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.

Friendship issues from the 8th grade Part 2

May 21, 2014

Let's figure out this friendship stuff together

Let’s figure out this friendship stuff together

This is part 2 of the very cool Skype in the Classroom session I had Monday with a class of Philadelphia 8th graders. (Here’s Part 1) I’m all about giving students ongoing, safe places to get real about the challenges of friendships. It’s important to their personal well-being and to a positive school climate.

Student: Annie, what if you have friends who act cool when they’re with you but other times, when they’re with other people, they act really different with you?

What have you tried so far?

Student: I ask them, “Why do you act different with your friends than when you’re with me?” And they said, “I don’t know what you mean!”

All of that “I don’t know what you’re talking about!” is B.S. What you’re describing is The Switcheroo. When it’s just you and your friend, things are cool. Then you add one or two other people and suddenly you’ve switched channels and I don’t even know this person who is supposed to be my best friend. I’m wondering, “Why are you treating me this way?!”

Props to you for asking him what was going on. That was very brave. Most people would feel bad about the way they were being treated in, but they aren’t likely to talk about it. You took the extra step and I have a lot of respect for you.

So you asked your friend about it and he said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” That wasn’t true. He knew exactly what you’re talking about. But he didn’t feel proud of the way he’s been treating you, so he wouldn’t admit it.

If that happens again, I suggest you find the EXIT. You may not have ever thought of this, but there is an exit for every friendship. And sometime you just have to give yourself permission to walk through it. You can leave without making a big announcement. You can just say, “I’ll catch you later.” And you leave and spend time on your own doing thing or you hang out with other friends who treat you with more respect, or you take your dog for a walk. Whatever it is, just leave. Because there is no reason to stay with people who are not treating you well. Zero reason. Don’t do that.

Exactly how long do you stay away from this friend or friends? That depends. You could take a short vacation and the next day your friend may ask why you left. Be honest. You can say, “When you’re with other people you don’t treat me very well, so I left.” That gives him something to think about. And maybe the next time he’s with you and other people, he’ll treat you better. Or he won’t.

Sometimes, though, you go through the exit and you never come back to the friendship. And that’s ok too. Sometimes you end a friendship because you’ve outgrown it or because you get a new idea about how you want to be treated. It’s all ok. Just don’t talk about the person after you’ve gone through the exit. That’s not cool. It’s just gossip. Not important.

Before we ran out of time I asked the students what they usually learned in this class with this teacher. And they told me they learned math and science. This wasn’t the answer I expected, so I asked the teacher why he wanted his students to get a Skype lesson on Real Friends vs the Other Kind.

Teacher: We meet once a week, on Monday mornings, and have open discussions where people talk about their lives and share. And friendship is an important topic for us to talk about.

You guys are very lucky to have a teacher who prioritizes this stuff. Someone who says, “This may not be math or science, but it’s important. And I want to give you a platform to talk about it.” That’s awesome. There are not enough teachers like this one. You’re very lucky.


“My friend’s not acting like a friend!”

May 5, 2014

The kind of friends you can be yourself with

The kind of friends you can be yourself with

Since 1997 a big chunk of my email questions have been variations of…

  • What do I do if my friend is nice to me sometimes and sometimes mean to me?
  • What do I do if my friend is talking behind my back but then when I confront her about it she says she doesn’t know what I’m talking about?
  • What do I do if my friend always has to have things his way and when he doesn’t, he gets kinda mean?”

This morning I did a Skype in the Classroom session with 14 and 15 year olds in Croatia. The topic: Real Friends vs the Other Kind. These kids were polite, respectful and appreciative of our time together. Their English was very impressive! What also impressed me were the questions they asked: thoughtful, honest, revealing. Even though they were so far away, they had many of the same concerns and confusions about friendship as the kids who’ve been emailing me for 17 years.  Doesn’t matter if the letter writer is 10 or 19. Doesn’t matter if s/he lives in Detroit, London, Singapore or Zaire. It often boils down to this: “Why is my friend not acting like a friend and what can I do about it?”

We each have to learn the difference between a real friend and the other kind. Sometimes those lessons come with a lot of hurt feelings. Maybe we’d suffer less if, when we are young, we could get help setting concrete standards for behavior in a friendship. Parents and teachers could do a much better job helping us understand that when we pay attention to how we feel when we are with people we can trust, then we will know what it’s like to feel safe, respected and appreciated in a friendship. Trusted adults should also help kids understand that friendship is a 2-way street. We have to hold ourselves to the same high standard of real friendship that we hold other people to. And if they are unable or unwilling to treat us the way a real friend should, then we have the right (and the obligation to ourselves) to take a vacation from that friendship and reach out to other people who share our values.

