Dr. Wolf updates his classic blockbuster as times change
In 1991, the first edition of Get Out of My Life by Dr. Anthony E. Wolf, became an enormous success, selling over 300,000 copies. The words of Dr. Wolf were so on target that parents wondered if he had placed tape recorders around their homes.
But the world has not stood still—in fact, it is changing faster than ever. And while the classic struggles between parents and teenagers still remain, societal changes have brought about many new ones that parents of earlier generations never dreamed of. Today’s parents must deal with such “new problems” as their children experimenting with the latest recreational drugs; increased sexual activity at a younger age; the Internet; and above all, a world that seems far less safe than ten years ago. Dr. Wolf realized the importance of these ever-evolving issues, which is why he has decided to significantly revise Get Out of My Life.
Get Out of My Life provides parents with a new understanding of their teenagers so they will look at them in a whole new light, seeing them as young people on a journey to empowerment. And most importantly, he reassures parents that everything will turn out alright.
About the Author
Anthony E. Wolf, received his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the City University of New York. For the past twenty-five years he has been in private practice seeing children and adolescents in the Springfield, Massachusetts area. Married, Dr. Wolf is the father of two grown children. He has written five books on parenting and numerous articles, which have appeared in such magazines as Child Magazine, Parents, and Family Circle. He has also written a monthly column for Child Magazine. His web site is www.anthonywolf.com.
Read an Excerpt
"Meredith, would you, please take those dirty glasses into the kitchen?"
"Why? They're not mine."
"I don't care if they're not yours, Meredith. You live in this house and I am asking you to take those glasses out into the kitchen."
"But they're not mine. I don't have to do it."
"Meredith, you're asking for it."
"You're asking for it."
A couple of generations ago the above conversation would never have taken place, but it's common enough today. Teenagers have changed. This is not an illusion. Teenagers treat the adults in their lives in a manner that is less automatically obedient, much more fearless, and definitely more outspoken than that of previous generations.
"I never would have talked to my parents the way that Melissa does to me. Never."
"What would have happened if you did?"
"I would have gotten a smack in the face."
True enough, but the harsher ways of dealing with children, especially physical punishment, are no longer viewed as acceptable. Many parents still treat their children harshly; many still hit them. But such punishment is far less acceptable than it once was, even to those who do it. This is good. For though it produced better-behaved children, all that the threat of harsh punishment ever taught was the primitive conscience: I don't want to do bad things because of what will happen to me, rather than the higher conscience that we want to create: I don't want to do bad things because of their effect on others.
This is the era of "permissiveness." As a result, the more fearsome weapons have been taken out of a parent's arsenal. No more hard smacks across the face for disrespectful back talk. No more backside tanning when rooms are not picked up on demand. It's inevitable that without these harsher forms of enforcement, children's behavior has changed. This is just human nature. The new teenager does feel freer to do as he or she pleases, especially at home.
The Entitled Teenager
Teenagers of today possess a distinct sense of entitlement. They have their rights.
"Yeah. My parents are supposed to take care of me. And they're not allowed to hurt me. They're supposed to protect me. I suppose that I should act better to them than I do. But even if I act like a jerk, they're still supposed to love me. No matter what I do."
This is good. We want them to feel this way. We have empowered our children and they feel the power. Still, we did not think they would be so ungracious about it. Ours is a generation of uncertain parents. We witness our children's less restrained behavior, and we do not understand and we do not know what to do. We would not have behaved that way. In the face of their teenagers' insolence, parents feel frustrated, mad, and above all inadequate.
"What can I do? I yell at her. I ground her. I take away privileges. But none of it seems to change her attitude."
Nor do the teenagers benefit from their parents' frustration. They become victims of the classic adolescent paradox. While they demand freedom and fight to attain it, they still need to feel their parents' strength. Teenagers battle to dismantle their parents' authority, but they can be undone if they are too successful. Anxiety, depression, even suicide can arise with the added stresses of adolescence. Unquestionably, the more that adolescents feel themselves to be truly on their own and without their parents' support, the more vulnerable they are.
