I have four children. The oldest turned 21 this summer, the middle two are teenagers, and the youngest is four. I’ve been down many roads with my teens, some predictable, some startling, terrifying, humbling and fear-inducing. Whether it’s a teen boy or a teen girl, having the right book clutched in my hand and shuffled from room to room in the house—highlighted, stained and pages bent—took me through some of the hardest times as a parent of a teen with some wise assistance.
Books never get tired of you worrying about the same thing, ask if you are getting enough sleep, or remind you that you didn’t really eat enough protein when you were pregnant and maybe that is the cause of all of this. (That last one would be me, talking to me. I’m not very supportive.)
Here are five of the best books that offered the wisest assistance to me over the past several years:
1. Mending the Broken Bond: The 90-Day Answer to Repairing Your Relationship With Your Child, by Frank Lawlis
Frank Lawlis wrote this beautifully compassionate book. I read this book during some intensely hard periods of parenthood with my teen boys, and it was a port in the storm. A book that can give you hope is invaluable. Lawlis is not only compassionate toward both parent and teen—a hard combination to find in an author on this subject—but he also gives practical, pointed advice and not just generic theory or emoting. I will keep this book and reread it for years.
2. Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls, by Mary Pipher
This starkly realistic book on the modern lives of adolescent girls was written by a therapist who has worked with teen girls for decades. She has a gently observant intellect along with a strikingly nonjudgmental viewpoint on the parents of teenage girls. Many books on teenagers specialize in pointing blame at parents, but Mary Pipher is uniquely open-minded in interpreting the information she has culled about the many factors involved in teen behavior. She makes a point to say how hard many of the parents she has seen work to do a good job with their children and how very difficult societal and school structure is for us as parents and for our girls as adolescents.
The stories, chapter by chapter, are sad but also eye-opening and compassionately told. What I found most fascinating was Pipher’s own uncertainty (reflecting my own) as to which approach is ultimately best for teens: the severe guidance that results in disciplined teens but possibly less individualistic and happy adults, or the looser hand that leaves more room for pain and serious problems but also can end with adults who are more in control of their own lives and know who they really are, without their parents’ rules.
3. The Wonder of Boys, by Michael Gurian
I love this book, which has rightly earned its place in classic teen-development books. Gurian combines his passion for nurturing the spirits of boys with his sweeping professional knowledge of what boys in many cultures receive—or don’t receive—that is most significant for their success in life. I’ve read this book once every two years or so since our oldest son was little, and it has served me very well as guidance for providing the structure, challenges and particular kind of support and communication that boys need.
4. Come Back: A Mother and Daughter’s Journey Through Hell and Back (P.S.), by Claire Fontaine and Mia Fontaine
There is a nice handful of books written about parents going “through hell” with their teens, and this one stands out. Viscerally honest, the voices of mother and daughter take turns telling the story of how 15-year-old Mia Fontaine throws herself headlong into drugs and street life, and how her mother, Claire Fontaine, and stepfather drag her our of it, literally kicking and screaming, and into behavioral programs.
What makes this book so compelling and unique is the feel of complete honesty, the character flaws ruthlessly revealed, the incredible love of the mother for her daughter, the willingness to do anything to help her, and the second half of the book, which is full of the nitty-gritty details of the therapy that put them back together. The lessons on communication and effective parenting are gold, even for those of us who never have to go down this road.
5. Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys, by Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson
Written by two men, Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson, this wonderful book highlights the ways that society and families fail boys and how we can better support their emotional lives. A list of the seven most important steps to supporting boys success makes this not only informative and interesting but particularly helpful for structuring parenting choices that will best lift up our boys to their best lives.