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 change my “mean girl” reputation?

October 27, 2014

My days as a pumpkin are over. Now I'm just a squash.

My days as a pumpkin are over. Now I’m just a squash.

The Girls’ Q&A Book on Friendship blog tour bus pulled up in front of On the front porch, beside a carved-too-early Jack-o-lantern, former school counselor, Janine Halloran and I enjoyed fresh pumpkin muffins and apple cider. Then she threw me this tricky question from a former student:

“I have a bad reputation in school for being mean but I’d like to change it. How can I do that?”

Janine: What would you say to that girl?

Annie: It sounds like you now understand how your reputation grew from your not being careful with other people’s feelings. I’m really proud of you for realizing you are responsible for your behavior and that you want to start making better choices. The first step is to apologize to everyone you knowingly hurt with your words and your actions (online and off). Talk to each person separately. (This might take a while and it might not be an easy conversation to have, but you can do it!)
To each person, you might say something like this, “I’m very sorry for what I did to you. It was mean and I want to apologize.” Then close your mouth and listen to what the person says. They may still be angry with you for things you did. (And they may have a right to be angry!) Please try to stay calm and not to get angry back. Just listen to what they have to say. You may learn a lot from what you hear. Even if the person is so surprised by your apology that he or she doesn’t know what to say, that’s OK. You have given them something to think about. You might just leave it at that… Or you might add this: “I’m trying to be a nicer person. I hope you give me a chance to prove it.”


What experiences have you had trying to get people to see you in a new way?


Day 30: Kindness and Respect Challenge (What did we learn?)

October 30, 2013

Open. You've got the keys

I know it’s not the official last day of this month-long Kindness and Respect Challenge. (We all remember Thirty days hath September…) But tomorrow’s Halloween. (Yay, Kit-Kat bars!) So this is my wrap-up post.

When I take on a challenge my goal is to learn and to teach. Like my previous Annoyance Challenge. Did I really want to learn to be more annoying? Teach others to shorten their tempers? No and no. I (stupidly) thought it might be good to learn more about what pushes my buttons so I could, you know, be less reactive and help others do the same. Throwing myself into an annoyance challenge was like draping myself in cosmic fly paper.  I instantly attracted the most irritating people and situations. As unpleasant as it was, I learned a bit about my prickly side. Also discovered that feeling irritated may not be a choice, but acting on it definitely is. I also learned to opt out more often. A good thing for me and my family.This time, I wanted to explore a positive human response.

What I’ve learned about kindness and respect

1. Everyone deserves to be treated with kindness and respect.

2. There are no guarantees we ever get what we deserve.

3. We often feel sad and unappreciated when others treat us like crap so we throw a Self-Pity Party.

4. We often feel frustrated and hostile when others treat us like crap so we try to make them pay.

5. How others treat us is beyond our control. (see 2)

6. We have some control over our own behavior.

7. We can choose to be compassionate and respectful to ourselves and others.

8. We can also choose to be ornery and hard to live with.

9. We each have tremendous potential to be good and power to do good.

10. Unfortunately we don’t always remember what we’ve got going for us because destructive emotions can work against us. (See 3 and 4)

11. Stress helps us survive in emergencies. But most of what we stress about is just day-to-day life. Mis-identifying the mundane as EMERGENCY!! messes with our natural inclination to be kind and respectful to one another. And yet (irony of ironies) that inclination is frequently the most effect approach.

12. When we are kind and respectful  we can often soften hearts and open minds.

13. When we are kind and respectful and people remain hard-hearted and close-minded, we still did the right thing. For that, we earn Good Karma points.

14. Whenever you see a child, smile kindly and say “Hi.”  Kids need to see kind people in the world.

15. Whenever you are with children, treat them and everyone else with respect. That’s how you teach kids what it feels like to be respected and what it looks like to be respectful.

Okay. That’s all I’ve got for now.

Thanks for coming along with me on this leg of the journey. Hope you learned something useful.

In friendship,




Day 29: Kindness and Respect Challenge (Why do they have to be so mean?)

October 29, 2013

How mean do you really want to be?

Just got this email from a teen who’s feeling really humiliated because of a mean trick played by her so-called friend partnering with another girl. I’ll let her describe it herself:

Hey Terra,
During math today I got up to throw something in the trash and my BFF (Friend A) whispered to me, “Are you on your periods because there’s a red spot on your jeans!” Shocked I ran to the bathroom and saw the “red spot” was the lipstick of my so-called Friend B. Earlier I saw her handing the lipstick to another girl who was standing near my chair. I didn’t expect she’d put red lipstick in my chair so I’d sit in it.

What if someone else besides my BFF saw the red spot?! I already feel humiliated. My first thought was “What did I ever did to her?!” I would NEVER do that to her because we’re all girls and I wouldn’t want to make anybody feel bad. I am really scared Terra. Especially scared that my crush saw it and won’t like me. Please send me your brilliant advice now, Terra!!!

Hi there,
I know it’s almost Halloween and some people use it as an excuse to do some really “out there” stuff, but what happened to you is a really mean trick. I’m glad to hear that you’d “never” do something as mean as that to anyone. You should be proud of yourself because you’re a kind, compassionate and trustworthy girl. And I’ll bet you’re a great friend.

You’ve asked a good question: “What did I ever do to her…. (to make her think she needs to get back at me??)” I don’t know the answer. Only the girl who did it knows. You could talk to her, but I’m guessing she’d deny it. (“I didn’t do anything and I don’t know what you are talking about!”) You know how some kids can be, especially when they are confronted with the truth of their bad behavior.

Look, even if the girl admits she did it, so what? That’s not going to change anything. What happened happened. It’s history… not ancient history, but still… it’s in the past. Either someone saw the red spot or they didn’t. Either someone will tease you about it or they won’t. If anyone asks you “Did you get your period through your jeans?” You can simply say, “No. That was someone’s weird idea of a mean joke. They put lipstick on my jeans so it would look like blood. It wasn’t blood. It was red lipstick.” End of conversation. Don’t name names. Just move on.

That’s my best and most brilliant advice.

As for your “so-called friend” who was part of this cruel joke, you might talk to her about it. Let her know what you saw (the lipstick) and what you think of her kind of friendship… OR you could keep a safe distance from her because she doesn’t seem to be trustworthy. WARNING: Do NOT talk ABOUT her to anyone. That will just add more social garbage to your school.

Good luck and I hope this helps you calm down and move on. Remember, you didn’t do anything to be ashamed of. Whoever did this to you is the person who ought to be “humiliated” not you!

In friendship,

Filed under: Girls' Friendship,Kindness and Respect Challenge,Parenting,Teens — Tags: — Annie @ 3:37 pm
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