In this healthy family relationships interview with LoveToKnow, author Annie Fox discusses how tweens and teens can forge better relationships with their family members. Ms. Fox is the author of the popular, Middle School Confidential series and has penned a third book for the series, What's Up With My Family? The cast of characters, Michelle, Chris, Abby, Jack, Mateo and Jen are back again to provide helpful advice on how to deal with the many problems facing young adults at home.
Healthy Family Relationships Interview with Annie Fox
Where did you get the idea for the characters that you use in your series, "Middle School Confidential?"
If you ask fiction writers, they'll probably tell you that they have no idea where their characters come from. Sure, I started with some ideas... About a group of 12 year old who are "very different in lots of ways... But are still good friends." So I thought about different temperaments, family situations, underlying issues, and I fleshed them out from there. I actually did a Meyers-Briggs personality test for each of my six characters. While several of them matched up in terms of Introvert vs. Extrovert, etc. not one of the six personality profiles was identical to any other!
What are some ways teenagers can deal with protective parents?
In the book, I tried to explain that parents' prime objective is to keep their child safe. Being protective of kids is part of a parent's hard-wiring. Even though kids need less and less oversight (as in hovering) as they move toward teenhood and into young adulthood, some parents find it challenging to take baby-steps back and let their kids figure things out on their own. Some parents are more protective than others. I understand it bugs kids. Especially if they have a track record for making really healthy choices. They start to resent the oversight. They interpret it as, "My parents don't trust me!" That can build walls between parents and tweens and end up encouraging kids to do things behind their parents' back. Not good! So I tell parents they need to make their expectations for their tweens' behavior crystal clear. In addition, they need to acknowledge their kids when they follow the rules. Following the rules should earn a teen more independence... little by little. But when parents let their fear of "the outside world" paralyze them into thinking that their kids can never be safe without mom or dad right there, it becomes ineffective parenting.
I tell tweens who want more independence to put it in the form of a request and back it up with excellent reasons why they should now be allowed to do X, Y, or Z. In other words, make a case for what you want to do. Negotiate with your parents. If you get some of what you want in terms of more independence then make absolute sure that you abide by the rules. That means if your parents say, "Be home by 9 P.M." that you walk in NO LATER THAN 8:59. Follow their rules, show that you have good judgment, and in most cases, parents will begin to relax and give you more independence.
In your book, "What's Up with My Family?" you discuss "fuel-ish" thinking. How can teens avoid this when they relate to their families?
Fuel-ish thinking is a train of runaway thoughts that make you feel more stressed, worried, angry, and vengeful. Like adding "fuel to the fire" fuel-ish thoughts rarely make you feel better or bring you any closer to resolving the problem that triggered them in the first place! Also, they tend not to be based in reality, but rather in some imagined catastrophic future. We all have bouts of fuel-ish thinking... teen and adult alike. I don't know that these kinds of thoughts are ever "avoidable"... Unless you're a Zen master! However, people have the capability to spend less time thinking fuelishly. The first step is to recognize when you're doing it. Then the unconscious habit becomes more conscious. When you notice that you're "spinning your wheels" (again) you can begin to wake yourself up and think, "Ah, fuelish thinking. " and then refocus on the here and now. Most of the time here and now is fine. At least, it's manageable. From that more conscious place, people are better able to consider the next best move.
How can teens turn to their parents for support during a major life change?
It's important when a family has gone through a transition, whether it was planned (like a remarriage) or unplanned, like the death of a parent, that parents and kids have a chance to talk honestly and openly about what's going on and how each family member feels about it. These kinds of conversations aren't often easy... Emotions like guilt, resentment, grief, and betrayal aren't easy to express. However, they need to be talked about in a safe environment. Teens do not get a vote when parents split up or remarry or move or expand the family to include step-siblings. And yet, even without a vote, everyone's life is impacted. Teens deserve to be heard. And even though they don't get a vote, their feelings need to be respected. It helps to understand that transitions affect everyone and it takes time to re-adjust to the new "normal." So my best advice for teens in these situations is to cut your parent some slack, don't expect instant harmony, and do your best to communicate (calmly and respectfully) when you feel you need to. One more thing... Change isn't necessarily a bad thing. Even traumatic upheavals in a family can offer opportunities to learn new things about yourself and the people in your family. What you learn when you're challenged by change can turn out to be a tremendous gift.
Do you have any tips on how to relate to siblings, even when they're being annoying?
In the same way that you don't get to choose your parents, you also don't get to choose your siblings. The trick is to work with what you've got. Does that mean that your "annoying" little brother or sister should be able to do whatever and you just need to accept that? NO! Teens deserve privacy and they deserve to have time with their friends. Teens also deserve to have their things and their space respected. If you've got an ongoing issue with a sibling that isn't getting resolved by talking to him or her, then you really need to let your parents know that you've reached your limit. It is your parents' job to protect the rights of each child in the family. So talk to your mom or dad (calmly, maturely and respectfully) and tell them you need their help in setting limits for your sister/brother.
Another tip: try being a little kinder to your younger sibling. Try to find at least one thing that you two could actually enjoy doing together. When we are more accepting of our siblings and we put in some effort in trying to get along with them, we just might find that they become a little less "annoying".
What are some tips for helping teens get out of a bad mood?
Bad moods, like fuelish thoughts, often sneak up on people without them being aware of them. So the first step in getting out of a bad mood is recognizing when you're in one! Everyone has things they do to cheer themselves up. You could take a walk, take a nap, call a friend, read, listen to music, write in a journal, shoot some baskets, etc. As long as it's safe, legal and doesn't compromise any of your core values, then it's OK. Getting out of a bad mood sooner rather than later is smart... It's also good for you and for the rest of the family. So pay attention to shifts in your mood. Figure out what might have triggered a bad mood. And then be responsible and get yourself out of it so you can get on with your life.
Why are family meetings a good idea for both teens and parents?
Family meetings give everyone a chance to express their thoughts, fears, feelings. In a family meeting everyone has the opportunity to speak up and be listened to with respect. Getting together regularly to talk about what's going on is a great way for families to avoid big blow-ups. You can also serve food, which is always a good thing!
Additional Information on Healthy Family Relationships
If readers would like to get in touch with you after reading this interview, how can they do that?
Go to my website: Annie Fox.com. They can contact me through there.
About Annie Fox
Annie Fox, M.Ed. is an award winning author, educator, and online adviser for parents and teens. Read excerpts from her books: Too Stressed to Think? and the new Middle School Confidential series at AnnieFox.com. Download (free) her entire Teen Survival Guide to Dating & Relating and listen to her podcast series, Family Confidential: Secrets of Successful Parenting at TeenSurvivalGuide.com.
Review copies of the Middle School Confidential series was provided by Free Spirit Publishing for this article.