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.

Making peace this summer with your teens

June 30, 2014

Give peace a chance

Give peace a chance

In addition to raising young adults who chew with mouth closed, pick up after themselves, and return library books on time, the gold ring of this parenting gig (after the “under the same roof” phase ends) is a healthy relationship with your adult kids. I’ve been a mom for 34 years and believe me, that’s what you’re after. But how do you get there from here? It can be a hard slog. Especially if you’re currently the parent of a tween or teen and already clocking in way too much time yelling and mis-communicating. It’s stressful enough when they’re in school most of the day, but now it’s summer and said t(w)een may be hanging out under said roof. Result? More time for fault-finding on both sides. yippee. But it doesn’t have to be this way. You can be the change-agent your parent-teen dynamic needs. Here’s how…

Parenting plan for getting along better with your t(w)een

1. Sit down and ask your child: What would you like me to do less of this summer? Make the question sincere and make it safe for your child to answer honestly. Whatever he or she says, stay calm and do not get defensive. This conversation has the potential of greatly improving your relationship.

2. Take what you’ve heard to heart. If you want to teach your kids to be respectful of others you must treat their feelings and thoughts with respect. If you need a clarification, ask for it. “You say you want me to nag less? Gee, I don’t think I nag at all. Please give me an example of what you mean, sweetie.”

3. Work together to address the request. After you understand your child’s request, see what new ways you can come up with to lessen the unwanted behavior (e.g.. nagging). Relationships are a two-way street. If there is a ‘nagger’ there must also be a “nagging-inducer.” Explore both sides of all issues.

4. Monitor your progress. Once you’ve identified a problem and strategized a solution check in with each other periodically to see how you’re feeling about the changes. Praise where praise is due. Make modifications when needed.

5. Reverse the flow. It’s a two-way street, remember? So give yourself a chance to tell your t(w)een something you’d like less of from him or her. Follow the rest of the steps and see how it goes.

Good luck! I hope this helps you and your family this summer.

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Clearing the clutter to get to the Bigger Picture

March 19, 2014

There's a life lesson in here somewhere

There’s a life lesson in here somewhere

Longer days bring more light to illuminate the doggie nose prints on my living room windows and all the crap I’ve been dumping in my garage and my office for the past year. So I’m into Spring Cleaning. Not just for the sake of clearing clutter and layers of dirt but attempting to gain a fresh perspective on my living space and my life.

When our kids  suffer a setback, they could really use a fresh perspective. By helping them clear their emotional clutter we ease their suffering and encourage  resilience.

To that point, I offer the following excerpt from my book, Teaching Kids to Be Good People

When they posted the cast list for our high school musical, The Music Man, I fully expected to read my name beside the lead role of Marion the Librarian.

I didn’t get the part. My best friend did.

Stunned, suddenly nauseous and disconnected from reality, I attempted to psychically morph the letters of her name into mine. At that critical moment, my magic powers failed. So did my ability to see the Bigger Picture (BP).

A parent’s life experience enables him or her to see beyond the child’s poor grade on the math test, the botched goal attempt, the argument with a friend, the break-up, the rejection letter from college. Teaching kids about the long view of life helps them develop good character traits. It also provides kids with needed encouragement and solace during tough times. But before we bore them with “This too shall pass,” give a kid in the throes of an upset a chance to vent or throw a self-pity party. Expressing emotion is healthy, but long-term dumping is not! What’s the difference?

Expressing feelings is about clearing emotional clutter. Talking helps people understand where we’re coming from, which helps us release pain, which gets us back into the positive place where we are best able to make good choices that respect our values and respect other people. A toddler screams because, without words, adults often don’t “get” what s/he’s upset about. Fourteen-year-olds usually scream less because they words, and if we patiently provide them with a safe place to communicate, the result is better understanding and healthier relationships.

Quit dumping

Quit dumping

Dumping is not about communication or understanding. More often, the goal of dumping is to complain, blame, paint oneself as a victim, and/or avoid responsibility for any part of the “bad stuff” that happened. Dumping reinforces bad habits (including the eternally off-putting “I’m a victim” attitude) and it rarely leads to healthier relationships, which is why it should never be encouraged. On top of that, dumping doesn’t help your child come to terms with what’s really going on.

From the dumpster: Your eighth-grade son comes home from a field trip in a foul mood. “Is something wrong?” you ask. He launches into a rant about: the “jerk” he had to sit next to on the bus, the terrible lunch you made, the tour guide who yelled at him, the fact that his best friend can’t take a joke, and how the girl he likes told everyone she thinks he’s gay. He finishes with “My life sucks!”

This is unadulterated dumping. Kids are in the middle of these storms sound desperate for help, but they don’t really want it. They just want to dump. Try to help them and they’ll turn on you.

Instead, we might respond like this: “Sounds like you’ve had a really bad day. When you’re a little calmer, I’d be happy to help you sort out your feelings so you can resolve some of this. Let me know when you’re ready to talk.”

We teach compassion by showing them compassion. In this case, it’s about truly listening and letting your child know you get it. Be sympathetic. Life’s unfair. That is, if “fair” means everyone gets dealt the same hand and is treated in the same way. Nope. Not fair. Acknowledge that. Be sincere. S/he’ll calm down, and when s/he does share your understanding of the Bigger Picture. Tell your own version of “I didn’t get the lead in Music Man”—everyone has one. Make sure you mention what you learned from yours. From that one, I learned setbacks are often bundled with opportunities. My best friend was shy and benefited from a chance to be a “star.” I’d already starred in several plays. What I needed was a chance to support the success of others, which I did as student chorus director. So it all worked out . . . perfectly.

