Seasoned parents of teens may rely less on advice books than neophytes desperate for tips on napping, teething, weaning, and vaccines. But one day, even your children will become taller, moodier, bolder, busier, and you may ask yourself, to quote Talking Heads’ David Byrne, “Well, how did I get here?”
If you’re in search of strategies for handling new parenting challenges, here are some bookstore favorites, website standouts, and parent recommendations to pad your summer reading list.
In a small e-mail survey of parents I know, bestselling author and University of Minnesota faculty member David Walsh’s books were cited most. No: Why Kids — of All Ages — Need to Hear It and Ways Parents Can Say It. Wayzata’s Gleason Lake Elementary School even chose it for a community read, and PTA President Shelly Dau was pleased by the turnout of 40 parents at the book discussion in April. “We discussed how hard it is sometimes to be a parent today [dealing with] media, competition, overscheduledness,” she said. The discussion, facilitated by the school’s principal and social worker, was a forum to build community and “to talk about these things without feeling you are being judged. In some sense, that was more beneficial than strategies you walk away with.”
And Jan, a mother of three from St. Paul, recommends Walsh’s Why Do They Act That Way? about adolescents’ brain development: “It has helped me gain perspective, particularly [with] the frustration of trying to be rational with teenagers who aren’t always thinking rationally.”
Kay, a Bloomington mother of two sons likes Walsh’s web site for the Institute on Media and the Family, MediaFamily.org. She also recommends Staying Connected to Your Teenager by Michael Riera, and Field Guide to the American Teenager: A Parent’s Companion by Riera and Joseph Prisco, as well as the Boy’s Guide to Becoming a Teen by Kate Pfeifer.
This title says it all: Get Out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me and Cheryl to the Mall? by Anthony E. Wolf, Ph.D.
Another classic is How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Elaine Mazlish and Adele Faber. “This book has been around awhile, but I think it’s great,” says Merrie, a Minneapolis mother of an eighth-grade daughter. “I’ve even used it with college students who were tutoring younger children to talk about communication, establishing a relationship and ‘authentic’ praise.”
Gender-specific topics may be of interest. Boys Adrift by Leonard Sax and Dan Kindlon’s Alpha Girls, on slacker boys and high-achieving girls, respectively, might be read in tandem. Becky, a Northfield mother of two daughters, said that Sax’s book leaves her wondering what kinds of men might be available when her girls are ready to date, much less marry. After you’ve read them, Google the titles for reviews and discussion threads about the next-generation “gender war” backlash that is arguably the subtext of each one.
Several parents of sons recommend The Wonder of Boys or The Good Son by Michael Gurian. At The Bookcase of Wayzata, “girl-relevant” titles such as Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman and Odd Girl Out by Rachel Simmons are in demand, according to book buyer Nancy Caffoe. “Most of the time,” says Caffoe, “what people are looking for help with is the issue of girl bullying. The mental-emotional thing: ‘My daughter used to be in; now she’s out.’”
Elsewhere, parents are interested in the greening of family life. In leafy Linden Hills, a Minneapolis neighborhood where Subarus outnumber SUVs and the local grocery is a solar-powered food co-op, it’s no surprise, that book buyer Collette Morgan at Wild Rumpus bookstore reports more requests for and sales of books about green parenting and ecology, such as Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv, which advocates outdoor experience and play as an antidote to “nature deficit disorder” and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, a memoir about her family’s year of eating only locally grown food.
If the political races have whetted your inner policy wonk, check out the MOTHERS (Mothers Ought To Have Equal Rights) pick, The Real Wealth of Nations: Creating a Caring Economics by social scientist Riane Eisler, “who shows that the great problems of our time — poverty, inequality, war, terrorism, and environmental degradation — are due to flawed economic systems that set the wrong priorities and misallocate resources,” according to a review on the MOTHERS Book Bag website, MothersBookBag.org.
Finally, if you are looking for something for your teens to read, Caffoe suggests two popular guides: Teen Book Guides: 500 Great Books for Teens by Anita Silvey and The Ultimate Teen Book Guide featuring reviews written by kids, edited by Daniel Hahn.
Kris Berggren is taking a break from parenting books with Warren Zevon’s biography I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead.
Check out staff picks at bookstore and library web sites:
The Bookcase of Wayzata
Hennepin County Library
St. Paul Public Library