Get Out of My Life But First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall? Anthony E. Wolf, Ph.D., HarperCollinsCanadaLtd, 1991.
This book is for anyone who loves a teenager, or is flabbergasted by the way teenagers act today. Though Wolf wrote this book almost 20 years ago, it beautifully describes how teenagers experience this developmental stage, what they need from their adults, and assures us that though they may show us their most unattractive traits, all is not lost. Reading this book may also help you have more compassion for your younger, teenage self because, no doubt, this book was not around when you were making your way through this most difficult time. Here are some of my favorite excerpts, though I recommend a full reading of this book.
Pg 6: 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 must 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, 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 the teenagers’ level of name-calling, when they would lose respect for you. It’s the strength to walk away.
Pg 7: 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….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.
Pg 16: Parents see their children act immature, irresponsible, lazy, and demanding, because the home is the natural realm for expressing the dependent, babyish mode of functioning…But there is the other self beginning to develop slowly—the independent, mature self. This self reaches out and seeks gratification from meaningful interaction with the world. It sets forth to accomplish something, to develop competence. It is willing to deal with stress, to take on responsibility. It is even willing to hang up coats—but only at school, or at Grandmother’s house. It is usually on view only away from the home, unseen by parents….Normal development pushes toward an ever-decreasing role for the baby self…Adolescence is no more than the first, most traumatic stage in this ongoing struggle, exacerbated by the new awareness of sexuality and the mandate to separate from parents, to avoid unacceptable feelings of dependence….Ultimately, they can even act nice toward their parents. But not during adolescence! Then, they very much remain children when they are home. And often, rather nasty children. This is a crucial point: operating in the baby-self mode is a way not to separate from the parents….Other children, although unaware of their choice, remain far more eager to seek the bliss of unseparated babyhood and avoid the hassles of dealing effectively with the world around them.
Pg 17: During the first part of her life, once she began to interact with her world, she had been Queen of the Universe. What she wanted us, her parents, to do, we did. Her will was our will. There was no separation. But then, to her delight but also to her horror, Margaret discovered that this did not have to be the case….She had already tried the “no” experiment and discovered its results. A parent says, “Come here,” and a child says, “No.” The child then watches her own body to see whom it will obey. To her delight it always obeys her. But up until a child’s first open defiance of her parents, she has no way of knowing who is in charge of her body….The experiment has a second part…. “It’s okay, sort of, that I’m in charge of me. But I certainly don’t want to give up being in charge of you, Mommy and Daddy. If it is true that we are totally separate and have separate wills, then it means that I am actually on my own and that is not so good. For then I am alone and very little. I will have to do everything for myself. I will have to learn how to survive. And I do not like any of that. I prefer the old way.”…Margaret was fighting to remain the absolute ruler of the universe—without any obligations or responsibilities. Who wouldn’t?
Pg 20: Instead of separation, Vanessa achieved just the opposite, just what she wanted. She got passionate involvement over an extended period of time, even if it was in the form of yelling, crying, and sulking…Teenagers have an infinite capacity for self-deception.
Pg 21: They are not being intentionally difficult. In some kind of magical way, what they do at home exists in a sphere of its own. It has nothing to do with the adolescent’s sense of self, with the kind of person he or she really is. They simply do not look at themselves. This is not something that the baby self does.
Pg 22: The result is that the world becomes infused with incredible power and poignancy. The world is new—but this newness has a price.
Pg 23: As adolescents cut off dependence on home and parents, they feel much more on their own. And although not yet established in the big outside world, they can no longer use home as a fallback. Successes and failures in school and with friends seem absolutely crucial to continuing survival. Everything takes on a much more desperate quality. Because adolescents do not have much experience in life, they see only their day-to-day existence. They have no long-term perspective. None…The world has become an exciting place, but in it they feel much more exposed, much more vulnerable than ever before.