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.

How do we teach kids to play nice on social media?

September 2, 2015

Can you guys tell me how to use this thing?

Can you guys tell me how to use this thing?

Your kids might not have gotten a summer break from social media, but even if they did, they’re probably back on it now… in force. With all the time spent interacting with people they know and people they don’t, how do we teach them to play nice?

I use the word “play” because social media is the biggest unsupervised playground in the world. When kids run around on any playground, with no rules or supervision, kids will get hurt… by other kids. It’s the same with social media. Kids as young as eight and nine run amok and use a keyboard as a weapon to show off, to spout off, to grab attention, and to get back at other kids.

We all like to think of ourselves as responsible parents, right?  Responsible parents teach their kids the rules of behavior for different situations. We do it to keep our kids safe and to make sure they don’t hurt anyone or trample on anyone’s rights. Before we give a teen access to the family car we make sure s/he knows the rules of the road and has demonstrated proficiency. It’s the same with social media. When we give a child access to social media via any device, we need to provide rules and oversight. But in this relatively new arena it can be challenging to know exactly how to parent responsibly.  Maybe that’s why many parents seem checked out. Who knows? Maybe they’re thinking, “How am I supposed to tell my kid how to use it? She knows more about this tech or that app than I do! I don’t even know how to upload video!” That excuse doesn’t cut it. As parents we’re the ones responsible for raising good digital citizens. The only effective way to do that is to make it super clear to our kids that whatever standards and expectations we have for their behavior in face-to-face situations are the same when they’re texting a friend or roaming the vast social media playground.

We need to do this because kids are kids. They are immature socially and undeveloped cognitively. They have trouble connecting the dots here. They assume because they are alone with their phone and there is no one else around, they can’t be pegged for anything they do. It’s like hit and run. It’s like drone warfare! They press a button and because they can’t see the suffering they’re causing they somehow believe they did no wrong or they find ways to justify their actions. (“I didn’t start it!” “I wasn’t the only one.” “He did much worse to me!” ) They need us to teach them that their choices matter, online and off. Without our guidance, not only will they continue hurting other people, they are hurting their own reputations. They are also building up an inventory of bad deeds. When that happens it can change a child’s perception of the kind of person he or she is.

So as this new school year kicks off, I encourage you to take a look at The Parents Pledge to Raise a Responsible Digital Citizen. Go over it with your kids before you give them access. And if you’ve already given them access, then you need to pedal back a bit and say, “We’ve got to talk about some rules here, because I need to know that the choices you make whenever you express yourself or communicate in any way, always reflect the good person you really are.”

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My parents won’t let me get a phone!

November 3, 2014

To tell the truth, I don’t remember how I met Vicky Thornton and Jen Rehberger. We probably connected on Twitter, as so many do. But I totally remember each of my visits to their podcast What Really Matters? where we always get real about 21st century parenting challenges, swap personal parenting stories, and laugh… a lot. I’m a big fan of their work and was delighted when Vicky and Jen each took the time to review The Girls’ Q&A Book on Friendship: 50 ways to fix a friendship without the DRAMA. They were also kind enough to interview me for their show (to be posted soon). And if that weren’t support enough, they are hosting today’s stop on my blog tour.

Here’s one of the tricky questions Vicky and Jen asked me for the tour.

I'm missing out on... everything!!

I’m missing out on… everything!!

Question: My parents won’t let me have a phone yet and I am the only one of my friends without one.  They are texting to each other all the time and I am left out.  I really want one, but I will not be able to get one until next year.  How can I still be a part of the group if I don’t know what they are always texting about?

Annie:  This is a tough one. Your friends are communicating through their phones. Each time they do, they share information and feelings that bring them closer to each other. I understand why you feel left out. Do you understand why your parents won’t get you a phone until next year? If you aren’t clear about their reasons for waiting, please talk to them. Find out why they don’t think you are ready yet. And during that conversation, hopefully you will have the opportunity to tell them (calmly and maturely) why you believe you are ready to have a phone and to use it responsibly. This conversation may not change your parents’ feelings about getting a phone, but at least you will understand where they are coming from and they will understand where you are coming from.

