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.

Back-to-School Clothing Wars: “My 12yr old looks and dresses like she’s 18!”

August 26, 2016

What's wrong with it, Mom?

What’s wrong with it, Mom?

Back-to-school means new clothes. We’ve had previous conversations here and here about how the clothing and toy industries sexualize kids. It’s hard for parents to push back against billion dollar corporations who couldn’t care less about your standards for appropriate attire for your children.

But you have to shop, so you head to the store armed with your standards, but you can’t find anything you feel good about purchasing. To make things dicier, your child loves the clothes you despise.

That’s this mom’s problem:

Dear Annie:

How do I talk to my 12 year old daughter about how the way she dresses? She has a very “womanly” body and could easily pass for 18! She’s proud of the way she looks and I am delighted she is comfortable with her body. I don’t want to ruin that by saying the wrong thing, but I also do not want her to continue dressing in a way that seems to me to be provocative. She may be teased, she may get “hit-on” by a MAN! I want to protect her and at the same time, foster her confidence in herself.

Please help me with the right words.  Thanks! – In a bind

Dear In a bind,

It’s great your daughter feels so comfortable in her body. May her self-confidence continue throughout her lifetime!

I’ll assume you pay for her clothes. If you aren’t comfortable with her choices you have veto power. Avoid heated conversations in the store. Talk about it before your next shopping trip or before handing over money to her for purchasing clothes.

You might say something like this:

“Sweetheart, I love how confident you are about your body. Many girls don’t feel so comfortable in their own skin as you do. But you need a reality check. We live in a society where men and boys (and other girls and women) judge you based on how you dress.

It isn’t fair to make assumptions about people because of how they look or dress, but fair or unfair, it is part of the reality of growing up as a girl.

We also live in a society where some men and boys feel entitled to treat women as sexual objects not human beings with equal rights. Sexual harassment is unwanted attention (crude remarks, touching, etc.). It is never ok. And it is never a compliment. So don’t be confused.  Harassment makes girls feel uncomfortable and unsafe.  No one has the right to do that to anyone. And yet, too often, harassers take no responsibility and are not held responsible for their behavior. They simply shrug and say, “She brought it on because of the way she dresses.” She (who ever she is) did not “bring it on.” To say that is a lie. It is also disrespectful to girls and women.

As your mom it’s my job to keep you safe and to educate you about the messages your clothing choices might be sending, without your knowing it. Let’s talk about this.”

Stay calm and keep your voice neutral and respectful and you could open up a very positive ongoing conversation with your daughter.

I hope this helps.

Annie

P.S. I reached out to my wise friend and fellow educator, Iréné Celcer for added input on your dilemma. Here are her three tips and thoughts.

1) Engage her in a conversation vs a lecture. Find out her thoughts, feelings and ideas on the topic. (See the paragraph below for a way to start.)

2) This conversation is not a ONE TIME thing. It will develop ebb and turn and change. And it may be the one area that she choses to drive you crazy with. Be smart and chose your battles.

3) No matter how she looks on the outside, she is still only 12 years old. And you are and should be the one who approves the clothing. You hold that wallet.

 

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Is my 12-year-old daughter old enough to have a boyfriend?

June 23, 2016

What does she think it means to have a boyfriend?

What does she think it means to have a boyfriend?

Sometimes our kids say they’re ready for the next step toward independence and we totally agree. We celebrate the milestone, brief them on the house rules, making double sure we’re all on the same page, then we let them go and hold our breath. When they stumble, we listen with compassion and as much patience as we can muster. We help them evaluate their mistakes and we hold them accountable. And they do better next time.

That’s how we all learn.

But sometimes we’re just not convinced they’re ready, no matter how fiercely they lobby us. Then what? That’s where this mom finds herself…

Dear Annie: 

Is it okay for my 12-year-old to have a boyfriend if she seems emotionally ready? She seems pretty mature when it comes to situations like this, but is she too young? – Worried Mom

Important question. Glad she asked. Here’s my response…

Dear Worried Mom:

Is this an abstract question coming from your daughter or does she already have a boyfriend and is trying to back-date the permission slip?

You ask “Is it okay?” and you sign your letter Worried Mom. That tells me you don’t think it’s okay. It doesn’t matter what I think. She’s twelve. You’re her mom. You make the rules. But it’s not always that simple, is it? Twelve-year-olds can be super persistent. Maybe your “mature” daughter has been crying and screaming at you for a year that she’s the only one not allowed to date and that she hates how you still treat her like a baby!

That’s hard to take. But don’t let her bully you into saying “yes” to anything you’re not comfortable with. On the other hand, you shouldn’t automatically say “no” without digging deeper.

Be strategic.

You say she is “emotionally ready” and “pretty mature when it comes to situations like this.” Emotionally ready for what, exactly? What “situations” are we talking about?  What does your daughter mean when she talks about having a boyfriend? What does she believe is involved in being someone’s girlfriend? What does she think this kind of relationship means to the boy? Not sure? Ask her. Maybe not the easiest question for a 12-year-old to answer, but it’s important for her to think about it and share her thoughts with you. The way she thinks about it may determine how she behaves when you’re not around.

For example, does having a boyfriend mean that she and the boy text and snap chat and hang out together at lunch but never actually see each other outside of school? Or does it mean the two of them go to movies or the mall just the two of them… (public unsupervised time)? Does it mean they go to each other’s homes and hang out in each other’s bedrooms? (private unsupervised time)?

Lots to talk about. Her responses will give you insight into how “emotionally ready” and “mature” your daughter actually is when it comes to the Boyfriend/Girlfriend Zone.

I hope this helps.

In friendship,
Annie

P.S. You might want to check out Annie’s 10 Tips for Teaching Your Daughter Relationship Smarts.

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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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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.

 

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