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Annie Fox

Annie Fox

Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting coach focusing on helping parents raise emotionally intelligent, kind and confident kids, especially during the tween/teen years. Her award-winning books and apps include: Teaching Kids to Be Good People, The Girls Q&A Book on Friendship, and the Middle School Confidential series.

Posted by on in School Culture

When Harold and the Purple Crayon was published in 1955, kids everywhere (including me and my brothers) sat too long on our fannies watching TV. Maybe author Crockett Johnson had a few TV addicted kids of his own, so he wrote a story about a little boy who creates a big adventure with just an oversized crayon and his imagination. The book's still in print because parents are still hoping to inspire their kids to unplug and be creative. sigh.

Summer should give kids a break from prescribed learning and a golden pass to let their imaginations get the better of them. Typically, though, when school let's out, students on vacation often settle into a predictable diet of screen time all the 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 Monroy.

A few summers ago Caine (then age 9) 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. And boy, what he made was amazing! The response he got  from everyone who saw it even more incredible!

So grab your kids and together watch Caine's Arcade (10 min) and Caine's Arcade 2: From a Movie to a Movement (8 min). Be prepared to be blown away with delight as one little boy shows children and adults that we already have what it takes to make our own fun and to get others to play along.  Learn about the Global Cardboard Challenge.  Then talk about how your family can make this your most creative summer ever. Got any empty boxes lying around?


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Posted by on in Classroom Management

Another school year gone. My heart goes out to the kids who waded through more than their share of social garbage last term. Hopefully they'll get a needed reprieve during the summer. But summer is short and when it ends they'll head back to school. Most of them (and their parents and teachers) are probably not looking forward to dealing with the inevitable peer-to-peer crapola (online and off).

I'm in the prevention business and always working on ways to make schools more compassionate. Here’s my latest attempt to rattle some cages, which I've 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 let's start thinking about new ways to make our schools really uncomfortable this fall. We’re in this together.

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Posted by on in Teens and Tweens

So what the heck is peer approval addiction? If you work with tweens and teens you need to know about this. Don't bother looking it up in anything official, though, because I made up the term myself after 18 years of answering email questions from middle and high school students. These messages come to me daily from kids who've gotten themselves into hot water and are trying to figure out, "How did I get here and what can I do now?!" These young people don't seem to be aware of the mysterious force (peer approval addiction) that drives them to do whatever it takes to fit in with The Group. What they're often willing to do is  stuff they're not particularly proud of. So they are left with guilt and shame.

Peer approval addiction also makes them resistant to standing up and acting as an individual, especially if they perceive a social risk in doing that. That can leave a heavy residue of regret. None of this is helpful for character development. Yet every day, when tweens and teens find themselves in a push-pull situation, where the group is going in one direction and their gut feeling tells them, "This isn't right for me," they are more likely than not to go along with the group. We tell them to "Stand up for yourself!" "Think for yourself!" Great advice, but way easier said than done.

The best way to help students through this phase when their peers' approval is so intensely important to them, is to have compassion. It's not easy being them. In fact, it's never been easy being a teen. (You remember middle school?) But now, in the Digital Age, when our kids are plugged into their peer group 24/7, it's harder than ever because they never catch a break from the social drama or the pressure. Show them that you get it. Make it clear that you understand their priorities and their struggles, and that you've got empathy for them. Do that and they are much more likely to open up to you. They're also likely to listen to your wise counsel and add your voice of reason into the mix. Of course this doesn't guarantee that they will do exactly what you'd like them to do when they're on their own and the pressure's on. But they will hear your voice inside their head. That's going to give them a foundation of positive core values. And that's exactly what's going to help them fight peer approval addiction.

P.S. I hope this helps you deal with your own peer approval addiction, because the truth is, we are all susceptible to it. I typical change my close three or four times before I leave for a speaking gig! LOL

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Posted by on in Teens and Tweens

b2ap3_thumbnail_FriendshipCircle.jpgI've been doing Skype in the Classroom sessions about Real Friends vs the Other Kind since September 2013. Even did one in Croatia! Recently I beamed into an 8th grade class in Philadelphia. I'm sharing my Q&A with the students to help you help your kids deal with peer conflicts in ways that develop character while improving overall school climate.

Student #1: What would you do if you had a friend you couldn’t trust, but you were trying to give them another chance?

Annie: It’s good to give second chances. We all make mistakes, right? Sometimes we’re rude and end up hurting a friend. Before you give someone another chance, you need to talk about what happened. Say to your friend, “What you did makes me not trust you. I want to give you another chance, but first tell me what the heck was going on when you did that?!” A real friend will stop and think. If they say something like: “I’m really sorry. This is why I did it. I promise I won't do that again.” Then you can say, “Cool” and move forward in the friendship.

But if your friend doesn't want to talk about it, they’re not taking responsibility for any part of what happened. You may want to trust them again, but if the problem isn't cleared up, it's likely they will do it again. If you still want to give them another chance, proceed with caution.

Student #2: What should you do if you know your friend is talking about you?

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Posted by on in Teens and Tweens

Dear Annie, I just got a call from my son's math teacher. She says he's consistently goofing off in class and distracting other students. I've gotten similar calls from other teachers. How can I impress upon him that this isn't OK? – Embarrassed Mom

When it comes to teaching kids to be good people (our #1 parenting job), we repeat ourselves... a lot. That's due, in part, to the fact that young skulls are thick and young minds are often distracted. We continue harping on the rules because we want our kids to act responsibly, even when we're not around. That's why we're thrilled to hear a good report from our kids' teachers. At those times, all a proud mom or dad needs to do is smile graciously and reply, "That's so nice to hear." But what about the not-so-great reports? How do you talk to your child about those?

6 Tips for discussing out-of-line behavior so your child gets a clear message yet still feels loved and supported:

1. Get the facts. Before talking with your child, talk with the teacher, calmly and respectfully. Find out exactly what’s going on and how it has been handled so far. Find out if other students are involved. The more information you have for your upcoming discussion with your child, the better.

2. Talk with your co-parent. If there are two parents in your child’s life, teaching him or her to do the right thing should involve both of them. Getting both parents on the same page adds twice the reinforcement for the course correction your child needs. Being on different pages (or in different books!) sends mixed messages. Suppose one parent says, “Emma, when you’re in class your job is to be the good student I know you can be. That means showing your teacher and your classmates respect by paying attention.” And the other parent chuckles and says, “Fooling around in class? That’s my girl! I gave my teachers a hard time, too.” Obviously, no responsible parent would say that in front of a kid, but you get the idea why staying on message matters.

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