Annie Fox: Teaching Kids To Be Good People

Annie Fox: Teaching Kids To Be Good People

Several years ago, as I began conducting research into social conflict and peer victimization, several people suggested I call parenting guru Annie Fox.  “She is amazing,” my new blogger friend Sarah told me.  I found Annie’s website and sent her a message.  One of the BEST moves ever!  She called me back within the day, and I had the pleasure of interviewing her and accessing her wealth of knowledge about kids, character education, bullying, and social conflict.  She even has an anti-bullying forum called Cruel's Not Cool, which is kid-friendly.

Annie Fox offers smart, practical advice and provides tons of easy-to-apply examples.  I found myself looking to her work not just as a resource for writing my own book, but also as a chance to connect with my daughter.  In fact, my tween girl has read – cover to cover and multiple times – the books in Annie Fox’s award-winning Middle School Confidential series.    Annie’s latest book, Teaching Kids To Be Good People , is an invaluable new addition for parents and teens.  This interactive enjoyable book uses a variety of teaching tools – essays, self-assessment quizzes, podcasts – to communicate in a fun, quick-paced manner.

Recently, after reading Teaching Kids To Be Good People, I sent Annie five of my toughest parenting questions, and below are her replies.  It is my pleasure to share the wisdom of Annie Fox with you, as proof that you too would benefit by reading her book!

Carrie Goldman: In your own childhood, your mother was reluctant to model that it is okay to have negative emotions, yet you have learned to be very in touch with ALL your emotions—including feelings of sadness, loss, and fear.  What helped you develop the ability to cope with your negative emotions, since you didn’t have a strong parental example, and how can we help kids who lack emotional supports at home to access their scary or uncomfortable emotions?

Annie Fox: Just to be clear, I don’t think any emotions are “negative” though some are a lot more pleasant than others. Still, they’re all just emotions and part of the package that comes with a human body. They’re simply “waves” that come, unrequested, and have tremendous power to drive our thoughts and our behavior. That said, obviously some emotions have way more potential for destruction and harm than others.  These need to be managed. I have always been an emotional person -- that is, I tend to react through my heart most of the time. Many random things “touch” me and can, literally make me weep. We’re talking about stuff as innocuous as a song or reading about an act of kindness. I recognize that I’m wired to cry and to gush. Fortunately, for me and the folks who live with me, I’ve always had many creative outlets for my expressions. Growing up, my music, my writing, and my stage acting were especially helpful venues for me to learn how to extract the “lessons” from my emotional experiences.

For kids who don’t have healthy Emotional Intelligence Quotient (EQ) role models at home, I would urge them to find a safe caring adult mentor to talk with because we all need someone who is willing and able to listen to what we have to say. Other ways to “nurture” one’s emotional side… and this is a note to educators, include giving kids opportunities in school for art, music, dance, photography, creative writing of all kinds, videography/filmmaking, and theater!

Carrie Goldman: You wisely advise kids to be authentic instead of constantly changing who they are to meet with peer approval.  How can parents who are also Peer Approval Addicts try to change decades of their own “fake” behavioral patterns, so that they can be good role models for their kids going forward?

Annie Fox: The first challenge for a parent is to recognize how much he or she is influenced by the opinion of peers. If, in fact, you are something of a “sheeple” yourself (a person who consistently follows the crowd rather than follow your own path) it’s going to be extremely difficult to guide your child in the direction of healthy autonomy. Look, we are social creatures. We are programmed to get along with each other as our survival has always depended on our ability to cooperate and compromise. But we do our best job teaching our kids to be good people by teaching them the importance of hearing and listening to our own inner voice, especially when they’re in a crowd. Model moral leadership in your family and talk to your kids about the real world challenges of doing the right thing out in the world. When we have ongoing, open, honest conversations with kids about ethics and being true to themselves, they are much more likely to do the right thing when we’re not with them. And that’s exactly the goal of this kind of parenting!

Carrie Goldman: You commented on how the team filming the documentary Bully waited an inordinately long time before advocating for help for one of the targeted kids.  While the film gathered good authentic footage, a boy suffered at the hands of his peers.  What do you think about this decision to keep filming instead of intervening, in the context of making a film about bullying prevention?

Annie Fox: OMG, Carrie, don’t get me started! OK, briefly, from my perspective, it was unconscionable for the filmmakers to stand by and allow any child to be harmed on their watch. I don’t care if it was “great footage”… it was wrong. You know how, in films that feature an animal, there’s always this disclaimer at the end credits “No animals were harmed during the making of this film.” Well, geez, a child ought to get the same respect and consideration from filmmakers! The fact that they shot those scenes made a statement that inadvertently played right into the theme of the movie, but not in the way they intended, I’m sure. They were SILENT BYSTANDERS to abuse. And that’s exactly the wrong message we want to send to our kids.

Carrie Goldman: A hypothetical for you: A parent would like to improve the hostile relationship she has with a teenage child.  The parent wants to give the child more responsibility and autonomy, but the child has a history of lying about her actions, which makes it hard for the parent to trust her.  How can the parent start a pattern of trust and mutual respect?

Annie Fox: It starts with an honest, respectful and safe conversation. Parent might say to teen, “I know you want to be trusted so that you can earn more freedom to make your own decisions. I want that too. However, it’s my job to keep you safe and to help you develop good judgment so you can keep yourself and your friends safe when you’re out on your own.  We both know that you haven’t always shown that you have good judgment. If you were the parent, how would you handle this with your child?” Then Mom/Dad should close their mouth and listen to what the teen has to say.

This is a process and kids, being kids, will mess up. But we’re not looking for perfection, only progress toward self-regulation and sound judgment. Another note to parents: No one stays a teen forever. And (thankfully) no one stays the parent of a teen forever!

Carrie Goldman: Another hypothetical for you: A parent is concerned because his or her teenage son is hanging out with new friends who cause a lot of trouble, both in school and in the neighborhood.  The parent has tried talking to the son about the new group, but the son gets angry and defensive.  His grades are slipping, and he is becoming rude and defiant.  What can the parent do to help the teenager get back on track?

Annie Fox: Teens especially bond very quickly to their friends. So any attack against their friends may be seen as a personal insult to them. Parents need to be respectful, however, our #1 job is keeping our kids safe (our #2 job is teaching them to be good people).  If you know or suspect that your teen is involved in high risk behavior and his or her “anger or defensiveness” is making it impossible to have meaningful conversations, then I’d strongly suggest that you seek professional help for your family. Start with a call to the school counselor and get a recommendation for a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) in your community.

Check out Annie Fox on Twitter

Annie Fox

Annie Fox

Annie Fox's book

Portrait of an Adoption is hosted by Carrie Goldman, the author of Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear.

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