Life is for learning. If we’re open and willing to study hard, we take what we learn in this moment and use it to move our kids and ourselves forward. That’s the Bigger Picture.

Now excuse me, gotta wash the kitchen floor.

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National Unplug Day – Time to pull it

March 7, 2014

You can do it. Just yank.

You can do it. Just yank.

It’s official. We’re now all so connection addicted we need a National Unplug Day (March 7-8) to remind us that life is not virtual. I’m thrilled because I know the difference a (national) day makes. What paltry lives we’d live were it not for:

  • National Beer Can Appreciation Day (Jan 24)
  • National Lost Sock Memorial Day (May 9) 
  • National Be Bald and Be Free Day (Oct 14)

Or the one I just declared: National Control Your Destructive Emotions  When Your Dog Has Eaten Your Favorite Gloves for the SECOND Time Day!!! (March 1)

Breathing….. ahhhh….. I think I’m OK now.

I am unplugging at sundown this evening through sundown mañana. Join me. Be prepared for push-back from your family (especially tweens and teens). But you know, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Any amount of unplugged time you commit to, as a family, benefits the family. (Sleeping doesn’t count.) Unplugging creates unique non-digital opportunities for your family to:

Look into each other’s eyes– Unplugging clears our vision and helps us see and understand our children and partners. Understanding often leads to empathy and love. Or it may lead to confusion and frustration which can be resolved with a family meeting. (Another great use of unplugged time.)

Have fun together – Remember face-to-face laughter? How good it feels to enjoy each other’s company? This doesn’t happen with a screen between us. Get creative. Use your imagination. Model what that looks like and encourage your children to use theirs. Be inspired by what this 11 year old did with cardboard!  Be together, as a family, without a keyboard. Let loose and laugh.

Problem solve together – In the next 24 hours how about playing a strategy game? Or brainstorm and work together on that back-burnered home improvement project? With music and a team spirit, even painting a room or clearing out closets can be fun! (Don’t forget to donate the discarded toys and clothes.)  

There is fungus among us and it's beautiful!

There is fungus among us and it’s beautiful!

Get out in nature – When was the last time you and the kids took a walk, a hike, a bike ride together? How about getting out there and exploring the real world this weekend? Last time I looked, it’s still pretty awesome… and all 3D rendered!

Get to know each other – Our teens are  rapidly morphing into adult versions of themselves. Not always easy for them or us. Disconnecting from technology helps us connect with our children so they get more of our love,  support and guidance. They need this time with us. We do to.

Ready. Set. Unplug! Have fun and let me know how it goes.

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I want what she’s got!

November 21, 2013

The following post is an excerpt from my latest parenting book, Teaching Kids to Be Good People. You can read all of Chapter 1 right here.

Life, bring on the lemons!

Ever been up close and personal with a lemon tree and noticed how cool they are? I never had until I moved to California. Now I’ve got my own dwarf Meyer lemon and I can tell you that tree is an underrated miracle of nature. Right now, November 21st, it’s got teeny flower buds, heavenly smelling blossoms, baby green fruit, and ripe golden orbs, all at the same time. On a cosmic level, the lemon tree is constantly manifesting its entire life cycle, simultaneous living its past, present, and future! How cool is that?

One might assume straddling the time-space continuum causes internal conflict for the tree. Like maybe an undeveloped puny green guy eyes a juicy yellow beauty and gripes, “Damn! How come I’m not more mature?” Or some blossom whose petals flap in the wind, whines about how unfair it is that she’s no longer taut and firm like that sweet young bud over there. But noooo. The tree has evolved to a point where no phase of life is any better or worse than another. In the realm of lemon trees, there are no complaints, only total acceptance. What is, is. Lemon embraces all of it with equal acceptance and grace.

We humans on the other hand are hardwired for complaining. Even (maybe especially) those of us who have pretty soft lives compared to most folks on the planet. Adults often evaluate things in terms of what’s “wrong.” So how surprising is it that our kids frequently complain? The older they get, the more likely we are to find fault in what they do or fail to do! In addition to what we’re teaching them through negative modeling, teens are already incredibly judgmental. After all, they’re grappling with some key questions of their own:

Am I cool enough? Am I hot enough? Am I good enough?

The less confident they feel (from their own self-doubt and from the feedback piled on by their “friends” and parents), the more likely they are to complain. The more they complain, the more we complain about their complaining. Ugh.

Now I’m not advocating an all- Zen-all-the-time approach to living, where we make damn sure we never find fault with anything. That’s too tough to be practical. Besides there are certain situations that are inherently faulty. Like when the cottage cheese has gone off. No amount of Ohmmming is going to make me smile when I lift that lid and get a whiff. So yeah, life serves up plenty of unacceptable tidbits. When you’ve got one, just do something about it. Complaining is never a prerequisite for action. Nor is it a substitute.

When a family member presents us with something unacceptable, rather than exploding and losing control of mind and mouth, try this instead: “This cell phone bill of $1,000 is unacceptable. You will pay this, not me.” That’s not a complaint. That’s a simple directive. When we whine less and fill our sentences with more verbs (calls to action), we might get more cooperation and less complaining from our kids. At the same time, we are teaching them that a positive attitude helps us deal with life’s inconveniences more effectively than complaints.

On that positive note, I want to report that last week I picked all the ripe lemons from the tree and made lemon marmalade. Not to complain or anything, either the recipe was wrong or I misread it. Either way, the results were . . . uh . . . not edible. Fortunately the tree’s still got plenty of green babies. In another month or so, I’ll take another shot at it.

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