Resources for Parents of Tweens and Teenagers

Inspired by this piece in New York Magazine about the best resources for parents of toddlers (in which I am quoted as a child development expert, OMG!), I am going to tell you where to turn when you’re about a decade ahead of the toddler years.

What to do when you’re firmly in the tween and teen years?

First of all, I am so here, and I’m way out of my comfort zone. I spent over 10 years taking care of other people’s babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. I GET early childhood. Middle childhood? Teenagers? Not so much.

I posted this meme recently and it was met with much angst. I feel ya. It really is hard to let go. But don’t forget that it’s a SLOW process and our young (yet somewhat independent) offspring still really do need our attention and support, even when they’re super sassy.

photo courtesy of Alison Tozier

For your reading pleasure, my favorite books for parents of t/weenagers:

The best bet for navigating the dance between “holding on and letting go” is Hold Onto Your Kids by Gordon Neufild, PhD and Gabor Maté MD. This book is a huge help for the tween years when kids start to gravitate toward their peers, but secretly still need and value their parents’ input and support. This book is emotionally intelligent and offers practical advice for maintaining a robust and healthy connection to your kids as they grow up and away.

My next recommendation is Julie Lythcott-Haims’ wonderful book, How to Raise and Adult. I have always said that our goal as parents is to raise adults, not children. Lythcott-Haims shares her longtime experience as dean of freshman at Stanford University, along with strategies to help us stop overprotecting and overparenting (I’m guilty!).

It may seem that this book is at odds with the previous suggestion, but it’s not. The advice here is to back off, but not to back all the way out the door. The tricky bridge we’re all trying to traverse here is how to be tuned in enough with our kids to offer developmentally appropriate support (every child is different!). This book helps us recalibrate as our children grow into teens and eventually adults.

from my insta @sarahmaclaughlin

Next…

Daniel Siegel, MD and Tina Payne Bryson, PhD continue their dynamic duo writing collaboration with The Yes Brain. Helpful, brain-based tips for raising courageous, curious, and resilient humans. Dan Siegel’s book Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain is also a good pick once you’re in that age range.

Some additional goodies are The Romance of Risk by Lynn E. Ponton, MD which succinctly explains why teenagers engage in risky behaviors (and shed bright light on my own teenage years!) and Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us (big surprise, it’s not rewards or punishments!). Even though it’s not a parenting book, I found it very helpful in thinking about what it means to be, and raise, a curious, capable, and responsible adult.

Hand in Hand Parenting has a fabulous list of resources for parents of teens as well! Check out these great articles and even a podcast. AND HOW COULD I FORGET: Casey O’Roarty’s wonderful work at Joyful Courage, and especially her podcast (and definitely this episode about t/weens and SCREENTIME!).

I’m mentioning the following titles which I have not yet read, but they looked so great I went ahead and ordered them: The Teenage Brain by Frances E Jensen MD and A Survival Guide to Parenting Teens by Joani Geltman (I’ll report back!).

What can your t/ween be reading?

Sometimes it’s hard to broach topics and get the conversation going. Books can be a great jumping off place for that. If your child recommends a book to you, READ IT, then circle back for a chat. Don’t forget about these Judy Blume classics and here’s additional suggestions for titles on more “grown-up” topics for your t/weenagers:

  • If you and your older child have not read Wonder by R.J. Palacio, do not pass go. This book is a vital conversation starter about friendships, bullying, body image, and more.
  • I love all of Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novels, and Drama is no exception. This storyline is more mature than her other books and includes crushes (including same-sex) and other middle school drama.
  • The main character in George knows she’s a girl, but everyone else doesn’t. Beautiful novel for middle childhood about a transgender child’s struggle and triumph.
  • Sex is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg is an essential resource about gender, bodies, and sexuality that is inclusive and fun.
  • Robie Harris’ indispensable book for ages 10 and up about puberty, sex, and sexuality is, It’s Perfectly Normal.
  • For middle- and high-schoolers, The Hate U Give is an excellent novel that depicts racism, white privilege, and many other aspects of the issues of race, class, and social justice.

And if you’re feeling at all squeamish about talking to your kids about sex, please check out Amy Lang’s great site, Birds + Bees + Kids.

What else?

There is a LOT more media available to our kids than there was when we were young (social and other). Staying aware of what information your child has access to is almost impossible. You can safely assume that they will be exposed to issues around race/racism, gender-fluidity, sex/sexuality/LGBTQ, assault/abuse/rape, violence/war, bullying, and more by the time they are 12. Meet them there, don’t look the other way. They can only benefit from your listening ear as they struggle with these (and other) topics (alcohol, drugs, suicide, school shootings, terrorism, climate change, I could go on…).

As I step through the minefield of emotions that come with the impending adolescence of my own child, I keep coming back to me. My experiences growing up. How I felt when I was that age. I remember feeling like my own person! I was capable and confident (I was also an 80s latchkey kid and the recipient of plenty of benign neglect, but that’s another story). I also still had a lot of growing up to do (and so do they!). And I would have benefited from a little more support and attention; someplace to bring my questions and worries. Our 10+ year-old kids are making a lot of progress, but they can also still use our age-appropriate help.

Coming soon: gender-specific book suggestions and tips for the tween and teen years!

photo courtesy of Jen Dean Photography

Sarah MacLaughlin is author of the award-winning book, What Not to Say: Tools for Talking with Young Children and has been featured in The Huffington Post. She brings over 25 years of experience working with children and families to her coaching practice. Sarah is also mom to a 10-year-old who gives her plenty of opportunities to take her own advice. She works with families one on one, in groups, and through online offerings.