Written by Joe Scotchie Friday, 12 March 2010 00:00
Years ago, former Plainview resident Ellen Pober Rittberg gave birth to three children all within a three-year time span. Such an experience gave her a unique perspective on parenting. Rittberg decided to parlay that into a book, 35 Things Your Teen Won’t Tell You, So I Will.
The book, published by Turner Publishing Company, is described as a “light-hearted, mini-manifesto of pragmatic parenting advice that teaches readers how to dig deep, survive and perhaps even crack the psyche of a hormonal, temperamental and ever-changing teen.” Rittberg’s three children—-Jay, Matt, and Kim—-were raised in Plainview. All three graduated from Plainview-Old Bethpage High School.
“Be an activist,” Rittberg concludes on the book’s final pages. “Or, even better, try not to ever sleep during your teenager’s teenage years.”
That witty (and serious) comment is preceded by 124 pages of advice on a variety of issues, including how to deal with your children’s friends and basically, how to ease the enormous transitions that occur when children hit the teenage years.
In the book’s introduction, Rittberg relates that when she had children, she read “loads of books” on child rearing. However, she found books on the teenage years to be too preachy or too dense. And so, Rittberg embarked on her own book.
“I’ve written a book that is lighthearted and empathetic most of the time but which contains tips and pointers explaining the thoroughgoing orientation a parent of a teen needs,” she wrote in the introduction.
A theme of the book is that a parent should practice both firmness and humor when dealing with teenagers. For instance, parents should have a real interest in the things that interest their teenagers. Rittberg uses the example of lacrosse, a game her daughter played, but one that the author knew nothing about. And so, the author had to familiarize herself with this sport, which is popular among teenagers on Long Island.
At the same time, Rittberg emphasizes that a family is not a democracy.
“Think of your family as a fiefdom in the Middle Ages,” Rittberg advises. “Your children are serfs without the work ethic. Parents are enlightened despots….Regard [your children’s] bad behaviors as scourges and epidemics to be wiped out, extirpated. And emphasize to your teens that there is only one Declaration of Independence and that it is in Independence Hall in Philadelphia.”
Part of that firmness is not buying a car for your teenager even if you can afford it. “Let the teen earn the car,” Rittberg writes. At the same time, parents should encourage their children to play sports and join clubs during their high school years.
Get a Job
Parents should also insist that their children, unless they are busy playing varsity sports year-round, find a part-time job once they reach the minimum wage earning age of 16. Rittberg suggests that a supermarket or fast food restaurant is a good starter job.
A part-time job is important since it gives the teenager a sense of financial responsibility, a sense of time management, putting them in a situation where they must “show up on time, have clean clothes…and adhere to standards set by someone other than a teacher or family member.” Teenagers will also be earning a paycheck and in time, will “no longer relate to his parent as a human Fort Knox.”
Continuing in the good cop-bad cop strategy, Rittberg writes that it’s good “if your children and their friends are afraid of you.” At the same time, parents should make their home a welcoming place for their children’s friends. If friends come over, it keeps the teenagers in the house, rather than hanging out outside “local fast food joints, on street corners, [or] deserted parks.”
Sensitive issues like sexual activity should be addressed early on. “Their lives depend upon it,” the author states, while parents especially need to view beer and hard liquor as the “unseen enemy.”
A main theme of this delightful, but serious book is to keep your teenagers busy during those formative years, while letting them know all the while who the real figures of authority are.
Rittberg’s experience with teenagers did not only come through parenting. She served as a law guardian for children and teenagers for 13 years, and is a writer and award-winning journalist. She has written numerous features, articles and essays on family life and parenting in the New York Times, Newsday, Boston Globe, Daily News and other leading daily newspapers. Rittberg has also won journalism awards for her print writing as well as an award for a live, cable TV show she hosted, wrote and produced, The Changing Family.
“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),” Ms. Rittberg adds.
Turner Publishing is based in Nashville, TN. 35 Things Your Teen Will Never Tell You is available at bookstores for $9.99 and at Amazon.com. For more information, visit www.ellenpoberrittberg.com.