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.

What are Halloween’s teachable lessons for kids?

October 22, 2015

I'm a bad ass. Just for tonight.

I’m a bad ass. Just for tonight.

Around here we’re experiencing a black and orange explosion. Each year the Halloween house make-overs get more impressive.

We’ve still got nine days to go, so I thought I’d get ahead of the curve and write about Halloween’s teachable moments for kids. Non-spoiler alert: This is not a parent tip sheet on how to put reasonable restrictions on kids’ sugar consumption. (That’s not a bad idea, but I leave it to the nutritionists.) Instead, let’s talk about the “mask” kids put on for Halloween vs. the mask many of our tweens and teens wear every single day. Halloween is a time to pretend to be someone else. It can be great fun and I’m a huge fan. But what happens when your child wears a mask all the time, hiding who he or she really is because of fear of disapproval from peers or even from you?

I’ve been thinking about the fine art of faking it for a long time because I work with tweens and teens and, face it, they can be masters of deception. When I talk to kids about consciously putting on a “mask,” as we do  when we get up on stage to perform in a play or dress up to explore other identities, it fits right into the idea of figuring out who you are, which is the manifesto of adolescence. But when we get so attached to hiding behind the mask that we’re no longer conscious of wearing it then we are faking it without knowing it. That’s never a good place to be, especially at a time when our tweens and teens ought to be exploring what it means to be one’s authentic self.

I have asked kids: How do you know when you’re faking it? They’ve provided profound responses, like these:

I get a sinking feeling in my stomach.

I feel like what I’m doing is not really me, but I continue doing it anyway.

I feel like a fraud in my own body.

I feel like a jumble of very confused spaghetti.

We ought to encourage our kids to reflect deeply on who they are and who they are becoming. They need to think clearly, despite the cacophony of judgments and opinions happening around them and within them. The best way I know to do that is by telling them how much we appreciate who they are when they are being authentic. We need to also model authenticity in own our lives. That doesn’t mean that we are always a certain way. Our behavior and attitudes change depending on circumstance and setting, and that’s appropriate. But when it’s “just us,” in the family, we need to create opportunities to talk about what it means to be true to oneself and to have integrity. No faking it.

 

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Tween asks, “Who was that guy my mom was with??”

June 10, 2015

As part of my ongoing series of Q&A from my email, today I’m bringing you a question from a 7th grader. Even if the situation he’s in is not something your child is dealing with, it’s helpful to be reminded how sensitive kids are. They notice everything and when they’re too scared to let us in on their worries, they suffer in silence. On the other hand, when we sharpen our radar we’re better able to notice when they might be upset. That’s when we need to step up and encourage them to open up.

I don't know who to talk to about this.

I don’t know who to talk to about this.

Today’s question: I’m 12 and my parents are divorced. Me and my little sister live with my mom. Today when I got home I saw this guy with his arm around my mom. I felt annoyed. I didn’t know what to say. When they left together my mom said she was going to work. I felt like a nobody. I wont tell her I know but, I wanna feel better.

–Lost and Confused

Dear Lost and Confused,

This is a tough one. It can be really awkward when you see one of your parents with someone else. I don’t know how long your parents have been divorced or if either Mom or Dad has dated before, but this is probably something you are going to have to get used to. Your Mom loves you and your sister very much. That hasn’t changed. But she is not married and she has the right to date. Please reconsider talking to her about it. It would be a smart move on your part. You might say something like this: “Mom, the other day when I saw you with that guy, I felt uncomfortable. “ Then ask her whatever is on your mind. For example, “Who is he?” “How long do you know him?” “Where did you meet him?” “Is he your boyfriend?” “Are you going to marry him?” Whatever you want to ask… ASK her. You will feel better knowing what’s going on. That is the best way to stop feeling “like a nobody.” You are NOT a “nobody” you are your mom’s child. And as a 12 year old, you have the right to know certain things. So… ask.
You can do this. Good luck! And let me know how it goes.

In friendship,
Terra

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Parenting Question: How do I keep my child away from a bad friend?

June 6, 2015

For the next few months my blog will focus on answering your parenting questions about raising tweens and teens as well as letting you in on some of the letters I get from tweens and teens. So if you’ve got something on your mind that you could use help with, send it to AskAnnie. (Of course it will be posted without any names, so no worries there.)

Today’s question: How do I keep my 11 yr old away from a bad friend?

And you still think she's your friend?!

And you still think she’s your friend?!

First you’ve got to realize that your definition of a “bad” friend might not be the same as your child’s. In fact, if your child has a history with this friend and is very attached, trying to pry her away will most likely land you smack in the middle of an ugly, pointless power struggle in which you will become the bad guy.

