Teenagers can be rebellious, sneaky little suckers. Just ask any harried parent. Now, it’s time to fight back.
Brooklyn native Ellen Pober Rittberg has penned a book offering parents advice on how to “dig deep, survive and perhaps even crack the psyche of your hormonal, temperamental, ever-changing teen.” The guide is called “35 Things Your Teen Won’t Tell You, So I Will.”
“I hope the reader will come to regard this book as a tool in the parent arsenal for days when the parent feels he is on a steep cliff, the canteen fell into the ravine and there are no ropes other than the tether, which the parent may very well be at the end of,” Rittberg said.
Rittberg, who spent the first eight years of her life in Sheepshead Bay before her family moved to Nassau County, now works in Brooklyn as an attorney. She’s spent much of her professional career as a law guardian for children facing various court proceedings, such as juvenile delinquency or persons in need of supervision. On top of that, she’s got firsthand experience. Having had three children in three years, all of Rittberg’s kids went through their teenage years together. No wonder Rittberg’s favorite song is “I Will Survive.”
“35 Things Your Teen Won’t Tell You, So I Will” is “the book I wish I had had when I was raising my teens,” Rittberg said. “I didn’t want to be preached to and I didn’t want to read case histories written by educators, psychologists, medical doctors or the like. But I wanted to know the practical things, the do’s and don’t’s, the big mistakes and the smaller ones that can take the pleasure out of the experience. And that’s what my book is.”
Much of the book was inspired by Rittberg’s work with young Brooklynites.
“I would say it added to my desire to write the book,” she said. “In my personal life, I got a perspective up close and personal (I had three children in three years. Things happened to me. To my teens. To their friends. To teens I saw in the community as a parent.). So I gained insights and developed a philosophy about what I think works best in any attempt to raise teenagers to be good people, hard workers and, in a word, productive people. I also figured out (sometimes by trial and error) what didn’t work. In my professional life, I saw other and sometimes different things that gave me an added perspective and made me feel I could write a helpful book.”
Each chapter in the book offers a different rule for parents to live by.
Rule one: The family is not a democracy. It’s anti-democratic and must be.
Rule three: To know your children’s friends is to know your children.
Rule 19: It’s good if your children and their friends are afraid of you.
Rittberg shared more advice with this paper, saying, “You are not your child’s friend or best friend. Nor should you aspire to be. Also, a family should not be a democracy. It sometimes is more like a medieval fiefdom (without the filth) with serfs (the teens being the serfs without the work ethic, that is).”
Although some teens may slam their bedroom doors and refuse to speak to their parents, Rittberg insists that they do want to talk.
“They are willing if they don’t hate you, disdain you utterly or have no respect for you. So your aim is to establish or reestablish a relationship that isn’t any of the above,” the author explained. “If they view you as too rigid or too out of touch and too extreme, yeah, they won’t want to talk to you. The key is to try to be reasonable even if you feel the steam coming out of your ears when you talk to them. Then they’ll be more apt to talk to you.”
Information shared could improve the relationship between teen and parent.
“Teens’ lives change and they move fast. An open communication channel is your lifeline. When your teens clam up, it can mean any number of things, most of them bad. So be approachable and normal and they’re more apt to turn to you,” Rittberg said.
Its important for parents to remain calm and be understanding when raising teenagers. After all, you were a rambunctious youth once too.
“Don’t be overly judgemental,” Rittberg advises. “Remember the stupid things you did as a teen (if you lack perspective) and don’t hate your teens. When they mess up, address the action, don’t attack the teen verbally.”
“[Teens] are testing out the waters of their lives,” the author noted. “They are experiencing lots of things for the first time and they don’t have wisdom and maturity by and large. Which is why parents need to set boundaries and curfews and set rules for them. I like to feel my ‘35 Things Your Teen Won’t Tell You, So I Will’ covers pretty much all the major things parents are likely to encounter.”
In addition to being an attorney and published author, Rittberg is an award-winning former journalist who has written for The New York Times and New York Daily News, as well as an artist. Many of her abstract paintings are inspired by her kids.
“My art has been influenced by my own children, to be sure. Creating art gives me a sense of elation and, on good days, so does parenting,” the multitasking mom said. “Parenting has also given me perspective, a sense of awe and appreciation, and that comes out in my art, most of which is abstract but which aims, as with writing, to connect with the viewer.”
Rittberg even finds inspiration from her brief stint as a Brooklyn resident.
“I spent the first half of my childhood in Brooklyn. I loved candy stores, luncheonettes (I’m giving away my age here!) Mrs. Stahl’s knishes, the beach and the people,” she said. “I love the diversity of Brooklyn. Just walking down the street, almost any street fills me with a powerful sense of how vital our city is. It’s a writer’s dream.”
Released on January 28 by Turner Publishing’s Trade Paper Press (www.turnerpublishing.com), “35 Things Your Teen Won’t Tell You, So I Will” is available at all major book stores and www.amazon.com where it’s currently on sale for $9.99. Read an excerpt from the book at www.ellenpoberrittberg.com.