People were wiping away tears as Dr. Anthony Wolf spoke. His descriptions were so familiar — of kids’ back-talk and parents’ knee-jerk indignation — that audience members at the Wilf campus in Scotch Plains on Oct. 7 roared with laughter.
You could hear people asking exactly what he said he has heard often before: “Has he had a tape recorder in our house?”
Wolf is a psychologist and author of a number of successful books on parenting, including Get Out of My Life, But First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall?. He has dealt with teens — his topic last week — sibling conflict, and divorce. His talk, a project of the Women’s Philanthropy Division of Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey, drew an audience of about 80, most of them mothers.
He told them everyone has a “baby self” that wants to act on impulse, and a mature self that can anticipate consequences. The problem with teenagers is that those sides are in a tug-of-war. “Baby selves are good,” Wolf said. “We need them. But when baby selves aren’t getting what they want, they get rather less than cute.”
Often teens display far more of the mature side when they are away from home, he said, a fact that should give parents some comfort. And often one parent — usually the one with most regular contact with the child — brings out the baby self more than the other does, a contrast that can cause ructions between spouses.
All of this is normal, he said. But what has changed radically with this generation is the absence of physical punishment. “It really is a huge revolution in upbringing,” he said. “These kids have a lack of fear. And the result is that kids talk back the way they wouldn’t have before.”
Parents in the audience expressed some qualms about that, but Wolf — though he urges parents to be firm with their children — said he sees the change as very positive.
Things will get better, he assured the audience. “If you are a supportive, nurturing parent willing to make unpopular decisions,” he said, “the chances are your kids will come out fine.”