Yet for the average as opposed to the seriously troubled teenager, I believe things are not nearly as bad as they may seem. The new teenager is not impossible to deal with. Parents must learn to adjust and to rely on a different kind of strength than their own parents used.
The New Parent
"I'll tell you what the problem is. Teenagers today don't have any respect for their parents."
This is true. Old-style respect is gone. We have entered a new era in child rearing. Perhaps the old way was both easier and more pleasant, but it is gone. Nostalgia is acceptable, but that style of parenting also had a flaw, in my opinion. It was based in part on establishing fear. Instilling fear as an explicit child-raising practice has some bad consequences. It can breed anger and resentment. It can intimidate and cause the intimidated to lose confidence in themselves. Perhaps worst of all, it tells children that in the service of getting what one wants, fear and intimidation are necessary and acceptable in everyday life.
Teenagers today are not pliable, and they say what is on their mind -- always. Yet for all their mouthiness, especially at home, it is not clear at all that as adults these teenagers will be "worse" than their parents, either less caring or less motivated. They may be more caring and more motivated. They may, in turn, be better parents.
Besides, it is possible to elicit respect from teenagers; it's just of a different kind than the old version. This new respect can only be based on the strength and confidence of parents. This kind of strength of character, really, is not as easy to come by as a strength based on the switch or the belt. More confidence is required to employ this strength. With few apparent weapons in their arsenal, parents must stand up to all that their teenagers may dish out, and still come out with their heads high, their confidence intact, and their position as the parents and the bosses still acknowledged, if begrudgingly. It is not easy. But it is possible.
The first step is to accept a child's right to say what he or she has to say, no matter how stupid or unreasonable. You don't have to listen to all of it, you can leave whenever you want, but you respect their right to say it. Then you say what you have to say, you stand your ground and are not blown away by the inevitable response. This kind of parenting earns respect. It's the strength not to descend to teenagers' level of name-calling, when they would lose respect for you. It's the strength to walk away.
"Don't you dare talk to me that way, Eleanor. When are you going to learn a little respect? I don't know what's wrong with you. You are going to have to shape up."
Eleanor rolls her eyes.
"Don't you roll your eyes at me. Do you want a smack in the face?""Go ahead. Hit me. I dare you."
Eleanor knows that the time for that was over with years ago. Perhaps the greatest skill for a parent today is learning not to be hurt, truly understanding that what teenagers say and scream means nothing other than that they are teenagers and this is how teenagers today behave, understanding that what they say and what they do in no way diminishes who you are and what you do. Your teenage children cannot diminish you unless you allow them to.
"Yeah, well, easy to say. But in the real world how can we as parents find the strength to rise above the daily onslaught?" You need confidence, and not confidence that you are always making the right decision -- nobody can do that -- or that you are always in control of the kid -- nobody can even come close to doing that. Rather, you need the confidence that you are the right person for the job and that your efforts are definitely not in vain.
You must understand that what you say does have an impact on your teenager, despite much evidence to the contrary. You must know that you need not be perfect, that you can make mistakes.
"You may not like what I am saying. You may disagree with my decisions. You may truly think that I am wrong. I may in fact be wrong. But I am your parent and the decisions that I make are in my judgment what I think is best. Whether you like it or not, you are stuck with me. That won't change, at least not for the next few years. And that is the way I want it."
There is pleasant irony to all this. If parents can hold up through the teenage years, they may get allthat they ever wanted at the end of the process: an adult child who genuinely likes and respects you andis comfortable with you; a person genuinely considerate of others and, amazingly, considerate of you; a grown child who now appreciates all that you have done for him or her.
"You were a great parent, even though I know that I really gave you a hard time."Copyright © 2002 Anthony E. Wolf