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.

Parenting Question: How do I teach my tween to set boundaries?

July 30, 2015

What's wrong with you? Can't you take a joke?!

What’s wrong with you? Can’t you take a joke?!

For better or for worse, our tweens and teens spend immeasurably more time with their friends than we did at their age. UOK wid dat? If we allow it, digital access enables them to connect every waking hour. These interactions strengthen interpersonal skills as often as they undermine them. Our kids must learn to set boundaries with other kids so they’ll develop confidence in who they are and what they need in a relationship.

Today’s question comes from a parent whose 10-year-old daughter has two challenging friendships.

Friend A says things to my daughter  that undermine her confidence (“Everyone knows your writing sucks.”) but then laughs it off as a joke. Friend B is very sweet and kind, but too clingy. She always wants to do whatever my daughter does.  Are there phrases she could use to help her tell the bitchy chick to change or go away, and to tell the lovely friend to be more independent?

– Frustrated Mom

Setting boundaries is something we all have to learn, because we need to teach people how to treat us. When we stay silent in the face of insults or we laugh along with the people mocking us, we send this message: “It’s OK for you to put me down.” Since that’s not the message your daughter wants to send, she needs to speak up for herself.

When Friend A makes nasty comments then hides behind “Just kidding!” your daughter needs confidence to let the girl know she just “crossed the line.” Ah, but how?

Many girls equate challenging a friend with being “mean” and that’s part of the reason they avoid “confrontations.” Make sure your daughter understands this isn’t a confrontation, it’s a respectful communication. Let her also know that standing up for herself (or others) doesn’t make her “mean” it makes her brave.

Advise your girl to stay calm and strong while she makes eye-contact, and simply speaks the truth. She might say something like this to Friend A: “That didn’t feel like ‘kidding’ to me. It hurts. If you’re really my friend, you won’t do that again.” Now Friend A has been put on notice and your daughter has taken back her power. If your daughter needs help saying these words, role play with her until she feels ready for the conversation. Hopefully this will work. If Friend A continues to make cutting remarks, then your daughter will have to continue standing up for herself and/or find the EXIT to this friendship.

In the case of  “too clingy” Friend B… that’s a bit trickier. Your daughter has the right to choose who she spends time with but she doesn’t ever have the right to intentionally hurt anyone. (Remind her how it feels to be on the receiving end of one of Friend A’s zingers.) But that doesn’t mean she must continue to allow herself to be smothered in her clingy friend’s embrace. She might say something like this to Friend B: “I like spending some time with you but not all the time. I want to spend time with other friends, too. So today, let’s hang out together during lunch recess. Then tomorrow I’m going to hang out with Friend C.” That’s a clear communication and it is sensitive and respectful. Friend B may not be happy to hear that she won’t be with your daughter tomorrow, but if your daughter stays calm and delivers the message clearly and confidently, Friend B will (eventually) figure out that she needs to widen her friendship circle.


Friendship issues from the 4th grade

March 27, 2012

This is Part 3 of a 5-part series based on anonymous, hand-written questions students gave me while I visited their school in St. Louis. If you’re new to this series and you live and/or work with 2nd-6th graders, (or you’re just interested in Social Intelligence and/or bullying, please check out Part 1 (Friendship issues from the 2nd grade)  And Part 2 (Friendship issues from the 3rd grade). Coming soon… you guessed it! Questions from the 5th grade.

My friends are at war! (Illustration © Erica DeChavez, 2013)

My friends are at war! (Illustration © Erica DeChavez, 2013-2014, from The Girls Q&A Book on Friendship, by Annie Fox, illustrated by Erica De Chavez, © 2014 by Annie Fox and Erica De Chavez. Now available)

My 2 best friends want to wipe each other off the face of the Earth! I hate it! It’s tearing me apart! Help! Me! When two people you care about are not getting along, it can feel like you’re in being pulled in two directions at once. I’m guessing that once upon a time, these two girls may have been close friends, but then… what happened?? A misunderstanding? A competition that led to jealousy? An unkind remark that was meant as “a joke” but not taken that way? There are so many ways a friendship can break apart. Since you care about them and would love to see them getting along, try negotiating a “peace treaty.”

Call a meeting with you and your 2 friends. Tell them how their fighting is “tearing you apart.” Tell them you want to help them get to the bottom of this feud. Then give Friend A an opportunity to speak her mind. While she’s talking, you and Friend B only get to LISTEN. No one interrupts. No one corrects. Just listen. When Friend A is done talking, it is her turn to LISTEN while Friend B speaks her mind. Again, without anyone interrupting. After Friend A and Friend B have both had their say, it is your turn. You might say: “Friend A, this is what I heard you say about why you are angry with Friend B. Friend B, this is what I heard you say about why you are angry with Friend A. What could we each do, moving forward, to help our friendship?” Good luck. I hope this helps!

Somebody is making fun of somebody else’s reading level. What should I do? You know this isn’t OK, and I’m very proud of you for putting your values into this question. It tells me that you are a person who believes that everyone should be treated with respect. Whether this is happening to you or you are watching someone else being made fun of, I encourage you to stand up to the person who is doing the teasing and speak up. Sometimes people get away with teasing because they don’t think it’s “a big deal” or they somehow think it’s “fun” or “funny.” Teasing can be very hurtful and the best way I know to have less of it, is to tell the teasers “That’s not ok.” Go for it!