As for feeling closer to your “always texting” friends… talk to them about it. You might say something like this “You guys are always texting. I feel left out. How would you feel about putting down the phones when I’m around?” Then close your mouth and listen to what they say. Real friends want to make each other feel included… not left out. If your friends aren’t willing to make you feel more included, what might that tell you about the kind of friends they are? Something to think about!

Read the rest of Vicky and Jen’s girl friendship questions and my answers here.

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Believing Lies: A cautionary tale in 8 emails

March 5, 2014

Why don't they believe me?

Why don’t they believe me?

It ain’t easy being teen when the social stuff takes up so much time and emotional and mental real estate. A teen’s ability to resolve conflicts in multi-tiered relationships doesn’t match the challenges. We are communicating with more people than ever, but all our texting, chatting and tweeting only increases the chances of miscommunication.

Another problem, peer conflicts rarely involve only two people. Maybe it started with Isaac and Charlotte, but within minutes all their friends become combatants. Increase the number of fighters on any battlefield, real or virtual, and you increase the intensity of the fight and the number of casualties. For example:

Hey Terra, I am new this year and have worked hard to make friends. Now someone has been telling my close friends that I talk behind their back, which I never did! And they actually believe it! Now everyone hates me, even people I don’t know. They call me a FAT HIPPO! They even made a picture of me with Ho, Liar and Skank written on it.  No one wants to be my friend and the rumors keep building up. It’s like I’m being tortured for something I didn’t do! Honestly, I would rather die than be here! I’m innocent and no one believes me. –Feeling depressed!

Hi, Feeling depressed,  I’m sorry this awful stuff is happening to you. It’s so unfair when people refuse to listen to the truth and continue spreading lies. It’s hard enough moving to a new place and it doesn’t help having all this drama to deal with. Do you have a school counselor? If you haven’t yet talked to a caring, trusted adult, you should. Don’t feel powerless because you are not! –Terra

Hey Terra, I did talk to my counselor and he told me to ignore them and keep hanging in there. He called the girls in to “sit and talk” to me and IT GOT WORSE! They called me a baby and worse things! I hate it soo much and they still don’t believe me! I wish everything would just go away!  Your reply has actually made me feel better cuz I feel like someone finally cares! 🙂 thank you!  btw, my name is Kate.–Kate

Dear Kate: Glad you talked to the counselor. That took courage. He thought if you “ignored” the girls their mean behavior wouldn’t have the power to upset you as much. But it’s not working. Go back and tell him “It got worse!” He needs to make it clear to these girls that what they are doing is not acceptable and if it doesn’t stop then their parents will be called in. If this harassment continues, talk to your parents so they can let the principal know what’s going on.–Terra

Hey Terra,Umm, do you know how I can prove to the girls that I’m innocent? If you don’t then that’s fine. I will talk to my parents and counselor. – Kate

Dear Kate, I’m glad you’re going to talk with your parents and to the counselor again. Sorry, I don’t know how you can prove your innocence. If your word isn’t good enough, nothing will be. Stop trying to convince them of anything.  –Terra

Hey Terra! Guess what?! Yesterday everyone apologized to me! They really felt bad for believing those lies! I said it’s OK, but inside I know I need to watch who I trust and what I say around people! Everyone’s hanging out with me more. They said it’s cuz they think I’m a strong person! They said they’re proud of me 🙂 –Kate

Dear Kate, I’m proud of you, too. Sometimes, when we say: “It’s OK” what we mean is “I am letting go of the bad feelings I’ve been holding.” That’s called forgiveness and it’s wise. It’s also wise to carefully choose who to trust. Especially after trust has been broken. Take what you learned and move forward with confidence! –Terra

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