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.

“How can I get my kids to turn off the TV, phone, etc.??”

February 24, 2016

Coincidence that I got this email and tonight I’m speaking at Pleasanton Library about Connecting for Family Time in the Digital Age? Maybe not so much. Parents feel frustrated by the amount of time their kids spend on their devices. The more kids connect to their friends on one device or another, the less they connect with their school work and their parents. So what can we parents do to help them succeed in school and bring the family closer?

by Jason Love JasonLove.com

by Jason Love JasonLove.com

Read what this mom is dealing with:

Dear Annie,

How can I get my teenagers to shut off the TV, social media, their phones, etc. and get their homework done? There are too many mornings when they are not prepared for school because they didn’t finish an assignment or they’re not ready for a test. Yet, they spent a lot to time the previous day(s) on their screens!
—Frustrated Mom

Annie: What have you tried, aside from yelling?

Mom: Telling them to set a timer for 10-15 minutes and do nothing else but schoolwork. They don’t comply.

Annie: Think about the addictive nature of screens and you’ll get a better idea of how hard it can be to drag yourself away. I’m not just talking about teens. Ever said to yourself or a family member, “I’m just checking my email. I’ll be there in a minute.”? Next thing you know, you’ve been swallowed and chewed up by the Space-Time Continuum. Yeah, it’s an actual thing.

Call a family meeting to discuss the problem as it relates to school performance. Your job is to open the conversation, not to lay down the law. Come on too strong and they will fight you. Simply tell them their job is to be good students. (Don’t even mention the TV and tech stuff.) Instead, ask them how they feel about how their school progress. Got evidence of grades? Bring it to the meeting.

Your long-term goal is to help your kids become fully responsible for their own school work and their lives. If your kids admit they could be doing better in school, simply say, “I agree. So what do you think is in the way of better grades?” Let them do most of the talking. Help them to connect the dots between their school progress and their screen time.

The best outcome is acknowledging how hard it is (for all of us) to get away from the screen… even when the timer goes off and we know we should stop now. By the way, if anyone in the family uses technology during family meals, that needs to stop. Tonight.

Part of the solution here is an open conversation where everyone has an opportunity to talk about the pluses and minuses of technology. Part of the solution is modeling and reclaiming unplugged time, for focused work and for play, as a family. And part of the solution is accessibility. If the technology isn’t at hand, then it’s easier to resist the urge to pick it up. (Of course this works best when the homework does not require technology!)

Mom: I will have the family meeting and discuss this with them. I was thinking they just didn’t want to do their homework and they were putting it off — which I totally understand.

Annie: Who likes homework?! So, sure, they’d rather do something more “engaging.” But it’s also very true that they don’t have the brain development to resist the lure of screen time. That’s where you can help, and having their buy-in makes you more of a coach and less of a prison warden. Good luck!

Watch my three minute video on Vidoyen about How to Reclaim Family Time in the Digital Age.

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Ten Tips for Improving Parent-Teen Relationships

January 8, 2016

Hearing isn't the same as listening

Hearing isn’t the same as listening

Parents of teens have one of the roughest jobs. The dynamic between you and your son/daughter is changing so quickly it can be challenging to stay focused on your job description. It was easier when the kids were younger and you could pick them up, if you needed to, and get them out of harm’s way. With teens, it’s not always clear what your job is or how to do it.

There’s no single golden rulebook for parenting (though I’ve written a good one and so have lots of other people in the know), but these 10 tips can help you stay centered. And that’s exactly where you need to be if you want to be  an effective parent and role model for your adolescent kids.

