The best books for really understanding children and teens

Who am I?

For the last 14 years, I've written books that aim to tackle the most pressing worries for parents and educators – and to understand and connect with kids better. It’s a sad fact that research continues to show that our kids are not as happy as they might be, often due to feeling overwhelmed by academic pressures at school, and growing up in a more ‘stressed’ society. So, as a parent and a parenting journalist, I believe it’s never been more important to understand how the world looks to them – and give both parents and kids evidence-based tools to help them navigate this. I aim to make my books enlightening, readable, and practical.


I wrote...

The Friendship Maze: How to Help Your Child Navigate Their Way to Positive and Happier Friendships

By Tanith Carey,

Book cover of The Friendship Maze: How to Help Your Child Navigate Their Way to Positive and Happier Friendships

What is my book about?

Parents worry more about kids' friendships than any other issue, research shows. Having good friends is also important for kids’ mental health and to help them enjoy- and learn - at school. But as we look on, both parents and teachers can often feel powerless to help when things go wrong with their peer relationships.

The Friendship Maze is the first UK book to pull together the science behind how children’s friendships work in a readable, practical way. It explains why cliques form, why some kids are less ‘popular’ than others, why bullying happens and why children get left out. It also offers evidence-based ways to help your child learn to have happier peer relationships, deal with 'mean behaviour,' improve their friendship skills, and have a more positive experience at school and peer relationships.

The books I picked & why

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Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions Into Adulthood

By Lisa Damour,

Book cover of Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions Into Adulthood

Why this book?

This book was a total breath of fresh air when it was published by psychologist Lisa Damour in 2016. Dr. Damour really ‘gets’ girls and her understanding of the sometimes erratic and confusing behaviour in the adolescent years is profound and compassionate. Dr. Damour also writes beautifully so it’s a pleasure to read and doesn’t repeat the same old tired cliches. Instead, it goes to the next level to explain what's going on for girls as they grow up and become independent. It prepares parents for what's to come and lets them know when it's time to worry and when girls are going through a necessary development phase.


Be Happy Be You: The Teenager Guide

By Penny Alexander, Becky Goddard-Hill, Collins Kids

Book cover of Be Happy Be You: The Teenager Guide

Why this book?

While it’s generally agreed that our teens are going through a tougher time, I think that if we give them the skills to understand their own thinking they can ultimately come through this period stronger and more resilient. What’s more, we can’t just tell them how their minds work. They have to understand it for themselves. So that’s why I love this book which compresses the science for teens and gives them a ready-to-use tool kit for everything from handling worries to feeling better about their bodies.


Never Let Go: How to Parent Your Child Through Mental Illness

By Suzanne Alderson,

Book cover of Never Let Go: How to Parent Your Child Through Mental Illness

Why this book?

This book was another total game-changer and I will never stop recommending it. It totally benefits from being written by a parent, rather than a clinician, but fearlessly tackles the terror faced by mothers and fathers when their child starts to struggle with a serious mental health crisis. It also offers a fearless road map out of this dark place. Suzanne writes beautifully too which makes the book easy to read despite its difficult subject matter. Suzanne now heads up the charity and Facebook support group, Parenting Mental Health, which is a safe haven for many parents where they can honestly express what it’s like to be in this very scary place.


Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls

By Rachel Simmons,

Book cover of Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls

Why this book?

This book was another eye-opener. Educator Rachel Simmons lifted the lid on how not all meanness and bullying among children is overt, obvious, or easily spotted. She decodes relational aggression between young people - a kind of stealth attack, using words and exclusion, and techniques like seat-saving, gossip, and silent treatment. This kind of behaviour can be particularly painful for young people to understand or process because it is so hard to name. But in this book, Simmons put her finger on it, so it can be understood and recognized. It means that when young people experience it, they will not feel so hurt and singled out by it.

Sparks: How Parents Can Help Ignite the Hidden Strengths of Teenagers

By Peter L. Benson,

Book cover of Sparks: How Parents Can Help Ignite the Hidden Strengths of Teenagers

Why this book?

In this book, the late Peter Benson, argues that by the teenage years, with help every young person can identify their unique strength - the thing they are naturally good at and would do anyway if left to their own devices. He argues this doesn’t have to be academic. It can be things like the ability to listen, a commitment to animal welfare, a passion for the environment, anything in the creative arts, or caring for others. He discussed how every single young person can be helped to identify their ‘spark.’ I often cite Benson’s concept of ‘spark’ in my own books because it does so much to help young people feel better about themselves, find their life purpose and undo the damage our grades-obsessed, one-size-fits-all education system does to the self-worth of so many.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in adolescence, bullying, and parenting?

5,309 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about adolescence, bullying, and parenting.

Adolescence Explore 22 books about adolescence
Bullying Explore 46 books about bullying
Parenting Explore 109 books about parenting

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Girlhood, 10 Things Girls Need Most: To Grow Up Strong and Free, and The Read-Aloud Family: Making Meaningful and Lasting Connections with Your Kids if you like this list.