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.

From Harold and the Purple Crayon to Caine’s Arcade

June 13, 2014


Imagination inspiration

In 1955, when Harold and the Purple Crayon was first published, lots of kids (including me and my brothers) sat too long on their fannies in front of the television set. Maybe author Crockett Johnson had some TV addicted kids of his own. So he wrote a story about a little boy who creates a big adventure using only an oversized crayon and his imagination? 1950’s parents made it a best seller, hoping it would inspire their kids to unplug from the screen and be creative! The book is still in print and 21st century parents are still hoping the same.

Summer should give kids a break from prescribed learning and an invitation to use their imagination. Instead, they often settle into a predictable routine of screen time. As an app developer I know there are loads of creative apps for kids, but often the most creative playtime involves no tech. Ask Harold and his 21st century real-life counterpart… Caine.

Cardboard+Imagination= Infinite possibilities+FUN

Cardboard+Imagination= Infinite possibilities+FUN

A couple of summers ago Caine went to work each day with his dad who owns a used auto parts shop in East Los Angeles. There wasn’t much for Caine to do, but there were plenty of cardboard boxes. So Caine decided to use his imagination and his hands to create his own fun. Watch Caine’s Arcade with your kids (a 10 minute film) and check out my Family Confidential podcast this week: Imagination Rocks and learn about the Global Cardboard Challenge.  Then talk about how your family can make this your most creative summer ever.


I want to have fun, but my parents won’t let me!

July 17, 2013

I'm not allowed to go anywhere or do anything

I have a new puppy and a new appreciation for the importance of unstructured play. And of summer. Kids need a summer escape from homework, tests, and The Schedule. They need fun with friends and time spreading their wings. They need time to practice good judgement. And we need time learning to relax and let them.

I recently heard from a teen who wants to play, but he’s having trouble earning a recess pass:

Teen: I’m 14 and my parents don’t let me do anything. I only get to relax with my friends like once every 5 months. I asked to go to a theme park with my friends and my parents started freaking out and said no. They hold it against me for when I went to there last summer.

Annie:  Parents don’t freak out for no reason. What happened the last time?

Teen: Nothing. I was completely safe. I didn’t do anything bad and neither did my friends. Besides my mom was there with us too. She just didn’t walk around with us.

Annie: Hmm. Sounds like you don’t know why your parents don’t want you to go to the theme park. You should ask them.

Teen: I always ask my parents nicely and very respectfully when I just want a day to relax with my friends. Even though my friends are good, my parents say no. All I ever get is school, swim practice, and go home and study. I’ve been doing that since I was 4 or 5. I talk to my parents about me growing up and I need to get out to experience life and they won’t listen to me. They say that other parents are the same, but when I ask other kids of overprotective parents, they are treated completely different.

I’m overall a good kid. They know I can make the right choices. I do my chores, do great in sports, have straight A’s, but my parents don’t give me anything in return. I guess they still don’t trust me. I’m getting very sick of being locked up in the house all day when school isn’t in session. I only ask once in awhile if I can be with my friends, but they always say no and never give me a reason why. If they told me why, maybe I would understand their thinking. Please help.

Annie: Maybe your parents are very afraid of your being out on your own. But it’s impossible to know what they’re thinking if they don’t tell you. When parents don’t help kids understand their perspective, it’s frustrating because it doesn’t give you anything to hope for or to work with. So how can you change their minds or the situation?  You can’t. That’s unfair, but it is what it is.

For now, your parents make the rules. You want to earn the right to make more of your own decisions, so try negotiating with them. Say, “I want to go to ____’s house this afternoon from 1pm-3pm. We will be walking from here to there. I will call you as soon as I get there. I will call you when I leave to come home. May I please go?” If they say no, ask if you can go for one hour. Hopefully they will allow you more independence, a little at a time. If not, try to accept it and continue making good choices (you won’t be 14 forever.) If your parents give permission,  make sure you follow the rules. Call when you say you will. Be home a few minutes early. In that way, they will learn to trust you and your ability to make healthy choices even when they aren’t around. That’s all parents really want, the peace of mind knowing that their kids know how to keep themselves safe. I hope this helps.

Teen: Yes. Thank you. 🙂

Filed under: Parenting — Tags: , , , , , — Annie @ 2:05 pm

Mom, I’m bored!

July 12, 2013

There's nothing to do! (and it's all your fault)

It’s July. Likely the summer doldrums have already moved in. Maybe you’ve already been accosted by your kids’ complaining, “Mom, I’m bored!” in that grating tone they use to let you know you’re failing as a parent.

I didn’t hear “I’m bored” very often from either of my kids. They’re adults now, both professional writers and both comedy improv performers. No lack of creativity there. But my son, now 6’1″ was always a ravenous boy.  From him I often heard “Mom, I’m hungry!” His assumption: it was my job to feed him even when was old enough to take or make his own snack.  Solution: I taught him to cook. Which he still enjoys and is very good at.

When we don’t let  kids experience lulls in “fun time,” when Mom or Dad automatically become The Entertainer, kids are less likely to teach themselves to push through boredom and make their own fun. If we teach kids that it’s our job to do for everything for them, why should they bother learning to be creative? Why should they even bother thinking about what they might enjoy doing?

