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.

Times are a changin’ so hang on and enjoy the ride

January 7, 2010

Steady in the winds of change

Steady in the winds of change

No way is it 2010 already! Didn’t we just do the Y2K thing? Is it just me or does 24 hours just not last as long as it used to? And what about our kids? They’re growing up at warp speed. Probably a blessing we’re all too busy to notice them morphing into young adults before our eyes, otherwise how scary would that be? Of course, when it comes to other people’s kids you can’t miss the changes, but with your own… most of us have a terminal case of blind spots. Unfortunately, turning a blind eye to reality isn’t the most effective way to parent.

Life is all about change and our ability to deal with it. Our bodies, our feelings, our kids, our relationships, our life situation… all constantly changing. (So are all the molecules on your kitchen table, but we can save that for another time.) The more I meditate and breathe and read and write and think and teach the clearer the changing nature of life becomes. The more I twist my torso into improbable positions (Hey, it’s not painful! It’s yoga.) the more I learn how flexibility is the best tool I’ve got going for me.

“Steady in the winds of change,” my yoga teacher says. Steady as she goes. Steady, strong, centered. Those are the keystones to effective parenting. But steady doesn’t mean stuck and true strength requires insight into what’s needed right now.

Suppose you’ve always had a close relationship with your 12-year-old daughter. She’s been a kid who’s always told you everything she thinks and feels. You’ve prided yourself on the closeness you two share and how it reflects so positively on your parenting skills. Then one day you walk past her room and the door’s closed. You go in. She’s listening to music and reading. “Hi Dad,” she grins, not removing her headphones.

You sit on the bed. “Hi, sweetheart. So tell me, what’s new with you?”

“Nothing.”

An awkward silence follows.

“You want something, Dad?”

You shake your head and slowly walk toward the door. “Dad,” your daughter says sweetly. “Next time could you please knock?”

“Sure, honey,” your smile belies the ice pick skewering your heart. In the hallway your mind reels. Why should I have to knock at my own child’s door?! We’ve never had closed doors between us! She must be hiding something. I’m going back in there and demand that she tell me what’s going on. I couldn’t talk to my father about anything important, but I’m going to make damn sure that my daughter…

WAIT!

What’s going on here? Is this about your 12-year-old’s normal desire for some privacy and respect or is it about your own fear that your relationship with your child is changing into… who knows what?

Should you zig or zag? If you zig only because it’s how you’ve typically reacted when you’re hurt then you’re not paying attention to your child’s needs. Nor are you awake to the parenting challenge in front of you. An unwillingness to change in spite of changes happening all around is a sure-fire formula for unhappiness. The result will be internal struggles and plenty of ongoing conflicts with your ever-changing tween or teen.

What to do? How about going for a walk? An actual walk is great if you can swing it, but any conscious choice to take a head-clearing break will help. While you’re in the self-imposed time out ask yourself:

What does my child need from me now? It’s an essential question whenever you feel stuck in your parenting mission. Children’s behavior at any time, any age, broadcasts a need. Your job is to identify their need as accurately as possible then offer your help. Of course, there’s no formula that will always work because their needs constantly change. One moment she’ll need a hug and an encouraging word. Another moment he’ll need a sympathetic ear and no words from you at all. One time they’ll need you to set clear limits with unambiguous consequences for noncompliance. Another time they’ll need you to respect the meaning of a closed door without taking it personally.

Where do your needs as a parent come in? That depends. You’re absolutely within your rights to have your role, your values, your rules and your property respected. Those are valid needs. But when you need to be needed by your child or you need to use your child to look good in the eyes of others, that’s unhealthy. Always be an adult and take care of your own changing needs as best as you can. Your kids have a big enough job growing up and learning to take care of themselves without having to take care of you too.

Change is our constant companion on this journey we call life. Our kids are the clearest evidence of that. They’re rapidly developing into independent young adults. As parents we’re privileged to have an essential role in their unfolding. If we pay close attention we get to witness parts of the process. We also have the honor of helping them become who they are. Part of the reward is an opportunity to learn and grow along with them.

It’s a new year. A new decade. Change is the air we breathe. The best we can do for ourselves and our family is to remain as steady as possible. It also helps to keep your eyes, your mind, and your heart open. That’s what our kids need most from us.