How do we teach kids the difference between real friends and the other kind?” Watch my 3 minute video answer on Vidoyen.





Friendship issues from the 4th grade

March 27, 2012

This is Part 3 of a 5-part series based on anonymous, hand-written questions students gave me while I visited their school in St. Louis. If you’re new to this series and you live and/or work with 2nd-6th graders, (or you’re just interested in Social Intelligence and/or bullying, please check out Part 1 (Friendship issues from the 2nd grade)  And Part 2 (Friendship issues from the 3rd grade). Coming soon… you guessed it! Questions from the 5th grade.

My friends are at war! (Illustration © Erica DeChavez, 2013)

My friends are at war! (Illustration © Erica DeChavez, 2013-2014, from The Girls Q&A Book on Friendship, by Annie Fox, illustrated by Erica De Chavez, © 2014 by Annie Fox and Erica De Chavez. Now available)

My 2 best friends want to wipe each other off the face of the Earth! I hate it! It’s tearing me apart! Help! Me! When two people you care about are not getting along, it can feel like you’re in being pulled in two directions at once. I’m guessing that once upon a time, these two girls may have been close friends, but then… what happened?? A misunderstanding? A competition that led to jealousy? An unkind remark that was meant as “a joke” but not taken that way? There are so many ways a friendship can break apart. Since you care about them and would love to see them getting along, try negotiating a “peace treaty.”

Call a meeting with you and your 2 friends. Tell them how their fighting is “tearing you apart.” Tell them you want to help them get to the bottom of this feud. Then give Friend A an opportunity to speak her mind. While she’s talking, you and Friend B only get to LISTEN. No one interrupts. No one corrects. Just listen. When Friend A is done talking, it is her turn to LISTEN while Friend B speaks her mind. Again, without anyone interrupting. After Friend A and Friend B have both had their say, it is your turn. You might say: “Friend A, this is what I heard you say about why you are angry with Friend B. Friend B, this is what I heard you say about why you are angry with Friend A. What could we each do, moving forward, to help our friendship?” Good luck. I hope this helps!

Somebody is making fun of somebody else’s reading level. What should I do? You know this isn’t OK, and I’m very proud of you for putting your values into this question. It tells me that you are a person who believes that everyone should be treated with respect. Whether this is happening to you or you are watching someone else being made fun of, I encourage you to stand up to the person who is doing the teasing and speak up. Sometimes people get away with teasing because they don’t think it’s “a big deal” or they somehow think it’s “fun” or “funny.” Teasing can be very hurtful and the best way I know to have less of it, is to tell the teasers “That’s not ok.” Go for it!

I have two classmates that really annoy me sometimes. What should I do? You always have options, but being rude is never one of them! You could try to spend less time with each of these classmates. Or, the next time you feel annoyed by their behavior, you can privately, calmly and politely talk to them about it. But you know what I think might be the most interesting thing for you to do? Ask yourself a couple of questions: “Why is that behavior so ANNOYING to me?” Think about the answer. It may not be as simple as you first imagine. Another question you might ask yourself is this one: “Why might s/he be doing this? To be liked? To be respected? To be thought of as cool?” If you look at “why” people act the way they do, you might start to understand them a little better. For example, have you ever done something just to get people to notice you and to like you? We all have. So if these classmates are doing stuff just to get people to like them, instead of feeling “annoyed” by their behavior, you might actually start to understand them better and feel some compassion. (Much nicer than annoyance!)

I have a friend and he is sometimes nice to me and sometimes not. Should I be friends with him? We all have times when we’re in a bad mood and not so nice to the people around us. It’s not ok to take out your bad mood on someone else, but it happens. Hopefully not too often! But even when it does happen, after the bad mood passes, it’s a good thing for friends to talk about what happened. Have you ever told your friend how you feel when he isn’t nice to you? If you have told him and his behavior still hasn’t changed, you might want to ‘take a vacation’ from this friendship. Spend less time with him and more time with people who are nice to you. If you haven’t yet told your friend about this, talk to him. He’s not a mind-reader!

One of my friends is way too bossy! Also, if she does not get her way she is very mean to me! I sure hope you’re not suffering silently! Because, like I said in my answer to the last question: Friends aren’t mind-readers. When people aren’t treating us well, we have to let them know. Please stand up and speak up for yourself. Might your friend get angry when you tell her how you feel? Yes, there’s a chance she will! But the only way things are going to change in this friendship is if you show that you know how to be a real friend to yourself!

