond to their conflicts calmly, maturely and respectfully. If you can’t do that in the moment (because your kids’ fighting has pushed your buttons way too many times), take a break… take some slow deep breaths…  and then start to talk to your children about what’s going on.

3. Talk to them separately. Give each child a chance to talk to you very openly and honestly about what is at the bottom of their constant hostility. After each has told you their “side”,  bring them together while you help them figure out a way respectful way through their conflict. Keep doing this and after a while your kids will do this on their own.

4. It’s your job. If you don’t teach them to deal with their emotions in productive ways so they don’t hurt each other, they won’t learn it. Ultimately your leadership will determine how your kids will resolve conflicts with each other, with peers and, later in life, with romantic partners.

If you could use some professional support, please avail yourself of parent coaching. There are many many great parent coaches who often specialize in helping parents resolve sibling conflicts. You might ask your pediatrician or your child’s school counselor for a referral.

I hope this helps.

In friendship,



A Tale of Two Jars

September 16, 2015

Was that really helpful or not so much?

Was that really helpful or not so much?

Imagine two empty glass jars. One labeled Helpful. One labeled Not Helpful. Imagine each time you say something to someone (online or off) you must put a marble in one jar or the other. By the end of the day which jar has more marbles?

Getting along with each other has always been a major challenge on this planet. Each day, each of us has the power to increase hostilities or increase feelings of friendship and cooperation at home, at school. Everywhere. It’s really that simple.

Think about the two jars with this hypothetical situation:

A group of kids sit at a lunch table with one empty seat. A new kid comes over carrying a lunch tray and asks “Can I sit here?”  For each choice, which jar gets a marble, Helpful or Not Helpful?

Someone says “No way!” H or N

New Kid throws a french fry at someone. H or N

Someone lies and says, “Sorry, but I’m saving this seat for my friend.” H or N

New Kid lies and says, “No problem.” H or N

New Kid says, “I don’t want to sit with you. You’re mean.” H or N

Someone says “Sure” and makes room. H or N

Someone frowns but doesn’t move. H or N

Someone quickly puts her sweater on the empty seat. H or N

Someone says, “No weirdos at this table.” H or N

Someone laughs. H or N

Someone feels bad, but says nothing. H or N

Someone says, “Don’t be mean. Let her sit with us.” H or N

Someone whispers, “Why can’t she sit here?” H or N

Someone shrugs and says nothing. H or N

Someone pretends to text. H or N

Someone from another table and invites New Girl to sit with them. H or N

Now count your marbles. How many in each jar? What would you personally do in this situation? Not sure? That’s honest. Think about it some more. I understand this isn’t an easy question. Talk to your children. Your partner. Encourage your kids to talk to their friends. Share the idea of the two jars with them. We all agree that everyone wants to be treated with kindness and respect. That’s so clear. But when it comes to how we treat others, moment to moment, not so clear. Which jar are filling up today?

NOTE: I’m leading a series of Girls’ Friendship Without the Drama Workshops for the Girl Scouts and anyone else who wants to get a group of 15+ together to learn to be more helpful.



How do we teach kids to play nice on social media?

September 2, 2015

Can you guys tell me how to use this thing?

Can you guys tell me how to use this thing?

Your kids might not have gotten a summer break from social media, but even if they did, they’re probably back on it now… in force. With all the time spent interacting with people they know and people they don’t, how do we teach them to play nice?

I use the word “play” because social media is the biggest unsupervised playground in the world. When kids run around on any playground, with no rules or supervision, kids will get hurt… by other kids. It’s the same with social media. Kids as young as eight and nine run amok and use a keyboard as a weapon to show off, to spout off, to grab attention, and to get back at other kids.

We all like to think of ourselves as responsible parents, right?  Responsible parents teach their kids the rules of behavior for different situations. We do it to keep our kids safe and to make sure they don’t hurt anyone or trample on anyone’s rights. Before we give a teen access to the family car we make sure s/he knows the rules of the road and has demonstrated proficiency. It’s the same with social media. When we give a child access to social media via any device, we need to provide rules and oversight. But in this relatively new arena it can be challenging to know exactly how to parent responsibly.  Maybe that’s why many parents seem checked out. Who knows? Maybe they’re thinking, “How am I supposed to tell my kid how to use it? She knows more about this tech or that app than I do! I don’t even know how to upload video!” That excuse doesn’t cut it. As parents we’re the ones responsible for raising good digital citizens. The only effective way to do that is to make it super clear to our kids that whatever standards and expectations we have for their behavior in face-to-face situations are the same when they’re texting a friend or roaming the vast social media playground.

We need to do this because kids are kids. They are immature socially and undeveloped cognitively. They have trouble connecting the dots here. They assume because they are alone with their phone and there is no one else around, they can’t be pegged for anything they do. It’s like hit and run. It’s like drone warfare! They press a button and because they can’t see the suffering they’re causing they somehow believe they did no wrong or they find ways to justify their actions. (“I didn’t start it!” “I wasn’t the only one.” “He did much worse to me!” ) They need us to teach them that their choices matter, online and off. Without our guidance, not only will they continue hurting other people, they are hurting their own reputations. They are also building up an inventory of bad deeds. When that happens it can change a child’s perception of the kind of person he or she is.

So as this new school year kicks off, I encourage you to take a look at The Parents Pledge to Raise a Responsible Digital Citizen. Go over it with your kids before you give them access. And if you’ve already given them access, then you need to pedal back a bit and say, “We’ve got to talk about some rules here, because I need to know that the choices you make whenever you express yourself or communicate in any way, always reflect the good person you really are.”

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