I have two classmates that really annoy me sometimes. What should I do? You always have options, but being rude is never one of them! You could try to spend less time with each of these classmates. Or, the next time you feel annoyed by their behavior, you can privately, calmly and politely talk to them about it. But you know what I think might be the most interesting thing for you to do? Ask yourself a couple of questions: “Why is that behavior so ANNOYING to me?” Think about the answer. It may not be as simple as you first imagine. Another question you might ask yourself is this one: “Why might s/he be doing this? To be liked? To be respected? To be thought of as cool?” If you look at “why” people act the way they do, you might start to understand them a little better. For example, have you ever done something just to get people to notice you and to like you? We all have. So if these classmates are doing stuff just to get people to like them, instead of feeling “annoyed” by their behavior, you might actually start to understand them better and feel some compassion. (Much nicer than annoyance!)

I have a friend and he is sometimes nice to me and sometimes not. Should I be friends with him? We all have times when we’re in a bad mood and not so nice to the people around us. It’s not ok to take out your bad mood on someone else, but it happens. Hopefully not too often! But even when it does happen, after the bad mood passes, it’s a good thing for friends to talk about what happened. Have you ever told your friend how you feel when he isn’t nice to you? If you have told him and his behavior still hasn’t changed, you might want to ‘take a vacation’ from this friendship. Spend less time with him and more time with people who are nice to you. If you haven’t yet told your friend about this, talk to him. He’s not a mind-reader!

One of my friends is way too bossy! Also, if she does not get her way she is very mean to me! I sure hope you’re not suffering silently! Because, like I said in my answer to the last question: Friends aren’t mind-readers. When people aren’t treating us well, we have to let them know. Please stand up and speak up for yourself. Might your friend get angry when you tell her how you feel? Yes, there’s a chance she will! But the only way things are going to change in this friendship is if you show that you know how to be a real friend to yourself!

Why do friends make up a club and don’t invite you in? I think you probably already know the answer, but I’ll tell you any way: They didn’t invite you in because they don’t want to spend as much time with you as you want to spend with them. I understand it hurts your feelings to be left-out of their club, but you might think about it this way: “Real friends like to be with me as much as I like to be with them. If these friends aren’t inviting me to join their club, maybe they aren’t as good friends as I thought. Hmm… instead of feeling sorry for myself about their little club, maybe I should look around and try to make a new friend.”

How do you know if a so-called friend is a REAL friend? You know if you’ve got a REAL friend (vs. the Other Kind) by the way you feel when you are with that person. Do you feel safe? Do you feel respected? Do you feel totally accepted for who you are without any pressure to be someone you’re not just to get that person to like you more? A REAL friend is there for you, when you need cheering up and when you want to share some exciting news. I wrote a whole book about Real Friends vs. the Other Kind. See if it’s in your school library.

There is a girl in my class that is nice to everyone else except me. I really like her, but when I join a game with her in it, she says she is not playing and then she runs away! Also, I think she can get really tough when I want to talk to her. What should I do? Before I answer your question, I’ve got one I need to ask you: Why would you want to be friends with someone who is not nice to you?? You ask “What should I do?” Well, because I know you deserve to be treated with respect, I’d say, for the time being,  you should stop trying to get this girl to be nice to you. For whatever reason, she’s not ready to do that. Why would you continue knocking on her door when she refuses to open it with a smile and welcome you inside? Instead, I suggest you go on a New Friend Search. I’m sure you will find the kind of friend you deserve. Good luck!

My friend is friends with a very mean and rude girl and she’s stealing my friend away from me. What should I do? Someone can “steal” a pencil or a book, but I don’t really believe anyone can “steal” a friend away from you. If your friend chooses to spend more of her time with this other girl then that’s your friend’s choice. I understand you don’t like it because you miss the special close one-on-one relationship you two used to have, but she has the freedom to spend time with other people. Talk to her about it. See if there is a way you can schedule playtime just with her. And while she’s busy, think about what fun things you can be doing, either on your own or with other friends.

My bff hates me because she wanted to do something really bad and I said no because I knew she was gonna get caught. So she did this thing and she’s not my friend ’cause I said no. But she got away with it, so I’m totally clueless. I’m very proud of you for not letting your friend pressure you into doing something that you knew wasn’t OK. That tells me that you know how to make healthy choices, even when friends are pushing and pulling you in other directions. I think your bff is angry because you didn’t go along with her idea. She probably knows that you were right in your decision but she can’t yet admit that she was wrong. So instead, she’s pushing you away with her anger. Give her some time to cool off. Hopefully, you two will come back together. But here’s a word of warning: if she has any more idea to do things that don’t feel right to you, think about whether she shares your values. It can hard to have a real lasting friendship with someone who doesn’t share your values.

UPDATE October 3, 2014: The Girls Q&A Book on Friendship: 50 Ways to Fix a Friendship Without the DRAMA is now available in print and on Kindle (the ebook can be read on any device, your mobile phone, tablet, or computer with the free Kindle reader app). Visit for an excerptreviews, and to order your copy.

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