Why do friends make up a club and don’t invite you in? I think you probably already know the answer, but I’ll tell you any way: They didn’t invite you in because they don’t want to spend as much time with you as you want to spend with them. I understand it hurts your feelings to be left-out of their club, but you might think about it this way: “Real friends like to be with me as much as I like to be with them. If these friends aren’t inviting me to join their club, maybe they aren’t as good friends as I thought. Hmm… instead of feeling sorry for myself about their little club, maybe I should look around and try to make a new friend.”

How do you know if a so-called friend is a REAL friend? You know if you’ve got a REAL friend (vs. the Other Kind) by the way you feel when you are with that person. Do you feel safe? Do you feel respected? Do you feel totally accepted for who you are without any pressure to be someone you’re not just to get that person to like you more? A REAL friend is there for you, when you need cheering up and when you want to share some exciting news. I wrote a whole book about Real Friends vs. the Other Kind. See if it’s in your school library.

There is a girl in my class that is nice to everyone else except me. I really like her, but when I join a game with her in it, she says she is not playing and then she runs away! Also, I think she can get really tough when I want to talk to her. What should I do? Before I answer your question, I’ve got one I need to ask you: Why would you want to be friends with someone who is not nice to you?? You ask “What should I do?” Well, because I know you deserve to be treated with respect, I’d say, for the time being,  you should stop trying to get this girl to be nice to you. For whatever reason, she’s not ready to do that. Why would you continue knocking on her door when she refuses to open it with a smile and welcome you inside? Instead, I suggest you go on a New Friend Search. I’m sure you will find the kind of friend you deserve. Good luck!

My friend is friends with a very mean and rude girl and she’s stealing my friend away from me. What should I do? Someone can “steal” a pencil or a book, but I don’t really believe anyone can “steal” a friend away from you. If your friend chooses to spend more of her time with this other girl then that’s your friend’s choice. I understand you don’t like it because you miss the special close one-on-one relationship you two used to have, but she has the freedom to spend time with other people. Talk to her about it. See if there is a way you can schedule playtime just with her. And while she’s busy, think about what fun things you can be doing, either on your own or with other friends.

My bff hates me because she wanted to do something really bad and I said no because I knew she was gonna get caught. So she did this thing and she’s not my friend ’cause I said no. But she got away with it, so I’m totally clueless. I’m very proud of you for not letting your friend pressure you into doing something that you knew wasn’t OK. That tells me that you know how to make healthy choices, even when friends are pushing and pulling you in other directions. I think your bff is angry because you didn’t go along with her idea. She probably knows that you were right in your decision but she can’t yet admit that she was wrong. So instead, she’s pushing you away with her anger. Give her some time to cool off. Hopefully, you two will come back together. But here’s a word of warning: if she has any more idea to do things that don’t feel right to you, think about whether she shares your values. It can hard to have a real lasting friendship with someone who doesn’t share your values.

UPDATE October 3, 2014: The Girls Q&A Book on Friendship: 50 Ways to Fix a Friendship Without the DRAMA is now available in print and on Kindle (the ebook can be read on any device, your mobile phone, tablet, or computer with the free Kindle reader app). Visit for an excerptreviews, and to order your copy.


We kids need to know about friendship…

October 19, 2011

Last week I had the honor of speaking to several groups of very articulate 4th-8th graders. The topic was one of my favorites: Real Friends vs. The Other Kind. The students submitted questions but because I didn’t have a chance to answer them all during our time together, I promised to post them in a series of blogs. Here’s the first installment of that series. I hope parents and kids will read these questions together. I also hope my responses will open the channel for ongoing conversations about friendship challenges. Click here for Part 2 of the series.

This friendship stuff can be really confusing


General friendship questions:

1. “How do friends become friends?”

That’s a great question! How people become (and stay) friends is a little bit magical. You meet someone and there’s something about him or her that you just like. And that person feels the same way about you. Maybe you two share a special interest. Or you have a similar sense of humor. There are many ways and many reasons people are drawn into a friendship. Whatever is the “glue” that brings two people together in a friendship, it is often a great opportunity to learn about yourself and others.

2. “How long do friendships last?”

