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.

Day 23: Kindness and Respect Challenge (Standing up for the underdog)

October 23, 2013

I seriously need a friend.

Kids and teens can view of themselves as powerless in a world where adults call all the shots. But that’s not the whole story. Kids have power. And every day, your children and mine get opportunities to use that power to do good or to do harm. Sometimes, turning a blind eye and choosing to do nothing results in more harm.

If we, truly value kindness and appreciate it when it comes our way, we can’t ignore suffering. We’ve got to do our part to keep kindness alive… every chance we get. And we’ve got to teach our kids to be kind. But how?

Child or adult, it takes extra social courage to exit our comfort zone and to help a vulnerable person. When kids ask me about standing up for someone who is being harassed, I tell them they should never put themselves directly in harm’s way. But I make it clear that there are many ways to help an underdog and let him or her know: “I’m not like the others who are giving you a hard time. I’m here to help.”

Fuel for Thought (for adults) —At different times we have all been underdog, top dog, and middle of the pack dog, so we know what it feels in each of those places. Being on the bottom, without support, can be terribly lonely. Think about a time when you felt like an underdog. Where did you turn for support? What response did you get?  Think of a time when you helped an underdog. What happened?

Conversations That Count (with kids)– Talk about the concept of a “pecking order” amongst animals and humans. Say this to your children: “Most of the time, when we’re not on the bottom, we don’t give much thought to those who are.” Now ask your kids what they think about that. True? Not true? How do you know? Talk about who is “on the bottom” in your child’s class. (Even kids as young as second or third grade have a keen awareness of social strata.) How do other people treat that child? How do you treat that child? What might happen if you stood up for the underdog?

Teach—Challenge your child to be a hero and shake up the social strata at school by standing up for someone who needs a friend. Follow up and find out from your child what happened with the challenge.

Please let me know how you teach your kids about the importance of standing up for the underdog.


It takes a real man to be a dad

May 28, 2013


Any dude can father a child but it takes a real man to be a dad. Dads are all in, heart and mind, for the long haul, encouraging their kids to become self-reliant young adults. Dads also teach by example that everyone (including children) deserves respect. When we see people treated unfairly it’s not enough to feel uncomfortable. Dads help their sons and daughters develop the social courage it takes to make things better.

OK. Enough of the high-level stuff. Let’s talk in-the-trenches, day-to-day. How does Dad do his best for his kids, especially when they are teens? Check out these tips. Make them part of your daily routine and you’re on your way:

  • Be a safe person to talk to. When your child wants to discuss tongue piercing, a solo cross-country trip, or dropping out of school to pursue hip-hop, stay calm. Take a deep breath. Take ten of them. Fyi, no one’s asking you to approve of every one of your kid’s crazy ideas. But kids need you to listen with respect. And if they ask for advice (don’t give it if they don’t ask), be a consultant and offer your wisest counsel. But do not freak out. Otherwise, they won’t seek your input; they’ll just go behind your back and do whatever they damn please. Which they may do anyway, but at least your voice will be in their head and yes, that can be a powerful antidote to stupidity.
  • Catch them in the act of doing something right. Some fathers believe you teach responsibility by berating kids when they mess up. That’s actually backwards and Dad knows it. Unacceptable behavior is unacceptable. No quibble there. But your kid is more likely to do the right thing consistently when you notice. You don’t need to throw a pizza party or give out gold stickers. Just say something simple like: “It was nice of you to help your brother with his homework.” End of celebration. Simply praise the behavior you want to see more of. It works with kids. Spouses, too.
  • Show your squishy side. There are plenty of fathers who act all mucho macho. But Dad isn’t afraid to express “softer” emotions in front of his kids. He’s also equally at ease when his girls and his boys are upset. When you show your family it’s more than OK to cry, to be afraid, to be compassionate, you teach your sons what it means to be a real (hu)man. And you raise the bar for the kind of partner your daughter will want.

Dads, your love, support and encouragement are essential to your children’s health and well being, so keep up the good work. And Happy Dad’s Day. Enjoy the attention. You deserve it.

Filed under: Holidays,Parenting — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Annie @ 10:15 am

Asking for love in the right places

November 20, 2012

The following is an excerpt from my new parenting book,  Teaching Kids to Be Good People. It’s from the chapter on Emotional Intelligence.

If you try you might get what you need

Right before Thanksgiving a few years back, my dear friend Bettina, who was having some health issues, emailed me: “I know this is incredibly presumptuous and Miss Manners would be scandalized, but I’m wrangling for an invitation.”

I was blown away. Not by her directness (God no!), but by her feeling that she had no right to say, “I’m not feeling well and I don’t want to be alone. Can I come over?” Immediately I called and thanked her for trusting me to understand her vulnerability. I also gave her top marks for the way she had honored herself by asking for what she needed. She was relieved to hear that she’d done the right thing by speaking up.

Most of us are much quicker to stand up for others than for ourselves. On some level we must believe we don’t deserve to get our emotional needs met. But where does that foolishness come from? Here’s my theory . . .

Babies are irresistibly cute so adults fall hard and take good care of them. Once they’ve gotten their sweet baby hooks into our hearts, they are experts at expressing their physical and emotional needs, nonverbally. As our children grow, our conversations with them center mostly on the physical aspects of life: Sweetheart, are you hungry? Do you want something to drink? Is it nap time? Why don’t you put on a sweater? As a result, asking for tangible stuff is very easy for kids: Dad, I need a ride. Mom, I need you to sign this. I need a new phone. I need money.

