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.

Helping Kids Deal w/Social Garbage, Online & Off

November 8, 2012

I originally wrote a version of this article for, an interactive publisher and the digital arm of Participant Media.  Check out my weekly Education posts there.

"Help! I'm drowning in social garbage!"

I’ve been answering teen email since 1997. The ongoing Q&A has made me an expert on the social garbage many 11-17 year olds slog through every day. Typical teen questions include:

  • What do you do if your friend is mad at you but won’t tell you why?
  • What do you do if people are spreading rumors about you and no one believes that they aren’t true?
  • What do you do when friends pressure you to do stuff you don’t want to do, but you’re afraid not to because they’ll make fun of you?

Sound familiar? These might be the same issues we once dealt with, but our children aren’t responding to them the way we did before social media. When 21st-century kids experience peer conflicts, online and off, they typically respond with a level of social aggression (aka verbal violence) that damages individuals in profound ways and pollutes school climates everywhere.

In September I spoke with nearly a thousand students at a couple of international schools, one in Singapore and another in Chiang Mai, Thailand. We talked about Real Friends vs. the Other Kind, based on my Middle School Confidential series. In each presentation the kids and I discussed tough issues like: stress, peer approval addiction, and the brain’s occasional habit of working against our desire to do the right thing. Even though I was 7,000 miles from home, the comments and questions coming from these students expressed the same conflicts and emotional confusion I’ve heard repeatedly from kids in San Jose, St. Louis, and Philly.

Back in the last century, when we had a problem with someone at school, we went home for dinner with the family, did homework, and watched TV. Sometimes we even read a book to take our minds off school and social garbage. The next morning in class combatants were usually less combative and we were all better able to concentrate on whatever we were expected to learn.

Today’s kids are mind-melded with peers 24/7. School and home are equally conducive for frantic texting and getting more people involved in the drama du jour. Status anxiety regularly submerges so much mental real estate, our students are often flooded with destructive emotions. They can’t think clearly when they’re upset. No one can. Which is why the adults who live and work with kids need to actively teach kids to be good people, otherwise, their moral compasses will be calibrated solely by their equally clueless peers. (Not a pretty thought!)


Don’t I have the right to know everything my kid is doing?

February 5, 2012

I often hear from teens bitterly complaining about parents who snoop through their email, playlists and text message exchanges with friends. In case you just thought: “Aren’t I paying for this technology? Don’t I have the right to know everything my kid’s doing with it.” Yes you are. And no you don’t.

If you feel like you’re ‘losing’ your t(w)een because s/he’s always online, do something smart about it. Set reasonable limits and offer positive face-to-face family time to balance teen time in Digital World. But don’t lose sight of the plain fact that teens need the connection with their friends, so don’t feel threatened by it. Get to know their friends. Be interested in what’s going on without an obsessive need to know. If you don’t have probable cause for snooping into your teen’s life, don’t. You’re jeopardizing the foundation of every healthy parent-child relationship, i.e., mutual respect.

When our kids are little we call all the shots. But when they reach the tween years, they’re programmed to test our authority to tell them what to do. You may need to rethink the boundaries you’ve had in place for their first decade.

In case you’re a bit fuzzy about personal boundaries, this may help:

  • Your 5 year old says ‘My tooth is loose.” You stick your hand in his mouth and give that baby incisor a jiggle. No problem. But if you try to stick your hand in your 13 year old’s mouth… Boundary alert!
  • Your 11 year gets her first period. You congratulate her and give her everything she needs to take care of herself.  Good parenting! But if you insist your daughter tell you the start-date of her period each month so you can write it down in a book… Boundary alert!
  • Your 14 yr old enters with a dark cloud overhead. He mumbles something about how his stupid coach won’t start him in tomorrow’s game. You immediately call the coach and give him an earful. Boundary alert!

Now you the get idea, right?

We teach respect by setting boundaries and by being respectful. When our kids are disrespectful, we respectfully remind them they have crossed the line. When we disrespect them, we teach nothing positive about the value of respect. Snooping into your teen’s personal stuff without probable cause is a gross sign of disrespect. In that moment you’re violating your kid’s trust. When your son/daughter finds out (and they will), they will blast you with their outrage.

For the record, I’m fine with kids being outraged. Gets their blood pumping and their attention focused on an actual human being instead of a digital facsimile. Good parenting isn’t supposed to win you popularity points. In fact, good parenting sometimes results in kids temporarily resenting the hell out of  us! So bring on the anger. You can deal. But if the kid’s outrage is justifiable, then you may have painted yourself into a corner and damaged your child’s trust in you.