Filed under: Holidays,Meditation,Parenting,Yoga — Tags: , , , , , , — Annie @ 5:31 pm
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First she said she would but now she won’t…

September 16, 2009

We all need time to reflect

We all need time to reflect

Got email from a teen confused about Mom’s reaction to the fact that the girl and her boyfriend were having sex. The confusion came from what probably seemed like a bipolar set of responses from Mom regarding the Sex Talk.  Here… you read it:

Hey Terra,

Me and my bf have been together for over 10 months. My mom knows him well and loves him. A couple months ago me and him started having sex and I was like OK, I want birth control. So I told my mom I was “thinking about having sex” and that I didnt do it yet but wanted birth control just in case. And she was like “OK. I understand. That’s responsible.” And she got it for me.

A couple of days ago I told her that me and my bf did it for the first time. She seemed to take it alright. She said she knew it was coming and was glad I told her. Then later that day, out of nowhere she started being really weird towards me. Now she barely talks to me, hardly talks to my bf, wants to know where I am and what I’m doing all the time even if I’m just with a girlfriend (and she was never like that ever). She’s being mean towards me now. I can’t take it anymore. I’m so uncomfortable around her. I hate being home. I don’t know what to do. Please help.

–Confused

This is so sad for Mom and daughter. And so unnecessary. Just in case you’re wondering, no, I’m not texting the Bad Mother Police to come cart this woman away just because she isn’t jumping for joy. But her hostility has overshadowed her previous reasonable response. Of course that was then (My daughter having sex some day = abstract idea which I can handle.) vs. now (My daughter’s having sex?!??!! For real?! OMG! What can I do? I feel freakin’ powerless!!)

If I could I’d have picked up the phone and talked to Mom. I’d have told her I understand that finding out your little girl is sexually active takes some getting used to. I would have said that her knee-jerk stress-response isn’t uncommon. But I’d also add that she needs to stop and think about what she’s doing because the silent-treatment and “meanness” is driving her daughter away. This woman doesn’t want that!

But Mom didn’t ask me for help, the teen did. So here’s what I told her:

Hi Confused,

You did the right thing telling your mom about your relationship and about needing birth control.  Your mom did the right thing by helping you protect yourself.  I think she is having a hard time dealing with the REALITY of the situation.  You’re her daughter and up until now she’s thought of you in a certain way (that would include being a virgin).  And even though she said she “knew it was coming” that can be different from actually having a new reality in your face.

Here’s what I suggest… Talk to her.  Tell her that you told me. Tell her how you’re feeling about her barely talking to you and “being mean” to you.  Tell her that you miss the trust and closeness the two of you have always had and you want to talk about that.

Then close your mouth and LISTEN to what she has to say.

Your mom loves you and she wants you to be safe and happy.  She doesn’t want to lose this special relationship. She’s just not sure how she feels about this next phase of your life. She’s confused. If you’ve ever felt confused, then you probably understand.

She loves you.  You love her.  Talk.

In friendship,

Terra

Of course giving advice is a lot easier when it’s someone else’s kid. And you’ve got to expect this kind of conversation will be awkward on both sides, at least initially. But getting real with the people you love most in the world is sometimes the only way to nurture and strenghthen your connection. That’s gotta be worth whatever mumbling, stumbling embarrassment comes with it.

Filed under: Parenting,Teens — Tags: , , , , , — Annie @ 6:07 pm
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Of course I’m listening! What did you say?

September 1, 2009

   

So connected and yet not

 

 

So connected and yet not

Good ol’ Mr. Rogers knew what he was singing about when he was putting on his sneakers: “I mean I might just make mistakes if I should have to hurry up and so I like to take my time.” When he was home, I’m sure his kids got at least the same level of attention as he gave his shoe laces. To his credit, that guy could really focus on one thing at a time.

Recently I’m becoming more aware of how cranky, stressed and distracted I get when I try to do a whole lot of stuff at once. So I’m trying to slow down and zero in. But it ain’t easy. Admittedly, as I’m writing this I’m also picking remnants of chewed almonds from in between my teeth, answering email, tweeting, and squinting at this sentence as I wonder how long it will take for the eyeglasses I left in our hotel room in Elko, NV to make their way back here. (Soon please!)

Tweens and teens constantly email me for advice. They say their parents “don’t listen.” Parents tell me the same thing about teens. We’d all like to improve parent-teen communication but we can’t do our part when we’re busy with six other things or even one other thing. (Same goes for improving communication between you and your honey-pie.)

Obviously you can’t always drop everything to listen to your child. But let’s be honest: not many of us do open-heart surgery or negotiate international crises at home. So when our kids want to talk, need to talk, we could take a break and focus on them if we choose to. But most of the time we keep doing whatever we’re doing and shift into an unconscious auto-listening thing (“Uh, huh. Uh, huh”).

Here’s why that’s a bad idea.

  1. It’s disrespectful. In a healthy relationship trust and respect have to flow in both directions. Want your kids to respect you? Then you’ve got to respect them. Auto-listening is rude.
  2. It’s not fooling them. Even toddlers have been known to turn Mom’s or Dad’s head to get their attention. If an 18 month old knows that no eye contact means you’re preoccupied, how can you hope to fake it with a teen? And why would you want to?
  3. You’re showing them that “other things” are more important to you than they are. You don’t really feel that way so why send that message? Your teens probably don’t get 100% attention from their teachers or their friends. Let them at least get it from you while you’re having a conversation.
  4. Auto-listening is poor modeling. Our kids don’t listen to us for a couple of reasons: a) they’re teens and they need to at least pretend to shut us out so they can build their own identity and  b) we haven’t spent enough time showing them what active listening looks and feels like. You can’t do much about their developmental need to shut you out, but making a real effort to listen (with eye contact, 100% of your attention, and an open heart and mind) teaches them to listen more attentively to you and others.

WARNING! Don’t assume an increase in real listening will eradicate all disharmony between you and your teen. (We’re working on communication here, not miracles.) But if you focus more on listening you can reasonably predict there’ll be less confusion about what was actually said in a conversation. That means less arguments studded with gems like: “I never said that!” “You never said that!” and “What are you talking about?!”

That’d be cool, right? Hello? Anyone there?

Filed under: Parenting,Tips — Tags: , , , , — Annie @ 7:27 pm
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On becoming a more tolerant, patient human being (Damn it!)

August 18, 2009

Sometimes we all need a new perspective

Sometimes we all need a new perspective

Face it, the people we live with (and love and cherish more than life itself) can push our buttons like nobody’s business. (That expression never made much sense to me but I’ve always liked the sound of it.) This button-pushing fest can be especially competitive between parents and teens. They give us “that” look,“that” attitude, etc. etc. and we just lose it. And you don’t need me to tell you that we parents do and say things that irritate the crap out of our teens.

But who’s the adult here, right? It’s bad enough to blow up (or melt down) with our own flesh and blood, but when I think about what my “moments” taught my kids about self-control, conscious choice-making, and treating others with respect, well, I want to turn myself in to the bad parent police. OK, so no parent is perfect. And we all have gone off the deep end from time to time. We need to forgive ourselves in the same way that we forgive our kids when they act… crazy.

A new school year is about to burst forth with all kinds of never-before-seen challenges to our parenting chops. If you haven’t reached human perfection yet, you might want to try this simple process. It can help you be more of the parent you want to be more of the time. (i.e., especially when someone in your family is being soooooooo annoying!)

When a family member does or says something that grates on your nerves, ask yourself:
1. What’s going on with me right now? Irritation? Embarrassment? Frustration? Boredom? Resentment? Jealousy? Identifying what you’re feeling is the first step to understanding yourself and your reactions and taking those reactions off automatic pilot.

2.Why is this bothering me so much? We just may be least tolerant of those whose behavior reflect traits that we least like in ourselves. That’s something worth thinking about when a family member starts to drive you crazy.

3. What’s my usual way of responding? What are the usual consequences of my response? How do those help/aggravate the situation? Thinking clearly about your usual reactions can encourage you to explore other options. Especially if what you normally do just makes things worse.

4. What does this person need? That’s not often asked when people push your buttons, but if you can ask it and consider the possible answers, negative family dynamics may start to shift. For example, does this person (my son/daughter/partner) just need someone to listen to them and acknowledge their feelings? Sounds like what most of us want and need at different times. So the problem may not be what the person wants, but rather their inability to ask for it directly. If you can figure out what they want and you can provide some or all of it, you might find a) their “irritating” behaviors become less frequent, b) you feel more compassion and love towards them, and c) you feel good about having freed yourself from an unhelpful automatic response. Win-win.

Begin today. Talk honestly with your teens about the challenges all people have expressing our needs and responding to family members in conscious and compassionate ways. Share with them what you’ve learned about being part of a family. (The positive legacy and the not so.) Remind them that families are forever, but family dynamics are not carved in stone. Just because two people have always interacted in a certain way doesn’t mean they can’t change. With compassion and a willingness to be honest about your feelings and your needs, you teach your children that healthy adults can continue growing in positive directions. Bottom line, just like our teens, we parents are also works in progress.

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