11 Rules for Raising Teenagers

Updated: Mar. 28, 2022

Ellen Pober Rittberg, author of the book, “35 Things Your Teen Won’t Tell You, So I Will,” shares her rules for raising a teen.

1. Your teens don’t want you to be their friends. What they need is for you to be a reliable responsible role model worthy of their respect, and not some overgrown finger-snapping hipster who wears too tight jeans or T-shirts with slogans advocating the virtues of 100 proof liquor.

2. Don’t debate the teen ever. If she wants to debate, suggest she sign up for the Debate Club, thank you very much.  If you buy into their teen logic (which is basically illogic, the product of an immature brain and every extreme of emotion known to mankind) your mouth will go dry and your ears and nerves will surely fray. Teens need to know that no means no. Remember when your teen was two years old and he said “no” a lot? Well now it’s your turn, particularly when your teen want to engage in behaviors that are dangerous, or which might negatively affect their future academic, social or job prospects.

3. Don’t buy your teen a car. If you do, he will total it or wreck it in record time. Guaranteed. The teen should earn the car, or at least a portion of it (and by that I don’t mean one of the tires). You know how you take much better care of an item of clothing you spent a mint on compared to one you bought in a bargain basement? It’s the same thing, only a car can do serious damage.

4. Encourage sports participation even if your teen has two left feet. In some sports, two left feet won’t knock him out of the box, so to speak. Sports participation develops perserverence and cheerfully functioning as a team member. You also will know where your child is every day after school (on the field, that is, or at a rival school). Just make sure you root for the right team, okay? Been there, done that.

5. Let the school know you in a good way so that school personnel do not dive under the desk when you approach. If you are asked to speak at the school, your teen will feel mighty proud. If you make something for the bake sale, try to make it taste edible and if you can’t see it through, do yourself and your child a favor and buy something at the local bakery or supermarket.

6. Your teen needs some house rules, else he becomes a sloth and his room begins to seriously resemble a gerbil cage. Some good house rules: no eating outside the kitchen. No visitors to the house unless an adult is present. No name calling or suggesting the parent needs to spend time in a soft padded room.

7. Your teen needs to work unless her school and academic demands take up all available time. Why? As stated above, if allowed to vegetate, teens can and will become human sloths. Besides, these are hard times, and looking good and dressing good costs money. Anything that encourages a work ethic and sense of family duty is a good thing.

8. To know your teens’ friends is to know your  teens. Teens have a secret life, and a parent’s goal is to penetrate the veil of secrecy that is sometimes thicker than the CIA and the KGB combined. If you really want to know what your kid is up to, get to know their friends. How? By being warm and kind, and by asking questions that don’t sound like an interrogation, but which serve that purpose without their knowing it.

9. Look at your teen daily and it’s okay to stare. Notice any changes in appearance, hygiene, mood, etc. Interact meaningfully with your teen daily, and by that I don’t mean asking, “Did you take out the garbage?”

10. Know that if your teen gets into hot water, he may be too embarrassed or afraid of your wrath and disappointment to tell you, even if you have a great relationship with your teen or–think you do.

11. Just when you think your teen has learned from his mistake, he will make another doozy of a mistake. Be prepared for this. Remember: the human brain is not fully formed untill age 25. Yikes!

Ellen Pober Rittberg had three kids in three years, now grown. She also represented kids in court for 13 years as an attorney, and she is a parenting writer and former host of an award-winning cable TV show, “The Changing Family.” Her new book 35 Things Your Teen Won’t Tell You, So I Will is available for purchase at Amazon.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest