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.

We need uncomfortable schools

July 28, 2014

Feeling uncomfortable? Now use it for good.

Feeling uncomfortable? Now use it for good.

As we approach the beginning of the new school year, my heart goes out to the kids who are dreading it. They are usually the ones who had to wade through more than their share of social garbage last term. Hopefully they got a needed reprieve during the summer. But they’ve got to go back and most of them (and their parents and teachers) are probably not looking forward to the inevitable crapola (online and off).

Being in the prevention business, I’m always working on ways to make schools more compassionate. Here’s my latest contribution… just a reminder… adapted from the Charter for Compassion’s call to action for cities.

A compassionate school is an uncomfortable school!
Uncomfortable when anyone is threatened, harassed, or made to feel less than.
Uncomfortable when every child isn’t treated with respect by every teacher and every other student.
Uncomfortable when every student isn’t given rich opportunities to grow intellectually, creatively, and emotionally.
Uncomfortable when, as a school community, we don’t treat each other as we want to be treated.

A compassionate school knows uncomfortable feelings aren’t worth zippo, if they don’t trigger action. So a compassionate school recognizes the discomfort and immediately works for change with the full leadership and commitment of all administrators and teachers. With adult leadership, students learn how they too can become change agents. Because, whether students admit it or not, they desperately want their school to be a place where every kid is treated with respect. Every one.

Got it? Good. Now go make your kid’s school really uncomfortable. We’re in this together.


Every person who bugs you is not a “bully”

April 29, 2014

There have always been kids who seem to get pleasure and a power-high from bugging other kids. Maybe there always will be. Thankfully, adults are getting wise to the fact that “Kids will be kids” is no excuse for peer-harassment. Over the past decade, we have learned some heart-breaking lessons about the tragic consequences of unstopped harassment. Our education has come through the irreparable damange caused to targeted kids and their families. These days, at least on paper, parents and educators are much less tolerant of “mean kid” behavior than we have been in the past.

Of course, we’re talking about bullying (online and off) but I’ve purposely not yet used the word because it’s overused to the point of being meaningless.

Let’s get one thing straight, the definition of bullying is not: Everything that other people do that you don’t like. A rude, one-time comment is not bullying. A friend telling you that she doesn’t want to be your friend any more is not bullying. When everything is called bullying, kids miss the point and nothing changes for the good. So let’s be clear. Peer harassment is a) ongoing b) unwanted and c) typically involves a power disparity between the two people. For example, boss to employee, coach to player, parent to child, older sibling to younger, “popular” kid to less popular kid.

In my most recent 3 minute Vidoyen video I answered the question: How can parents and educators do a better job reducing bullying?

How to stop it? I've got answers

How to stop it? I’ve got answers


School Climate: Changing the forecast by raising EQ (Emotional Intelligence)

June 27, 2012

The following is an excerpt from the keynote speech I delivered yesterday at the 18th Annual Character Education Conference in St. Louis.

Showing we care is a good thing

We are human and by definition that means we are vulnerable. Unlike any other creatures, we are aware of our own mortality and so we experience worry and grief. We also know the joys of working together and supporting each other. We celebrate. We nurture. We protect. Because we can be so loving, we sometimes suffer rejection and loss. We trust. We open up and give of ourselves, and sometimes we feel betrayed.

In Teen World, aggressive anger is OK, but real vulnerability, are you kidding me? Teens get clear messages from peers to stay away from vulnerable emotions… especially in public. If you are hurt, don’t show it. If you are disappointed, don’t show it. If you love someone, don’t show it. Slip up and let some vulnerability bleed through the veneer and you are a baby. A wuss. A wimp. You are a pathetic loser.

Wrong! I am a human being.

Teaching kids to be good people means helping them understand and accept the broad spectrum of human emotions. Being afraid is not a cause for shame. Tears are no less acceptable than laughter. It’s all part of the package. If my tears are an honest expression of sadness, grief, joy, why should I hide them from you. Or be embarrassed in front of you?

We are mistaken when we buy into the notion that vulnerability is weakness. Our strength comes from our vulnerability. This may seem counter-intuitive since the word vulnerable derives from the Latin vulnere (meaning “to wound”) A wounded individual is hardly at her strongest, but I see emotions in a different light. Our feelings are our most authentic responses to life. If I am hurt, I cry. If someone is with me, my tears are likely to remind him of sadness he has felt. By responding to me, he acknowledges his own humanity. But if he mocks my tears or tries to push them aside, that indicates he is afraid to respond with compassion. Afraid to show how he has been touched. That he holds himself back from experiencing his full humanity makes me want to reach out and teach, because he is in desperate need of an education.

Unless we can embrace the vulnerable emotions underneath the Anger Lid, it is impossible for us to reach our full human potential. When we feel hurt and choose instead to plaster over our vulnerability with indifference, cool detachment or social aggression, we build walls between us. But if, instead, we are willing to honor our vulnerability, then we can strengthen our connections to other people. Isn’t that exactly what we’re trying to teach our students by creating positive school climates? When we recognize on a deep level that we all experience the same emotions, how can we not empathize with each other? How can we help but reach out in friendship to a person who needs a friend?

Schools that encourage kids to be humane graduate people of good character who are also, good judges of character. When it comes to how we treat each other, the graduates of those schools, have learned to set the bar very high for themselves and for their peers.


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