Friendships are not like milk or cottage cheese. They do not come with an “expiration date.” Friendships between kids, tweens and teens usually last as long as both friends feel respected, accepted and safe in the friendship. When one or both friends no longer feels comfortable in the friendship (for whatever reason) it makes sense to talk about it with your friend. (Talking about it behind your friend’s back is not a good idea. I’ll bet you can guess why.) Sometimes an honest conversation can help friends realize that they need to make some changes in the way they treat each other. When both people are willing to make those changes, then the friendship can grow to the next level. Sometimes what comes out of that kind of conversation is a decision to take a “break” from the friendship. That’s ok too.

3. “How do you figure out a problem fairly?”

You probably don’t need me to tell you that it’s not always possible for someone to get his/her way all the time. That’s true in a friendship and in all relationships. When you want one thing and your friend wants something else, that’s a conflict. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. Think of a conflict as a good opportunity to work on unraveling a problem and making the friendship healthier. Here’s how: The most “fair” way to sort things out during a conflict is by taking turns LISTENING to each other. We listen best with a closed mouth, an open heart and an open mind. After we’ve each had a turn saying what we want and how we feel, work together and figure out a compromise. Try to stay calm. That’s important for good problem-solving and respectful behavior. By talking respectfully and working together in this way, you and your friend have made your friendship stronger. When each friend gets some of what he/she wants, it’s more likely to feel fair.

4.”Why do these friendship problems happen?” “Is it normal to have a fight with a friend?”

Problems between people happen because each of us has his/her own ideas and opinions. It is totally normal to disagree with a friend from time to time. As long as you and your friend are always treating each other with respect (even when you’re disagreeing) then it’s fine. In fact, dealing with friendship problems can be very educational! There’s no reason to get stressed or worried if you and a friend aren’t getting along right now. Calmly talking about the problem with your friend and LISTENING respectfully to each other is a good way to resolve problems. Even though talking is good, it isn’t always going to instantly fix what’s wrong in a friendship. But it’s usually a great place to start. But sometimes, when people are feeling very angry or hurt, it’s a good idea to give each other some space. Then when emotions cool down, you and your friend are in a better place to talk and to listen. If you need help sorting things out between you and a friend, talk to your parents or email me.

5. “How do you know when a friend is a friend?”

That depends on how you define the word “friend.” I define a real friend as someone I trust who I feel totally comfortable and safe with. I always know I can talk openly with my friend and he/she feels the same way about me. Me and my friend share interests and values. We enjoy spending time with each other and can freely share the good times and the sad times. But that’s just me. Take a minute right now and think about your own definition of the word “friend.” Now think about all the people you call your “friends.” When you think about a real friend, you may feel happy. You may even get a little smile on your face when you think about this person and the special friendship you have. If you’ve got a friend who makes you wonder “Is this person really a friend?” chances are you may not smile when you think of him/her. Instead you may feel confused or worried or jealous or stressed. It’s a good idea to pay attention to the way you feel when you’re with someone. Positive feelings are good clues to let you know if someone is a friend. Negative feelings are worth paying attention to also. They can be clues that something is not right in the friendship.

Questions about 3-way friendships
• What do I do when I have two close friends who don’t like each other?
• What do I do when I have a friend who has another friend that I don’t like and we have mini-fights over the person we both like?
• What should I do if my BFF and me don’t get to hang out at all and he/she plays with someone else that is not me.
• What do you do if your close friend is also a friend to someone you are friends with but not as close and you are fighting over the other friend?
• What happens when you are fighting over a friend with someone else?

Answer: All of these questions refer to “triangle friendships” that is, three people in a friendship where Friend A feels really close to Friend B but not so close to Friend C. When that happens, sometimes Friend A and Friend C argue a lot and Friend B can feel like (s)he’s stuck in the middle! It can get very stressful and complicated for everyone involved. Each situation is different, of course, but usually a good idea to calmly sit down together and talk to each other about what’s going on. It’s rarely a good idea to talk about people you’re not getting along with. That just adds to the “social garbage” in a friendship and in a school. The world is already  filled with enough social garbage, so please try not to add to it! After a respectful conversation, it may turn out that all three friends figure out a way to be in a healthy triangle friendship. Or it may turn out that the best solution is to split up the triangle into two groups of two. For example, Friend A and Friend B spend some of the time together while Friend C spends time with Friend D (a new friend who wasn’t part of the triangle). Then on another day, Friend A and Friend C hang out together (just the two of them) while Friend B spends time with Friend E. Friendship conflicts are an opportunity to grown. Learning to compromise is a good life-skill. It gives each person some of what they want and helps you feel more grown-up and in charge of your behavior.

That’s all for now. Next Wednesday I’ll be posting some more friendship questions from these amazing students.

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