BOOK REVIEW: “Get Out Of My Life, But First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl To The Mall?: A Parent’s Guide to the New Teenager,” by Anthony E. Wolf, Ph.D., Published by Farrar, 240 pages. Reviewed by Gregory Hilton
This is one of Dr. Anthony Wolf’s five books on what calls the “New Teenagers.” For 25 years he has been a clinical psychologist working with adolescents. His previous titles include “Why Did You Have to Get a Divorce?: And When Can I Get a Hamster?”, “It’s Not Fair, Jeremy Spencer’s Parents Let Him Stay up All Night!,” “Why Can’t You Shut Up?: How We Ruin Relationships,” and “The Secret of Parenting: How to be in Charge of Today’s Kids.”
In this bestselling and revised book, Wolf says “In some form, the vast majority of adolescents develop an allergy to their parents with the need to separate and be independent.” The author says you can not change this and all parents should expect some unpleasantness.
Boys and girls definitely react differently during the alienation stage. “Teenage boys go to their room, close the door, turn on the stereo, and come out four years later,” Wolf says. During this stage they often physically vanish, and it is very common for them to distance themselves from their mothers. In all of the author’s survey research, teenage boys appear to have poor skills in verbal battles.
Adolescent girls are far better at verbalizing. “Girls solve the problem of living at home, and yet successfully combating their totally unacceptable feelings of love and dependence, by fighting everything,” Wolf writes. “Easily the number one mistake parents make is to get caught up in endless bickering,” he says. “Kids are not afraid of their parents anymore, so they’ll talk back. If parents pick up on it, the kids will just go deeper and deeper.”
I do not have a teenager nor do I remember talking back to my parents in a harsh manner. My father was the disciplinarian in our household, and was definitely part of the old school. He did not believe in “time out.”
Dad was an excellent parent who was always there for me, but he was an advocate of corporal punishment. It rarely happened but I always knew the consequences of bad behavior. All of the parenting experts today are adamant in saying it is wrong to strike a child. Once again, the author believes that talking back in a rude manner is far more common for today’s new teenagers than in past generations.
I went through an alienation stage but I tried to keep it a secret. I hate to admit this, but in my early teens I was embarrassed by my truly wonderful parents. The fathers of my friends Brian Morris and Bart Goldberg had cool sports cars and always appeared to be stylish. My Dad was frumpy and far from cool. I hoped kids would not see him when he came to school. I kept those thoughts to myself, but according to Dr. Wolf, teenagers today are not reluctant to express these sentiments.
He says this is not a bad development, “Contrary to popular belief, the main reason teenagers today talk back to their parents is not because of something parents did wrong, but because of something they are doing right. Over the past couple of generations, there has been a revolution in parenting practices and harsh forms of punishment are no longer considered acceptable.”
The elimination of harsh punishment means kids are not scared of their parents. The author says one of the best ways to respond to teenage back talk, is not to respond at all. . In “The Teenage Zone,” Wolf says rude behavior is typical of time when young people are trying to separate from parents and exercise control over their lives.
Teenagers may look like grownups, but the author says they aren’t completely rational. They think differently than we do and often feel they’re invulnerable. If they say they want to be left alone, Wolf’s advice is to back off, but don’t give up. As hard as it may seem, he advises trying to talk in a lower voice. “If you model screaming and shouting, that’s what you will get in return. Instead, when they are out of control, give them an ultimatum: either talk in a calm voice or this discussion is over.”|
He goes on to offer these tips:
• Disengage, don’t lecture. When the backtalk is just rude, or hurtful, simply disengage from your teen and do not respond. When you ignore harsh backtalk, kids will learn to tone it down and be more respectful if they want any sort of response from you.
• Water off a duck’s back. Don’t let your teen’s tone rattle you. Simply repeat your request in a calmer tone to teach your teen to respond in a more respectful manner.
• Show that you are flexible. Listen to your teen’s point of view, and on occasion change your mind about the ground rules.
• Put it in context: Differentiate between backtalk at home and backtalk in society. Remember that teenagers are developing their identities. When they back talk at home it’s about testing the boundaries of self-expression. If they back talk to teachers, your friends, or to other parents then it’s rude.
He concludes, “It may seem that your teen is out of hand by talking back and asserting their needs, but your teen is actually just developing the skills they need to be assertive and stand up for what they believe in later on. Your job is to make sure they can accomplish this and still be respectful to others, and to you.”