Because most parents don’t teach kids about expressing emotional needs, teens rarely say: I need a hug. I need to share this exciting news! I need you to listen. I need you to tell me the truth. I need help.

I asked a bunch of sixth–eighth graders to rate themselves on these two statements: “It’s easy for me to ask for help” and “I pretend things are OK when they aren’t.” The results? Twenty-five percent of the kids said it was “never or almost never” easy to ask for help. Another 25 percent reported that “sometimes” they had trouble asking for help. And here’s another sad finding: A whopping 83 percent admitted that “sometimes, always, or almost always” they pretend things are OK when they aren’t.

An unwillingness to ask for help, coupled with a habit of pretending things are fine when they’re not, is unhealthy. When we deny our human need to connect heart-to-heart, we end up short-changing ourselves and the people we’re closest to.

A parent’s role is to raise an emotionally healthy young adult. That includes helping a child recognize what s/he’s feeling and learning to ask for support when needed. Of course self-reliance is essential and being able to calm yourself at times of stress is a life skill, but there’s no denying that we all feel vulnerable at times. It’s also true that we’re all interdependent. When we let people know how we feel and allow them to love us and help us, we honor our humanity. We do the same when we love and help others.

On that Thanksgiving, my family and I were heading out of town, so our home was going to be cold and dark. I couldn’t offer Bettina a warm place at our table. But with my encouragement, she was confident enough to express her needs to another friend who gladly opened his heart and home. What would surely have been a sad and lonely day for her, turned into a wonderful occasion. Less than two years later, Bettina died. Thinking about her, then and now, I’m comforted knowing that she wasn’t alone on one of her last Thanksgiving holidays. She was brave enough to reach out and ask for what she needed. Bettina taught me a powerful lesson, especially important when we’re vulnerable: When it comes to friends and family, hold nothing back. Allow yourself to love and be loved fully, without limits.

Happy Holidays, from our family to yours.



A little breakfast, a big lesson in Emotional Intelligence

October 14, 2009

As we were in 1959

As we were in 1959

Today I interviewed Rachel Simmons for my podcast series: Family Confidential: Secrets of Successful Parenting. (No, it’s not posted yet. Gimme a week or two, ok?) We talked about her must-read new book The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence and about emotional intelligence. For me, EI (aka EQ) is the ability to:

  • identify what you’re feeling
  • accept the emotion as it is (without editorializing about your right to feel it)
  • express emotion in responsible ways to people who need to hear what you have to say

I’ve immersed myself in this stuff for decades and love talking with people like Rachel, who’ve also made EI their life’s work.

After the interview I recalled a 2003 keynote speech I delivered in Los Angeles. The title: Why 21st Century Kids Need 21st Century Parenting. This feels as good a time as any for a revisit. Here’s a excerpt:

Before we were parents we had parents. People who showed us what it took to be a mom and a dad.

I woke up one morning when I was 5 and heard my mother sobbing behind the door of her room, my father comforting her. My brothers told me that Grandpa had died. A while later, Mom emerged, hair freshly brushed, lipstick bright red. She cheerfully asked what I wanted for breakfast. I wasn’t hungry, I was confused. I wanted to ask about Grandpa, but Mom’s tight smile warned me not to say anything that might upset her. While I pushed a piece of French toast around my plate I had a realization–an absolute epiphany: To be a grown-up means that you have to hide your sadness!

When I was 15 my father died suddenly of a heart attack. His passing left a huge hole in my heart, but instead of grieving I did what I thought grown-ups do, I suppressed my sadness.

Fast-forward 25 years. I’m in the dentist’s chair getting a replacement for an old childhood filling. The doctor pauses in the procedure, gently rests a hand on my head and asks how I’m doing. At his touch a tidal wave of sadness overwhelms me and I start weeping. For the next 48 hours I’m emotionally numb and clueless about what the hell is happening.

David helped me realize that the dentist’s touch had reminded me of my father, who often tousled my hair. With that revelation, the floodgates burst… finally I was able to grieve for my dad. And through my expression of loss I released myself from feelings which held me hostage for decades.

That day I learned about the power of unexpressed emotions. They don’t actually ever go away. Instead, they work like a mild acid, slowly eroding your insides, boring holes in your emotional foundation, creating gaps in your ability to connect with others. I decided not to ever bury feelings that need to be expressed. I vowed to teach my children, through my own example, to express their emotions in healthy ways.

I got my chance soon enough. During most of 1994 my mom was dying of Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Every day I drove an hour each way to visit her. During endless games of Scrabble we finally found the words to communicate with an intimacy we’d never shared before. I am eternally grateful for those last 10 months we had together… grace-filled and excruciatingly painful as they were.

After spending the day with Mom I’d arrive home each night to my own family, scared, stressed, worn down and so raw. I offered no one a lipstick smile. Instead, I trusted that our daughter and son (then ages 15 and 9) would know how to respond to a person in need. And they did. Their backrubs, cups of tea and loving words of encouragement got me through that endless year. I don’t know how I’d have coped if not for David and our sweet kids. If I’d chosen to play the game of “Everything’s fine, honey” I’d have betrayed myself and robbed my children of an opportunity to learn what it means to be a real human being. By sharing the truth of my emotional experience I gave them the chance to exercise their compassion (toward me and their grandmother) and to grow beautifully toward adulthood.

For years we’re on the receiving end of our parents’ choices, observing closely everything they do. As little children we accept that they knew best about what we need. As teens we wonder if they’ve got a clue about who we were or how to parent. After all that watching and evaluating and on the job training with kids of our own, at this point, what could we possibly not know about being a parent?

We know it all, right?

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