Summer can feel especially long when every moment of every day is unstructured. But a long summer can be such a gift to the imagination and the spirit. Here are some tips for helping your kids learn to banish boredom and get inspired!

1. Lead by example. There are things you love to do that tap into your creativity and stimulate your imagination. When kids see us being creative and fully involved in a project, they get the message, “In this family we put our imagination to work. And look how much fun and satisfaction we get!”

2. Talk about process. Being creative is often about experimentation and process more than product. When you catch your child in the act of doing something creative let him or her know that you admire their choice of activity. (Don’t worry about the mess!) If they produce a “product,” a drawing, a song, a dance, a video, a dozen cookies, a bird house, a garden, a lemonade stand, or a philanthropic campaign, then ask your child about the experience. How did you do that? What inspired you? How’d you feel while you were in the middle of it? What’d you learn? What would you do differently next time? What are you planning next? etc. These conversations inspire kids to continue being creative.

3. Unplug. With so much unstructured time, plugging in to a game, an app, or Social Media is an easy fix for “I’m bored!” But it’s also a time-sink and it’s not likely to teach your kids anything about their true passions, interests, and creative strengths. Family vacations are a great time to unplug. Sure it’s easier if you’re off the grid, but guess what? Even if you’ve got access, every digital device has a POWER-OFF switch. (Who knew?) Model self-discipline with your own devices. Show your kids what an imaginative adult looks like. Use family vacations to be with the family and play together in new creative ways.

It’s summer. Have fun as a family and show your kids how to do it on their own.


Summer is fun and learning can be too

July 9, 2013

Let's ride across the lake on a dragon!

Right before the light turned green I glanced out my window and saw a four-year-old swinging in front of her house. Lucky girl with parents cool enough to tie that swing on the tree. Smiling, I remembered the endless freedom of summer days with no particular place to go. Then the light turned and off I went, back into adulthood.

Summer is a portal to the land of “Who Knows Where Until You’re There.” It’s also a golden pass from the scheduling gods. (Or it should be.) Because, let’s face it, time away from routine provides the breather we all need to step back, relax, try something different, have fun, and then return to “normal life” with renewed interest and energy.

As a kid in summer, I planned my own days, each one radiating endless possibilities. In September, my new level of self-reliance stayed with me, propelling me into a new school year. Summer holds that potential for every kid, provided (s)he has the freedom and time. But that doesn’t mean vacationing kids should veg out for days in front of one screen or another. That’s as unhealthy as corralling  them into daily math & reading drills. Please don’t do either. But please do encourage fun and learning.

Let’s define terms. Learning is anything that exposes kids to new ideas, stretches the mind, promotes new ways of thinking, builds skills and knowledge, and/or encourages creativity. Summer can be a wonderful time for all sorts of special learning experiences. And because most parents are also “on break” during parts of the summer, families can learn together. Here are a few tips to make fun and learning part of this summer:

1.   Call a family meeting. Discuss special projects and activities the family can take on during the summer. Let kids take the lead but you should also bring some ideas to the table by first checking the Events section of your local newspaper, your town website, or search for “Summer Activities for Kids and Families (your city name).” Educational/cultural institutions have plenty of program offerings. Find out what’s available, talk it up to your kids, and take part.

2.   Be creative. Don’t let the close of school close the mind. Since many schools have cut out creative arts, summer is a great time to bring back those opportunities. Make arts and crafts. Make music and home videos. Make food and share the delicious goodies with your neighbors. When you do that, you’re also teaching generosity.

3.   Have an adventure. Gorgeous weather is a terrible thing to waste. Seize the day and tap into a child’s natural desire for adventure. Unfortunately, many kids only satisfy this by playing computer games. But real trails, parks, streams, and shorelines are out there waiting for young adventurers. Google “Hiking (your city name)” and discover nearby natural environments for your family to explore. Print out maps before you go and let the kids help navigate.

4.   Visit your public library. (We remember books, don’t we?) Ask a librarian for recommendations or better yet, have your children talk to the librarian about the kind of books they enjoy. Gather the family together each evening for a story or chapter or two. (Here are some free classic fairytales to get you and the kids in the mood.) Whatever you’re reading, talk about the use of language, characters, and plot points. Rather tell stories than read them? Here are some storytelling tips from a master.

5.   Watch classic films. Summer themed or otherwise, a great film is a treasure trove of educational possibilities. Share some of your favorite films from childhood and let your kids choose their favorites. Discover new ones, including kid-friendly foreign films. Make popcorn! Snuggle! Critique the films! It’s all learning, as in learning what it feels like to be part of a loving family. (How else will your children be able to re-create this sense of “us-together” for their own kids some day?)

Twenty-first century childhoods are different from the ones we had. Yet, summer still has the power to inspire dreaming. During the school year, our kids carry a lot on their shoulders and in their psyches. They need down time. You do too. When we use summer to play with our kids and engage in creative, thoughtful activities, we strengthen family bonds and instill in children the love of learning. If not now, when? Try taking it a little easier this summer and encourage your kids to do the same. When we slow down, and have no particular place to go, we meet new parts of ourselves.

Have a happy healthy and safe summer from my family to yours.

Filed under: Parenting,Tips — Tags: , , , , — Annie @ 12:36 pm
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