We all want our kids to grow up to be responsible and trustworthy. Part of our job is living and teaching by example. How does snooping teach kids to be trustworthy? It doesn’t! All it really does is make teens more secretive. And in case you forgot how crafty you were at that age, let me remind you that any teen can and will beat any parent in the game of “Whose life is it anyway?”

Teens have the right to some privacy. And with it comes the responsibility to act in ways that reflects your parental teaching. A person of good character makes ethical choices even when no one is watching. That’s what you ultimately want from your children.

How do they get from here to there?

You think I’ve got all the answers? Ha! There’s no one right way to parent, but there are plenty of WRONG ways. Assuming it’s your right to know the content of your kid’s every text msg is one wrong way. Not because kids won’t like it but because a healthy parent-teen relationship respects boundaries.


Filed under: Parenting,Technology — Tags: , , , — Annie @ 12:22 pm

Guest blogger: “I’m 11 and my parents know I’m on Facebook”

August 31, 2011

Guess you'll have to lie about your age

by Rosemina Nazarali

Kiwi Commons is a late-breaking news, guides and information weblog dedicated to providing readers with the most relevant and up-to-date resources available on youth Internet safety. Kiwi provides readers with a broad range of thoughts and opinions from various experts, including their own Kiwi Expert Panel, to real life stories of the youth affected by these new challenges like sexting, scams, cyberbullying and predators.

It comes as no surprise that a good portion of Facebook users lie about their ages. It does come as a surprise, however, that almost half of all 12-year-olds in the U.S. use social networking websites, despite the site requiring a minimum age of 13.

With no mechanisms in place to detect when a person is lying about their age, there’s no telling who or how many under-agers are actually using Facebook. However, Facebook has taken notice and is kicking out about 20,000 users each day, many of whom are among the 12 and under crowd.

“Facebook uses various methods to identify underage accounts, including the monitoring of information placed on the site and community reports from other users,” said Facebook’s Chief Privacy Advisor, Mozelle Thompson.

With this, however, comes an array of new questions, this time for the parents. Would you let your child lie about their age to sign-up for a social network? This is the hypothetical question that has been burning up the Internet since last week, and many of the differing answers are quite surprising.

“Not only are kids lying about their age, but more often than not, parents teach them to lie about their age,” said Danah Boyd, a social media researcher for Microsoft.

So I became curious. I wanted to know what parents on the Internet were saying about the matter, and what the justification was for either allowing or not allowing their kids to sign-up for Facebook.

Crisntina Flores, a 44-year-old mother to an 11-year-old boy said she did allow him to sign-up for Facebook because she feared he would sign-up behind her back anyway. Her son, Jake, told Facebook he is 15. “It’s not like there’s a legal limit for being on the Internet,” Flores said.

15 of 30 students in one of Jake’s fifth-grade classes are all on Facebook. “It’s lying — and about age,” said the class’s teacher, Aundrea Kaune. “What happens when they want to drink beer?”

“Allowing kids to lie by creating a profile with a false age…is a different issue than allowing activity online that, frankly isn’t even appropriate offline,” one parent, Cameron Sullivan, told the DublinPatch. “Some of my contacts on Facebook have middle-school kids whose pages are open to friends of friends. I don’t have time to waste monitoring other kids’ lives online, but on the rare occasions that I venture to their kids’ pages, I am grateful for the parents’ ignorance. The ability to see what kids are posting online provides a window into the goings-on of some middle-school kids.”

Another parent, Kari Kulac, who let her fourth-grade daughter sign-up for Facebook is starting to question her decision. “It’s only been a couple of months, but I’m unsure whether I should let her continue, not because of safety fears but because it is yet another time suck that has to be monitored along with all the other frivolous electronic pastimes (TV, etc.). I’d rather she be running around outside,” Kulac said. “The benefits, I suppose, are the social enjoyment she has getting to better know my out-of-state side of the family, including my 87-year-old grandmother.”

But it’s not just Facebook kids are fibbing on. Victoria Lai, a ninth-grade student in San Francisco, said she signed up for Yahoo! Games when she was just in the second-grade. “I always say I was born in 1986, not 1996, because it’s just one number different. Easy to remember.”

Victoria’s father, Brian Lai, says that kids “have to experience using the Internet. It’s the future.” He added, “it’s not good to lie, but you can make an exception.”

