Annie Fox's Parent Forum Newsletter
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In this Newsletter
January Parenting Article
Happy New (Gap) Year
by Annie Fox, M.Ed.
The boy and his father stood in the middle of our quiet street.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Throwing buckeyes!” the kid beamed as he and Dad playfully launched two more down the hill.
I watched them in the Saturday sun and fell into a gap.
The world is full of gaps. Gender gaps. Generation gaps. Credibility gaps. Some shouldn’t be missed, like Ireland’s fantastic Gap of Dunloe. And some, like the one in the London Tube, must be avoided. (Mind the Gap – lest you find yourself floundering between train and platform!)
Ever hear of the term gap year? It usually refers to a break taken by high school or college grads that defers enrollment in the next phase of life. Ideally, one uses a gap year to do something completely out of the box: work, volunteer, intern, apprentice, self-study, travel… or any “real world” offering. The implicit goal is to figure out what you really want or don’t want to do with your life.
As this new year begins, our two children start a gap year of sorts. With college, grad school, and 5 years in the work world behind them, our daughter and son-in-law head off this week for a long-term travel adventure in SE Asia and beyond. Totally by coincidence, our son and his girlfriend, college grads (‘07), also head to SE Asia this week, having received Fulbright Fellowships to teach English there. They all have plans for after… but who knows? Gaps have a habit of transforming those who venture into them. And that’s the whole point.
Now you know what our kids are up to. New year. New chapter. Since those two are frequently my best teachers, I’m using their leaving to ask, “Where can I find some gaps to give me more of what I need this year?”
Most parents and kids I talk to feel weighed down by non-stop demands on their time. Adults and teens alike say they want to do more of what they really enjoy and less of what they feel forced to do. Sounds like a worthy New Year’s Resolution, but where’s the plan of action? Instead wishing for life to slow down, is there something you and your family could actually do to have more unstressed time? I think so, and that’s where the gaps come in.
Continue reading the rest of the article...
1997 I’ve answered teen email from around the world because
kids often need help sorting
things out. My books provide students with encouragement, relationship smarts,
and clear thinking needed to navigate through adolescence. Caring adults should read them too. “The
Teen Survival Guide to Dating and Relating” and “Too
Stressed to Think? A teen guide to staying sane when life makes you CRAZY” (co-written
with Ruth Kirschner) are available here, or from Amazon or
at your local bookstore. Order an autographed copy directly from me and pay by credit card at our own online
your copies here! My new 5-book series is part
graphic-novel and starts in Fall 2008!
The Breathing Challenge
my Stress Education student assemblies I
teach this invaluable step by step process:
1) Learn your own stress symptoms and notice when you’re feeling off-balance, 2) Stop, 3) Breathe, 4) Think about
what you want and whether getting it is within your control, then 5) Consider your options for getting what you need. I
challenge tweens and teens to use the tools and let me know how it goes. They quickly discover they can change their lives
in many ways when they’re not Too
Stressed to Think.
“I wanted to throw my phone at him”
“There’s this guy who asked me out. I turned him down, but he still follows me around at school. Today I had to go talk to someone so I told him I needed to go. And he kept asking why and insisting that I stay. I didn’t want to tell him why because it wasn’t really any of his business. I was so mad because the guy wouldn’t just let me leave in peace. He kept bugging me and bugging me. But rather than throwing my phone or my book and screaming like I usually do and wanted to do, I remembered what you said and I stood there closed my eyes and breathed. I put my hands on my chest to feel my heart beat slow down and opened my eyes. I felt a lot better and I just walked away. So I just wanted to say thank you, it helped me so much” —a
high school freshman
Letters from Parents and Teens about Family Problems
“My son is getting C’s and D’s”
My son is a 7th grader. He’s very sweet and respectful, just an all-around great kid. Starting last year, I’m having problems getting him to get serious about school. He’s always been a pretty good student, not stellar but not flunking either. He’s extremely bright so I know he’s not having problems because he doesn’t understand the material. He just doesn’t turn in his homework. He’ll do it and then not turn it in. I ask him every night if he has homework, and if he does, I help him if he needs help or I’ll check it if he’s already finished. I help him with projects, study for tests, everything I can to help. He has two D’s currently and the rest are C’s. I’ve taken away his Xbox, TV and computer privileges. He wants to be a pilot and I’ve explained to him that in order to become anything successful, he needs to take school seriously. I’ve gotten so frustrated that I’m beginning to lose my temper every time I look at his grades online. I don’t know what else to do at this point. Should I back off and tell him it’s his future and his responsibility? Or should I continue what I’m doing, which obviously isn’t working?