The most effective way to handle something like this is to help your child develop standards for what constitutes a good friend vs. the other kind. You can do it by making observations about what you see. For example, you might say, in a neutral voice, “You know, honey, I’ve noticed, when you come home from Jack’s house you’re usually in a bad mood. Sometimes you take it out on your sister. Sometimes you’re rude to me. I’m wondering what’s going on here?” Right then and there, you create a safe environment for your child to think about what you’ve observed and to let you in on where this chronic “bad mood after being with Jack” might be coming from.

Another approach is to share what you see when the two kids are together. You might say something like this, “I notice when Jack comes over, he seems to be bossing you around. Sometimes I hear bad language and I’m not happy with that. It seems like you two spend more time fighting than getting along. What’s up with that?” After an observational statement like this, simply close your mouth and listen to what your son or daughter has to say.

These techniques let you inside the mind of your child more effectively than provocative statements. (“You don’t actually like that awful boy, do you?!!”) Loaded questions like that don’t go over well with tweens and teens.

If you have good reasons, you are also perfectly within your rights to say, “Your friend is no longer welcome in our home and here’s why…” That conversation can be an eye-opener for your child and provide lots of food for thought.

Bottom line, the best way to influence tweens and teens in the direction of more positive friendships is to make neutral observations so the conversation can open up rather than shut down. That’s how to infuse your child with essential information about what it means to be a real friend.

I hope this helps. And until next time, happy parenting.

 

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Guest blogger: It’s Probably Not Hormones

April 16, 2015

by Jeannie Burlowski

Jeannie Burlowski is a full time author, consultant, and conference speaker.  Learn more about her services at JeannieBurlowski.com.

I can't do this anymore!

I can’t do this anymore!

15-year-old Luke had been in a dark, angry mood, starting from the moment his mother wished him a cheerful “Good morning!” and set hot scrambled eggs in front of him. Luke ate in broody silence and his mother felt momentarily thankful for the quiet. If Luke could just get off to school without his typical screaming and door slamming, it would be a good day.  “It’s probably just hormones,” she rationalized after her sulky son left for school. “There’s nothing I can do about that.”

Actually, Mom, it’s probably not “just hormones.” Your teen’s dark moods, depression symptoms, mood swings, blunted, flat emotional responses, and hair-trigger anger are more likely to be linked to a psychological condition called “launch anxiety.”  That’s good news since there’s a lot parents can do to help teens feel better.

Psychologists Laura Kastner, Ph.D. and Jennifer Wyatt, Ph.D. have defined launch anxiety as: “The near constant feeling of indecision, doubt, uncertainty, insecurity, and fretting that accompanies the transitioning of teens in late high school, and extending through college. It’s experienced by teens, but it’s also experienced by parents, who feel tied in knots by uncertainty, doubt, insecurity, worry, and fretting about this next step in their children’s lives.”

Recent research finds a near epidemic of anxiety among 21st century high school and college age students. Is your child one of them?

5 Action Items for Combatting Launch Anxiety

1.  Take this short quiz.  

To gauge whether your son or daughter might be experiencing launch anxiety, take a look at the symptom list below, excerpted from www.anxietycentre.com. Do these symptoms sound familiar?

____Continual feelings of anger, impatience                            ____Feeling “down in the dumps”

____Depression                                                                               ____Emotionally blunted, flat, or numb

____Emotional “flipping” (dramatic mood swings)                 ____Everything seems scary, frightening

____Frequently being on edge or ‘grouchy’                               ____Feeling like crying for no apparent reason

____Not feeling like yourself, emotionally numb                    ____Feeling anxious, apprehensive, or fearful

____Feeling you are under constant pressure                         ____Feeling detached from loved ones

If these symptoms sound familiar there’s a good chance your child has some form of anxiety.  Next steps…

2.  Quit telling your child that if s/he “doesn’t get into a good school, s/he won’t be able to get a good job after college.”  This is patently untrue, and the message is harmful.

3.  Ease up on your kids’ schedules. Exhausted students who’ve been run ragged by every club, extracurricular activity, and sport can build up layers of anxiety, making them less attractive to colleges. Don’t believe it?  Read this New York Times article where a Harvard admissions officer laments that student applicants “seem like dazed survivors of some bewildering lifelong boot camp.”  Ease up.  Please.

4.  Spend at least one hour per week with your child outside the house doing an activity you both enjoy. No nagging allowed.  No anxious questions about homework, grades, college applications, etc.  One of the greatest antidotes to anxiety is caring, face-to-face, human connection. So schedule time to simply enjoy your child for who s/he is, not for how he or she is currently performing in school, sports, extracurricular activities, or college preparation.

5.  If the anxiety becomes severe, seek professional help. Are feelings of anxiety just part of growing up?  Should we just stand back and let our kids deal with it?  Not if anxiety symptoms are constant and debilitating. If that’s the case, please seek help from a school psychologist or other licensed professional who specializes is working with teens.

Have you seen any anxiety symptoms in your teens or college students?  What remedies have you seen work?

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