May Jay Hoal of Yoursphere brings up a point. “Parents can’t forget that Facebook was created by adults and for adults, and the adult culture that lives on Facebook is usually one that we likely wouldn’t expose our children to in the ‘real world.’”

One thing many of these Facebook users who aren’t quite honest about their age don’t realize, is that once you’ve signed up with a certain birth date on Facebook, it cannot be changed. So unless you plan on opening a new account after you hit the age of 13, you’ll be stuck appearing as the wrong age you originally input for a very long time.

After reading what all the parents had to say, I went to Kiwi Commons expert, Doreen Nicastro, to find out how she felt about young people using Facebook before they were ready.

“From both a developmental and safety standpoint, no kids under the age of 13 should have a Facebook account, period end of story,” she said. “Parents are being manipulated and bullied by their own kids to get access to social networking. The fact of the matter, it’s against Facebook terms of agreement for kids under the age of 13!”

Nicastro suggests that the adults start communicating with each other. “Parents, schools and law enforcement in communities across the world need to come together and discuss the rules of the social networking road. New tools require new rules. The problem is that schools are shutting it down, parents are too busy and stressed to get engaged, and kids are running the show.”

While parents and young people continue the ongoing argument surrounding social media use, Facebook is looking for a solution for their under-age users. They are currently considering creating a safe social network for the 12 and under population — a place meant just for kids and a way to dissuade them for signing up for Facebook before the required age.

We want to know — would you let your kids lie about their age to engage on social networking websites like Facebook?


Guest blogger: Social media saves students

June 9, 2011

by Miranda Paul

Miranda Paul teaches both English and Spanish in Green Bay, Wisconsin. She holds a BA in English and Education from St. Mary’s College of Maryland where she helped launch a student-teacher exchange program in Gambia, West Africa. In her spare time, Miranda is a freelance writer for the University of Southern California’s Masters in Teaching online degree program.

When I began student teaching eight years ago, I didn’t belong to any social media sites. But in less than a year I learned an important lesson: Social media saves students. That first year I had one particularly challenging class among my 9th and 11th graders. The class was difficult because many students were too shy or intimidated to share their opinions. I did my best to encourage them, offering prizes for speaking up, etc., but by the end of my student teaching, only a handful of the most outgoing students had expressed how much they enjoyed my unit on poetry.

I felt I really hadn’t reached all of my students and that I had failed. Then one day, the following summer, I opened a heartfelt three-page email from a former student who rarely spoke in class. She described how, during the school year she had contemplated suicide, but poetry helped her through tough times. She was grateful for a handout I’d given in class, listing poetry forums where kids could post their words online. On those social media sites, she found friends and the confidence to discuss many issues. Her last line summed it up: Poetry saved her life and I had introduced her to poetry. That was powerful. A student who seemed afraid to talk in class wasn’t scared of publishing her words for all to see. Social media had saved a student’s life.

When I landed my first teaching position, I tried to include every technology available to me that would help me reach all of my students academically and developmentally. Student work was scanned and written about on blogs. Both parents and students had my e-mail address on the first day of school. By the next year, I had several students writing their own blogs. Several parents were skeptical – but others were enthusiastic about their child’s increased participation.

Social media is the new language of kids. If we want to reach them, we need to speak their language. But it’s equally important to make ourselves available on their platform so that they are able to reach us. Last week, I spoke to a group of 7th and 8th grade girls about some charity work I do in a small African country. After the presentation, the girls were eager to help with the project. “Are you on Twitter?” one girl asked, pulling out a phone, ready to type. The school day was technically over and parents were ready to leave, but the girls wanted to continue learning and social media would help them do it. I directed her to Facebook (I’m not yet on the Twitter bandwagon…). Because they had a way to reach me, within a few days, my charity more than doubled its Facebook fans.

I’m not the only teacher, student or parent who believes in the power of social media to connect and empower us all.  Recent articles in The New York Times provide more convincing evidence of the growing educational and emotional power of social media. I loved reading about how Iowa English teacher Erin Olson used technology like Twitter to increase classroom discussion participation by more than 25%. In another story, retired history teacher Bill Chemerka discovered his impact on students when he found a Facebook fan page called the “Mr. Chemerka Fan Club,” with more than 450 members. Alye Pollacks YouTube video is yet another example of how social media was the only way Alye felt confident enough to speak up about the issue of being bullied.

Based on my experiences and that of others, I’ll keep social media in mind as I prepare to teach summer courses (I’ve actually requested to teach one of my courses in a computer lab).  Of course, as the traditional English teacher I am, I’ll also be bringing plenty of pencils and paper.

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