Dear Frustrated Mom,
I can certainly understand your frustration with the choices your son is making. You love him and you want to see him succeed in school because you know that will create more options for him down the road. You also know that he’s bright. From your perspective, it just doesn’t make any sense for him to be so irresponsible when it comes to his schoolwork.
The truth is, that 7th graders can be challenged when it comes to impulse control and long-range planning because those areas of the brain are not fully developed. Part of your son’s inability to be responsible for his work may be the fact that he doesn’t get how his choices today have any connection with his dream of being a pilot. By high school, however, most students (with the necessary intelligence, study skills, and parental support) succeed in school because they’ve matured in ways that allow them to be more successful at the tasks required of them.
I agree that what you’re doing isn’t working. Losing your temper won’t accomplish anything except to make homework a battlefield between you and your son. This is the time in a young adolescent’s development when he would normally be pushing away from you. If homework is “your” thing, then he might be choosing to blow it off to show that he is independent from you. (Not realizing how this hurts him more than you!)
It sounds like you’ve been overly involved in his homework. A 7th grader should be able to get his assignments completed and turned in without parental supervision. I’d suggest that you back off and tell him that homework is between him and his teachers. Tell him that you realize that he’s not a little boy and can now take care of these things on his own. Your backing off is your vote of confidence in his abilities to manage his schoolwork. Give him that vote even if you don’t feel 100% confident that he can manage on his own. He has to begin to see homework, etc., as HIS thing, not yours. But make sure he knows that you EXPECT him to take care of it on his own. Make sure that he knows that D’s and C’s are not acceptable and that you expect him to do better. If he demonstrates that he can be responsible for turning in assignments completed at a level that reflects his intellectual capabilities, then he will EARN BACK his privileges on the Xbox, TV, computer...
Finally, I suggest that you make appointments with all his teachers and with the school counselor. Get their input about his class participation, and an overall picture of him during the school day. This might be helpful for you to help him reorder his priorities.
I hope this helps.
“I don’t know how to act at my dad’s wedding”
My dad is marrying his girlfriend very soon. They were secretly seeing each other for years before any of us knew this (including my mom). My parents have been divorced for a year and a half.
My dad favors her and her 2 daughters more than my brother and me. Whenever there is an argument, he takes their side, no matter what it is, even if I’m right, and it’s never fair. He doesn’t even live in the same state as me now, I only see him about once every other month, and we really have nothing to talk about when we do see each other.
I had to go wedding dress shopping with him. All of my family will be there, and I do not know how I will react when I am with them. I don’t want to just break down and cry with all of my family there. I always feel left out with them, and it’s starting to really get to me.
When my mom and dad are together they are always fighting about stuff, like money. And it seems like my mom goes out to bars and has a new boyfriend every week. I don’t have many friends and all of this is really breaking me down. My grades have been dropping, I skip some days, and to calm myself, I have been drinking a lot of alcohol. I am trying to cut back on that though. I just don’t know what to do. I don’t know what the wedding will be like, or how the rest of my family (uncles, aunts, cousins) will react when they see us all together at the wedding.
Lost in Misery
Dear Lost in Misery,
I’m so sorry to hear that you’re going through such an emotional time. Most of what you’ve described isn’t anything that you caused... Your parents’ divorce, their arguments, your father’s relationship with his girlfriend, the girlfriend’s daughters, the upcoming wedding, the choices your mom is making... NONE of these situations are things you chose and yet they all affect you, don’t they?
With all this going on, I’m not surprised that you’re upset. It’s perfectly normal for you to be feeling confused and “left out.” But blowing off school and drinking are NOT help your situation or the way you feel. In fact, you are making things more difficult for yourself.
I think you’d feel a lot better if you could talk to someone. Not that talking about it is going to change any of what’s happening... or change anyone else’s behavior, but it might help you feel less alone. And that would be a very good thing! Could you talk to your grandma? Your aunt? Would either of them be someone you could be open to? How about your brother? An older cousin? How about the school counselor? A cool teacher? There must be someone you can talk to. If not call 1-800-999-9999. That’s the Teen Crisis Helpline. Even if you can’t change other peoples’ behavior you CAN change the way you deal with what’s happening.
Please find someone to talk to and to give you some of the emotional support that you need.
You’re not alone. I care about you.
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Recommended Books – Annie
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and their lives.
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