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.

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.



Parenting Question: How do I keep my child away from a bad friend?

June 6, 2015

For the next few months my blog will focus on answering your parenting questions about raising tweens and teens as well as letting you in on some of the letters I get from tweens and teens. So if you’ve got something on your mind that you could use help with, send it to AskAnnie. (Of course it will be posted without any names, so no worries there.)

Today’s question: How do I keep my 11 yr old away from a bad friend?

And you still think she's your friend?!

And you still think she’s your friend?!

First you’ve got to realize that your definition of a “bad” friend might not be the same as your child’s. In fact, if your child has a history with this friend and is very attached, trying to pry her away will most likely land you smack in the middle of an ugly, pointless power struggle in which you will become the bad guy.

The most effective way to handle something like this is to help your child develop standards for what constitutes a good friend vs. the other kind. You can do it by making observations about what you see. For example, you might say, in a neutral voice, “You know, honey, I’ve noticed, when you come home from Jack’s house you’re usually in a bad mood. Sometimes you take it out on your sister. Sometimes you’re rude to me. I’m wondering what’s going on here?” Right then and there, you create a safe environment for your child to think about what you’ve observed and to let you in on where this chronic “bad mood after being with Jack” might be coming from.

Another approach is to share what you see when the two kids are together. You might say something like this, “I notice when Jack comes over, he seems to be bossing you around. Sometimes I hear bad language and I’m not happy with that. It seems like you two spend more time fighting than getting along. What’s up with that?” After an observational statement like this, simply close your mouth and listen to what your son or daughter has to say.

These techniques let you inside the mind of your child more effectively than provocative statements. (“You don’t actually like that awful boy, do you?!!”) Loaded questions like that don’t go over well with tweens and teens.

If you have good reasons, you are also perfectly within your rights to say, “Your friend is no longer welcome in our home and here’s why…” That conversation can be an eye-opener for your child and provide lots of food for thought.

Bottom line, the best way to influence tweens and teens in the direction of more positive friendships is to make neutral observations so the conversation can open up rather than shut down. That’s how to infuse your child with essential information about what it means to be a real friend.

I hope this helps. And until next time, happy parenting.



Guest blogger: Keeping Kids Safer from Cyberbullying

May 13, 2015

by Amy Williams

Amy Williams is a journalist based in Southern California. Mom of two, she uses her parenting experience to help other parents raise their children to be the best that they can be. You can follow Amy on Twitter and Facebook.

Why don't they leave me alone?!

Why don’t they leave me alone?!

According to Chinese tradition 2015 is the year of the Sheep. I hope it’s better than last year, which I called The Year Of The Bully.

At the start of 6th grade our son had a physical altercation at football practice. The harassment continued at school, extracurricular events, and on Social Media. We didn’t know because our son didn’t let us in on it, a typical response from tweens and teens who are being targeted.

He’d come home from practice upset, shirt torn, and occasionally with missing his cleats.  At first we chalked it up to the rough nature of the game and forgetfulness. But other things indicated something was wrong.  Some of the puzzle pieces we observed:

  • Our son frequently complained about stomach aches and found it difficult to sleep at night.
  • He was visibly upset and often would erupt in anger toward his younger sibling for no reason.
  • We received emails from his teacher’s about his behavior and falling grades.
  • He didn’t ask for friends to come over or to meet up at the movies.
  • He suddenly stopped wanting to play on his tablet, the family computer, or use his online account with his gaming system.
  • He would cry and refuse to go to Scouting functions or Church activities.

Looking back I can’t believe how blind we were. He was clearly exhibiting signs of being bullied at school and online.

One day I picked him up after football practice. Waiting by the field, I watched our son interact with his teammates. He walked barefoot to the van, desperately trying to hold back his tears. Finally, he let it all out. We felt terrible that we had failed to keep our child safe, but now, we could help and we got right to it.

Our first action was to alert his teachers, bus drivers, and school administrators. It was comforting to know there were extra eyes and ears to monitor the situation. I had a wonderful conversation with the principal who changed the seating chart for the bus ride, changed how the children lined up for lunch, and added a few more sessions about bullying into their counseling rotation. She was trying to educate students on the differences between positive ways to interact vs. aggressive behaviors.

Because 1 in 3 children are victims of cyberbullying and over half don’t report it to an adult, we began an open dialogue with our son. To protect himself, he changed his profile and names on Social Media and gaming sites. During the beginning of our journey, we opened and read all messages together and limited online contacts to friends and family only. We began to actively monitor his Internet and cell phone activity, using a convenient app that allows us to view all his accounts in one place. We also started interacting online with our son so the kids who were targeting him couldn’t miss our presence. Finally, we made a rule that digital technology would only be used in our common living area, no more kids online in isolation (exactly what harassers hope for.)

With a little effort and a lot of emotional coaching, our son is doing very well.  He enjoys school again and now happily interacts with his friends online. His former harassers have improved their behavior, too. They probably didn’t understand they were crossing a line. All in all, with this situation behind us, I’d like to believe this experience will foster my son’s empathy and emotional fortitude to handle adversity.

Goodbye, Year of the Bully. Hello, Year of the Sheep. May it be lucky and prosperous for our family and yours.


Defense Against the Dark Side: Where’s Harry Potter When We Need Him?

April 23, 2015

A Good Use of Power

A Good Use of Power

In our 40 years together, David and I have read many books. Add another hundred or so books on tape we’ve consumed on road trips. Yep, we’re addicted to good stories. So it wasn’t too weird when, after a business trip to Florida and a side trip to Universal’s Wizarding World, we decided to re-read all the Harry Potter books… aloud… to each other.

Starting in mid-December, I’d read a couple chapters over breakfast each morning. At dinner, with wine and candlelight, I’d read another chapter or so. If we were driving for more than 20 minutes in any direction, I’d read aloud in the car. (Yes, I can do that without barfing. Lucky me.) At the end of each day we’d watch the film adaptation of the current book, making sure to stop when we got to a new part (i.e., a section of film we hadn’t yet read.)

To date we’ve completed six books and six films. (When we get into something we really get into it.) We’re now half-way through Book 7.

Ever since the kids of Hogwarts took their education into their own hands, I’ve been thinking about the Dark Arts as it relates to the dark side of humanity. While we rarely hear about jinxes or debilitating spells, we’re plenty aware of public humiliation and shaming in social media. Character assasination is a curse, high on the list of Dark Arts. So how do we defend ourselves against the real and present danger of social garbage? How do we teach our kids to defend themselves, online and off, from the hostility of their peers? Where is Harry Potter when we need him?

When I think about what it means to defend oneself, I picture someone standing up for their rights or the rights of others and actively fighting back against the vitriol. But there is inherent danger when one uses vitriol to fight vitriol. The weapon we use has the power to infect us and make us more and more like the perpetrators we seek to vanquish. We can so easily become the enemy. Doing the right thing in a good way isn’t easy.

How do you help your children defend themselves against the prevailing Culture of Cruelty? How do you teach them not to succumb to its ways? Post here and let’s get into it. You can also follow my tweets at @Annie_Fox and @GirlDramaChat. Every Friday you can join the conversation as I host #girldramachat, a weekly Twitter chat (11AM PST) to help parents/teachers/counselors support girls thru friendship drama w/compassion, respect & social courage.




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