Many parents of teens and adolescents begin struggling with the challenge of teaching their children as much as possible as they begin their acceleration toward adulthood and eventual independence. But popular author Anthony Wolf PhD believes despite the constant urge to find “teachable moments” at every turn during a child’s teen years, that parents should fight the urge and instead become good, quiet listeners.
This is just one of the many points Dr Wolf hopes to make to local parents next week when he speaks at the next Newtown Prevention Council Parent Speaker Series on Parenting Teens in a Difficult Time. Dr Wolf, who is a renowned psychologist and bestselling author of Get Out of My Life but First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall? and I’d Listen to My Parents if They’d Just Shut Up, will appear at the Cyrenius H. Booth Library meeting room on Wednesday, October 23, at 7 pm.
Dr Wolf plans to speak specifically to parents of teens, with a goal of strengthening families, while providing help and support on how to parent teens on a day-to-day basis.
In a pre-event interview with The Newtown Bee, Dr Wolf said that issues facing parents in Newtown are likely universal, although he believes that attitudes teens have adopted more recently tend to be more abrasive and disturbing.
“The vast majority of teenagers, once they reach adolescence, develop a temporary allergy to their parents,” he observed. “The result of this is a pulling away, even a hostility. And it’s not clear where this is coming from.”
Dr Wolf said it is normal for preteens and teens to no longer deem it acceptable to consider themselves a dependent of their parents, and to push back as a means of reinforcing those feelings. He said the more interactions between teens and parents, the greater the tendency to lash out because young people are reacting to these feelings of independence versus dependence.
“Parents either find themselves getting frozen out — which is the typical teenage boy stance — or a frequent and vocal tendency to disagree with everything a parent says,” Dr Wolf observed.
The challenge in places like Newtown, where the incidents of 12/14 could still weigh heavily on younger residents, is the added stress they may be under.
“If anything, in situations like Newtown has faced, you need your parents more to be there for support, to be a place where you can get nurturing,” he said. “This works directly against this tendency to push away.
“I’m a strong believer in advising parents to say involved. And this can be tricky when you are furious at your kid for what he or she just did — or the outrageous way they just talked to you a few seconds ago,” he added.
Dr Wolf said in his Newtown presentation, he will examine these pivotal moments and offer ideas about how to deal with them in as productive a way as possible.
“If you take it all too seriously; if you get too upset; if you feel as a parent you must absolutely have the last word, instead of supplying a nurturing environment, it just sets up situations that are stressful. And you don’t want that,” Dr Wolf said.
The author said he is not sure if teens are all that more nasty today, when it comes to their interactions with parents or caregivers. But he said the Internet has afforded a lot more opportunities for young people to be nasty.
“I think the main protection that parents have for their kids is educating yourself to what is going on,” he said. Then, Dr Wolf said, a lot of the responsibility falls on the parents to work at maintaining a talking relationship with their child.
“If they are going to be useful to their kids, their kids have to see them as supportive, trustworthy figures,” he said. “You absolutely have to try, before the teen years, to be available to your kid to talk so you can build this foundation of trust.”
He said the parenting impulse is generally to make everything a teaching moment, but they really need to develop listening skills because it can make all the difference.
“What I’m going to talk about in Newtown is how to live with adolescents, what are successful and nonsuccessful ways of dealing with kids who no longer fear their parents,” he said. “This is good, but it means kids today talk back more, and are less obedient.”
For parents of young people aging into young adulthood and college age, Dr Wolf says there are even greater challenges because you can’t boss them around anymore — they are adults now. So there is a dynamic of adjusting from a parent to child relationship, to a relationship between a parent and young adult who happens to be your child.
“I’ve been seeing kids and teens for a long time, and there are issues that have been around for a long time,” he said. “On the other hand, a huge thing is the role of little screens on their lives. But those are not going away.”