First, a confession. I don’t do “self-help” books, I never have done. But I absolutely love articles, programmes and podcasts about parenting and a huge part of working life at Equipp is thinking about parenting teens. So I thought that maybe a parenting book was worth a try. Psychologist Philippa Perry’s “The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read” comes highly recommended, so I duly read it and – of course – wanted to share my thoughts with you in the form of a book review.
It’s quite controversial, and a lot of the criticisms – that it assumes you have money, time and support available – are valid. The page on spending too long on your phone is especially harsh! However, overall I’m a big fan of Perry’s balanced approach to child-led parenting, and her view that time, energy and undivided attention invested in the early years is not indulging the child in any way but is paving the way to a secure, independent teenager.
“Think of it like this: there’s a parent and a child on a train. The parent can either play with the child, draw with them, read to them, play a game with them – or spend the time instead telling them to be quiet and sit still.”
Easier said than done, of course!
Parenting advice in general
It’s not a book specifically about parenting teens, so much of it is largely irrelevant to parents of teenagers. I’d call it ‘the book I wish I’d read when my children were little’! However, it’s a book about the relationships we have with our children and it makes the point that it’s never too late to change these.
It starts with recognising the parenting legacy that your own childhood has left you with, which is useful to do at any stage of the parenting journey. In this section, as in all of them, exercises are set, so that you can put the advice into practice.
The chapters that follow, although they focus on the early years, are an interesting read. The author looks at:
- your child’s environment – particularly useful when it talks about arguing and how to manage disputes (hint: don’t use the “look, squirrel!” distraction technique ? )
- feelings – and how essential it is to accept all our children’s feelings, “their anger, fear, sadness and their joys” and not be tempted to brush off negative feelings in an ill-advised pursuit of happiness
- behaviour – ‘all behaviour is communication’
Perry talks about the skills we all need to develop in order to behave well. The more we model these in our parenting, the more our children will develop them for themselves:
- Being able to tolerate frustration
- Problem-solving skills
- The ability to see and feel things form other people’s point of view
Towards the end of the book there are sections that deal specifically with teens and young adults. And these are gold.
The section on boundaries is really helpful, with advice about framing the issues from your perspective rather than just withholding permissions.
“Remember: when you want to put down a boundary, define yourself and not the teen. Give your own feelings as your reason – because it is your feelings that are the reason. For example, your thirteen-year-old wants to catch the night bus back across town on their own. You could say: ‘You are right, you probably can catch that bus and know how to behave responsibly and safely on it. The trouble is, I am not yet ready to let you do it.'”
There are also examples of how to apply the collaborative method of working together to solve a problem to older children. These are the basic steps, and Perry gives helpful examples of how they can work with teens in the book:
- define the problem
- find out the feelings behind the behaviour
- validate those feelings
- brainstorm solutions
- follow through, repeating any steps as necessary
There are exercises in this section, as in all the others; I particularly liked the exercise of imagining an older teenager as a lodger sharing your home and defining house rules accordingly.
If you have teens, it’s definitely worth getting hold of a copy. There’s a very interesting section on teenagers and lying. Perry makes the point that it will happen to you, whatever your expectations. Minimise it by staying as calm and unjudgemental as possible when you hear the truth.
It’s also stresses the importance of really listening, something that’s just as tricky to do – if not trickier – as your children get older. Their feelings, however inconvenient, must be heard and validated (which is not at all the same as being agreed with), because if they aren’t they will find other, even less desirable ways of expressing themselves.
Tell us what you think
If you decide to read “The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read”, I’d love to know what you think of it, especially as some people violently disagree with many of its points. I’m always ready for a discussion on parenting! Most local, independent bookshops should have a copy – there’s a great website to find them here. Or if you’ve got a recommendation for a book that you think I should read next, please do let me know! And we’re always on the lookout for helpful information to add to our Parenting Teens resources page – do leave a comment if there’s anything you’d like us to check out.