  1. Remember that you are the parent — Your job is to protect your child and prepare him/her to become a fully functioning adult. Being a leader and a compassionate teacher is more important than being your teen’s friend.
  2. Remain calm — Nothing gets resolved when stress makes it impossible to think clearly. Can’t respond rationally? Then take a break until you can.
  3. Talk less and listen more — Just like the rest of us, teens want to be respected and heard. Be a “safe” and available person to talk to.
  4. It’s a balancing act — A key challenge in parenting teens is to remain emotionally connected while granting your kids more privacy and autonomy.
  5. They’re always watching – Want your teen to be trustworthy, responsible, and compassionate? Make sure you’re modeling those values in your own life.
  6. Make your expectations clear and be consistent with your follow-through— If kids know the consequences ahead of time and they’ve bought into the rules of the house, they’re more likely to make healthy choices.
  7. Catch your teen in the act of doing something right — Praise shows that you noticed their efforts. It also promotes a feeling of competency.
  8. Be real — Father/mother does NOT always know best. Admit your own confusion and mistakes. Apologize when appropriate. Show your kids that just like them, you too are also “a work in progress.”
  9. Regularly create time to enjoy being a family — Having regular meals together and relaxing, unplugged from digital technology, is a gift with long-lasting benefits.
  10. Lighten up! — Humor is a great de-stressor. Remember, no one stays a teen (or the parent of a teen) forever!

If you’ve got other tips for parenting tweens and teens, I’d love to hear from you.

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Parenting Question: How do you get kids to make their own school lunch?

August 4, 2015

Cooking and eating together. Family fun.

Cooking + eating together = family fun.

I watch a lot of competitive cooking shows (Chopped, Beat Bobby Flay, Next Food Network Star. And Top Chef (Which has been where?! Can anyone please tell me?) In between slicing, dicing and schvitzing, contestants often give loving shout-outs to Mom or Grandma for turning them on to cooking. Kids need to learn to feed themselves, so we’ve gotta teach them to cook. Where to start? How about something simple that doesn’t require sharp knives and fire?

Today’s question comes from a parent who is ready to hand over some kitchen duties to her children.

How can I get my kids to make their own school lunches?

It’s almost back-to-school time and lunches must be made, but not necessarily by you and you alone. So, how can parents effectively get kids to make their own lunch or at least start engaging them in the process? If you think about the developmental stages of childhood, there are many things we do for our kids before stepping back. I’m thinking… teaching kids to feed themselves, get their own drink of water, take themselves to the bathroom, tie own their shoes (Do kids’ shoes even have laces anymore?) We show kids how, we help them while they’re learning, then we sit back and let them do it. Or we should.

So what is the barrier to teaching kids to make their own school lunch?

Our attitude determines how comfortable our kids feel about working in the kitchen vs just showing up to be fed. Do you feel that food prep, cooking, etc. is something your kids should be doing for themselves? If not, then they probably won’t either. Kids are human. I have this on good authority. We tend to be lazy. If someone will do something for me, on a regular basis and to my satisfaction, then why the heck should I bother doing it myself? “I have enough to do,” thinks the child. “I have to wake up on time every morning and brush my teeth and get dressed for school. I have a backpack that needs to be packed and… ”

OK, lots for the tykes to master before they graduate from high school. But let’s not get overwhelmed here. Let’s refocus on the original question about school lunch.

Food is wonderful. So is eating. You can engage kids in the process of making lunch by talking about what they like and don’t like to have for lunch and why. Talk about nutrition and why certain foods are going to help them do their job as a student better than others. Involving kids in the process of shopping for food, prepping food, and even growing food is a great way to start putting them in the driver’s seat. And who knows? They may want to start making their own breakfast soon, too. And after that? They’ll make meals for you!

Before you start, make sure hands are washed and that everything is accessible and at their level. Before they cut anything, make sure you teach your kids the safe way to use cutting tools in the kitchen. It goes without saying that all the utensils you give them are safe for their age-level. OK. I said it anyway.

And make sure you up the fun-ativity quotient from the start. Make food prep fun. (Being in the kitchen with a hypercritical parent is not fun.) Offer lots of praise for progress and back off little by little. You’ll soon hear your child crowing, “Hey, Mom! I made my own lunch!” At which point you offer high-fives all around and say, “Can I have a bite? Mmmm… delicious.”

Remember, we are here to teach our kids to become fully-functioning independent young adults and making your own food is definitely part of being independent. So… what’s for lunch tomorrow?

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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.

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