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.

“I’m a good kid, so why do my parents suddenly not trust me?”

October 10, 2017

'Mo-om, can I have a little privacy please??"

‘Mo-om, can I have a little privacy please??”

The most effective tool in a parent’s arsenal just may be a clear memory of what it was like to be a kid. This is especially true if yours are 11-17. Most of what frustrates and infuriates our tweens and teens is probably the same stuff that drove us nuts when our parents did it. Like invading our privacy, for example.

A kid’s need for privacy grows with the child. When it comes to teens, privacy is essential. They equate it to becoming more independent, managing their relationships, and taking care of their own business as much as they can.

Self-respecting teens (ones who think for themselves and resist blind compliance) will push back hard against rules that infringe on their privacy and independence. I’m not implying that “good” parents must dispense with all rules for teens and let them do whatever. Hell no! I’m just pointing out a simple fact: If you want to raise kids who know how to problem-solve and use good judgment when you’re not around, then bring your teens into all discussions about rules. Shutting down their questions with “Because I said so” is likely to encourage kids to  break rules and lie about it.

Today’s email comes from a 15-year-old who is having a hard time understanding some recently imposed parental rules. She’s also having a hard time getting her parents to discuss it with her.

Hey Terra.

I’m 15 and I’m a good kid who gets good grades and doesn’t do drugs or alcohol. I swear! I don’t have friends who do that stuff either! I have always tried hard to protect my parents’ trust in me and do whatever they told me. We used to really be close and I could talk to them about all kinds of stuff, but now it seems they don’t trust me and they’re making all these rules, including using an app to track my phone all the time without notifying me. I asked them “Why?” and they just said they’re worried about me. Then they said, “Why should you care if we track you if you’re not doing anything wrong?” I want to explain my feelings to them, but it’s really hard to talk about this without getting emotional.

Now it seems like we’re fighting all the time and it’s really taken a toll on me and my grades. I feel like I need to keep everything to myself otherwise they’ll just find fault and get into another fight. I really miss talking to them. What I should do to get them to trust me again when I don’t even know why they stopped trusting me in the first place? – Tired and Confused

Hi Tired and Confused,

You don’t understand why, with your long track record of being a “good kid” who consistently makes good choices, your parents are suddenly keeping such close watch over you. Since they aren’t giving you any specific reasons you are confused, frustrated, and resentful. I’m confused, too.

Parents don’t change their behavior out of the blue for no reason. Something must have triggered this sudden and overwhelming fear/worry on their part. Of course they love you and it’s their job to keep you safe. But that’s been true from the moment you were born. It’s also their job to prepare you for living on your own and managing your own life. That includes knowing what it takes to keep yourself safe.

You’re intelligent, mature and responsible. When there are new family rules, teens deserve to know what triggered the change. If you’ve got questions you deserve straight answers.

I’d suggest you write a letter to your parents describing your thoughts and feelings as best as you can. Print it out and hand a copy to each of them. That will show them you’re serious and you want to talk. Remember, the goal of this “talk” is not to change their minds about the rules. That may not happen. Besides, they’ve got the right and the responsibility to make the rules for your family. The goal of the talk is for you to understand better where they’re coming from and for them to understand better where you are coming from.

For example, you might write something like this:

Dear Mom and Dad,

I have tried really hard to protect your trust in me and always respect your wishes, but it seems like all the sudden you don’t trust me. Our constant fighting has really taken its toll on my grades and I really want it to stop. I try to be a good kid. I get good grades, don’t do drugs/ alcohol and I am not friends with anyone involved in that. That’s why I’m so confused that you’ve started tracking my phone. Why don’t you trust me all of the sudden?

I really want to talk about it more but every time I say anything I feel like you’re not listening. You ask me, “Why do you care that we are tracking you if you’re not doing anything bad?” It’s hard for me to explain my feelings. Maybe you felt the same way when you were my age and your parents made some rule you had to follow even though you didn’t understand why the rule was there.

I really miss talking to you but I feel like you have lost confidence and trust in me (and I don’t know why). Because of that, I feel like I don’t want to open up to you.

Can we please talk about this so I can understand you better and you can understand me better?

–Love, “Your Daughter”

Hopefully, a letter like that (in your own words, of course) will lead to a good conversation with your parents.

Good luck and please let me know how it goes.

In friendship,
Terra

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“My friend’s mom bullies her!”

April 19, 2017

What did I do to deserve such rude and disrespectful kids?!

Bullying prevention begins at home. A child’s propensity for being aggressive and/or putting up with aggressive behavior from others may begin at home as well. As this email suggests, however, rushing to judgment about what’s going on in someone else’s family, isn’t helpful.

Teen: My best friend’s mom is always in a bad mood. She’s so rude and unfair! She always grounds my friend for the simplest things. When I’m at my friend’s house her mother is rude to me and lectures me. I try to invite my friend over, but her mom always has an excuse why she can’t come. What do I do? 🙁

Annie:  I can tell you’ve got a good heart because you really care about your friend. I’m sure she values the friendship and really appreciates having you in her life. Your question is a great one: “What can you do if a friend’s mom, dad, stepdad, etc. isn’t being kind or fair to them?”

Here’s the thing, it’s almost impossible to tell what’s actually going on inside of someone else’s family. Suppose, for example, you and your mom are at the supermarket. And let’s say you are in a bad mood because a) you are hungry and b) you have a lot of homework plus a test to study for and c) one of your best friend’s was rude to you right after school and you’re freaking out that she may not be your friend any more. So, yeah, you’re in a bad mood.

Now imagine you and your mom walk down the cereal aisle and you grab your favorite stuff off the shelf. Your mom snaps, “I’m not buying that.” You yell at her and she yells back at you. What if a stranger happens to be watching what just happened? What might she assume about your relationship with your mom?

No assumptions strangers make can’t ever be the whole truth. There might not be any truth to it at all. That’s why it’s always a good idea to look beyond the surface and ask yourself, “What else might be going on here?”

As an outsider, you just never know.

Teen: Thank you so much. I completely understand. Maybe there’s more happening. Do you think it has to do with the parents’ relationship?

Annie: I don’t know for sure. But when a parent is consistently rude, unfair or generally in a bad mood, the child’s behavior is probably not the most important cause. Maybe the parents are having relationship challenges or financial worries, or they’re dealing with other family stresses (sick grandparents, for example). As an outsider, you just never know. But here’s  something you can do: Be as kind and understanding as you can be. If your friend wants to talk about how she’s feeling… be a good listener. That often helps, especially when kids feel like no one understands.

I hope this helps you help her.

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“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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