Author Interview: Annie Fox—Teen Self-Esteem
May is National Teen Self-Esteem Month, a month dedicated to boosting confidence and self-image. Annie Fox, M.Ed., an award winning author and educator with 30+ years experience, sheds some light on how we, as parents and teachers, can help raise confident and secure teens.
Bianca: You have dedicated yourself to helping kids build their self-esteem. What inspired you to make this your life’s work?
Annie: The short answer: I’ve got a gift for connecting with kids, tweens, teens. Maybe it comes from being the youngest in my family but I’ve always related to the challenges of being a young person trying to figure out how to get along with peers and with adults.. As a writer it just seemed natural to me, from my very first book which was published when I was 20, that I love writing for kids.
Bianca: You’re a believer in the thought that technology can be used to empower kids. Can you tell us how?
Annie: My husband David and I started the Marin Computer Center in San Rafael, CA back in 1977. Even in those early days of personal computing it was clear to us that kids jumped right in… No psychological barriers for them! So as I began working with kids and computers it struck me that the social and emotional learning that has always been at the core of my teaching could be incorporated seamlessly into interactive game designs. Simply put, when kids play computer games that are thoughtfully designed and require them to take on the identity of an avatar and make choices within a gaming environment, they can learn about social interactions. Hopefully, what they learn in the game they can take with them into the real world after they step away from the computer. Of course these days, many kids never “step away” from social media… It’s as much a part of the “real” world as everything else!
Bianca: The Insite, an award-winning website you created for teens and young adults, was host to a Cyberspace Dear Abby, Hey Terra. What is the most memorable e-mail you responded to?
Annie: Wow, that’s a tough question! I’ve been answering email from tweens and teens and parents since 1997 and still do. I get over 1000 emails a year (and I personally answer each one.) It’s impossible to choose one “most memorable” email. I will say that the email exchanges with kids that are personally most rewarding are the ones that start off with the teen “Lost and Confused” in some social dilemma… Usually with a friend of a bf/gf. Then after receiving some support from me and help in sorting out their feelings and exploring some possible options, the teen writes back and says “Thanks! I talked with my friend and things are much better.” Those always make me feel pretty good about the work I do.
Bianca: Tell us about your book series, Middle School Confidential, and what message you hope readers will grasp.
Annie: My working title for the Middle School Confidential series was originally: Going Your Own Way in Middle School and Beyond. The take-away message of the first three books in the series is: there are situations you are born into and things that happen day to day that you have no control over. And yet, no matter what’s going on at home, at school, with your friends, there are always choices you can make in the way you respond that can improve your situation.
Bianca: What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating these books?
Annie: Because they’re part graphic novel (my illustrator is the enormously talented comic book creator Matt Kindt) I was surprised by a) how limited a text balloon really is and b) how much story and emotion you can express in very few words!
Bianca: Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?
Annie: My inspiration for the books always comes from the email I get. By focusing on the questions tweens and teens ask me I know that I’m giving them information that they want and need.
Bianca: What one piece of advice would you offer to parents of teens?
Annie: Since our children are all grown up, I can honestly say that the best advice for parents of teens is: know what your long-term parenting objectives are and make sure you’re consistently reinforcing what you say you want your kids to learn. And… Catch them in the act of doing something right!
Bianca: What one piece of advice would you offer to teens having difficulty communicating with their family members?
Annie: Your parents are hard-wired to keep you safe. When they bombard you with questions or act like they don’t trust you… Try to cut ‘em some slack. I know it’s hard, but it’s hard being a parent. One other thing… If you’re going through a rough time and you really can’t talk to your parents, find some other adult you trust and talk to him or her. Or email me: annie:anniefox.com Bottling up your feelings isn’t a healthy option.
Bianca: What one piece of advice would you offer to educators of teens?
Annie: The relationship you have with your students, showing them that you care because they are worthwhile human beings, is more important than anything you might teach them.
Bianca: Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?
Annie: Make choices that reflect who you really are and you’ll never go wrong.
Add books by Annie Fox, M.Ed., to your collection: Be Confident in Who You Are, Real Friends vs. the Other Kind, What’s Up with My Family?, Too Stressed to Think? and The Teen Survival Guide To Dating & Relating.