Whether you have teenagers in the house or merely flash back on your teenage years, you know that adolescence is a time fraught with uncertainty. Social acceptance, changing bodies and raging hormones; trying to define oneself at home and in school, choosing wisely from the vast array of experiences confronting you...
In the stew of emotions, activity and conflict that is life as a teen, does anyone reasonably believe that a concerned adolescent would sit quietly and read a book - especially when today's teens are more in tune with the visual feast of the digital world?
Although the UK's statistics are far less alarming than those of the US, kids' reading scores have been on the decline for some time...
All of this should make you wonder why anyone would market a self-help book to a demographic that, more and more, are turning away from reading, in general, and books, in particular. The obvious answer is that those books are not meant for kids; they're meant for parents, at least at first.
Let's say you're the parent of a particularly truculent teen. Every attempt you've made at connecting with them has fallen flat - they're just not interested in talking with you. The logical next step would be getting in touch with a professional who can help you find a way to reach your kid.
Failing that, reading a self-help book targeted to teens is a viable solution. Even therapists and school counsellors read those books; otherwise, how would they know to recommend them to teens in distress?
Of course, your advantage lies in the fact that you live with those teens. You can leave such books lying around the house, maybe with a marker indicating relevant passages peeking out...
I don’t know about you, but my bookshelves are full of ‘improving’ volumes, many of which have taught me valuable lessons. These are books I still refer to, long after the turmoil that compelled me to buy and read that tome has passed. I enjoy having so much wisdom at my fingertips – even if I don’t follow the advice all the time.
Superprof knows of more than a few great self-help books, including ones that are best for teenagers. Today, we want to talk about the concept of self-help and where best to find it within the pages of a book for your teens.
Self-help, the Ages-old Concept
Many people think that the self-help fad was born out of the new-agey, touchy-feely, love-yourself-first ideas that must have grown out of the sexual revolution of the 60s. The timing was about right.
After the wild excesses of that era, a 'where do we go from here' feeling permeated society.
Unfortunately, while the timing seems spot on - a rampant, secular culture experiment followed by decades of introspection and a desire to move on - but not quite knowing how, the idea that self-help was a result of that era is far off the mark.
Roman orator Cicero wrote On Friendship and On Duties, describing how to conduct oneself in each instance, in 44BCE. Ovid recorded instructions for love and sex in 2CE. Other self-help instructions go even further back. In Ancient Egypt, Codes of Conduct served as guidelines for how to behave and get along in society.
Some even aver that The Bible may be the most significant self-help book of all. Leviticus and Deuteronomy may serve as particularly outstanding examples to support that thesis.
Clearly, self-help is not a modern, indulgent concept meant for the faint of mind; it's been around virtually since humans have been writing. However, the iteration we're most familiar with - indeed, the book that gave the practice its name, came about in 1859.
Self Help, written by Scotsman Samuel Smiles, was considered more of a self-improvement guide than a help manual. Nevertheless, it gave rise to virtually all of the self-help titles that would follow, particularly in the latter half of the 20th Century.
The (Teen) Self-help Paradox
We'll not indulge in platitudes about people only receiving help if they first help themselves. Instead, we focus on the very real fact that one must first recognise they need help before they can seek it.
How many teens do you know that are so self-aware that they prefer a self-help book to the latest graphic novel in their favourite series?
Okay, maybe we're making assumptions, here. It's quite possible that there are teens who instinctively gravitate to such works, perhaps even to stave off potential problems before they happen. Still, we maintain that, for the most part, whether they're teens or adults in crisis, people must first acknowledge there is something they need help with before seeking out any kind of aid.
And then, there's that world-renown, most infuriating teen characteristic: arrogance. There's nothing wrong with them, it's you who is way off-base. They're not having any problems, you're the one with the problem. Who are you to tell them anything when you're so stupid? When you can't understand?
You're likely a savvy parent who knows that all that bluster is meant to cover up the deep-seated insecurity that your teen would never admit to, even if you set their toes of fire.
That's why all of the self-help books ostensibly meant for teenagers are really meant for you, mum and dad. You're supposed to read them, mark the passages that would help the most and leave them conspicuously lying around for your teen to find.
Whatever you do, don't tell them you bought them this book that you think will really help them - as though they actually were dealing with high levels of anxiety and frustration. Of course, you know they are but you're not supposed to let on that you know.
It's all a part of the teenage mystique... remember?
Why Self-help Books?
When it comes to getting/keeping teenagers on the right track, many parents opt for activity: music lessons and martial arts classes - or whatever s/he has expressed an interest in. Other concerned caregivers may place particular emphasis on academia by engaging tutors and academic coaches to keep their kids razor-sharp in school - all while filling up every minute of every day with targeted pursuits.
Maintaining a scholastic edge is a great way to reduce teenage angst and anxiety but a good showing at school is not the only thing plaguing your teen... and you know it.
This segment's header actually poses two questions: why self-help and why books. The first might be easier to explain.
Adults know what it feels like to take ownership of oneself and one's circumstances. Doing so is empowering and leads to feelings of self-confidence and, ultimately, to greater self-esteem.
That sense of well-being that comes from being secure in one's ability to own and deal with whatever comes your way is unrivalled. You cannot experience it by being a champion athlete, YouTube star or social media influencer.
If you need any proof of that, just look for news reports of drug and alcohol abuse or other legal setbacks those in the limelight suffer. They prove that lots of money and elevated social status does not negate uncertainty in oneself.
Owning yourself and your life is only possible if you understand the profound responsibility that comes with it. Such a sense of duty to oneself does not grow out of the crazed carousel of social competition that most teens feel compelled to ride but in times of quiet contemplation.
Presenting pragmatic, actionable information in a non-judgemental format is the perfect medium to foster those moments that could lead to great personal growth.
As for the 'why books' part of the question: is there any better way to foster stillness than by sitting down with a good book?
And here's another reason why books are the best media for personal growth. Remember when your teens were toddlers and they demanded you read them the same story over and over again?
You might have gotten tired of reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar or anything by Dr Seuss but your baby could never get enough, right?
Reading the same stories over and over provides children with a sense of security; a safe place where they can develop logic and critical thinking skills. As you re-read the story, night after night, they are challenging their memory and anticipating the next character's lines.
The same pattern emerges when teens return to their favourite books. They find comfort in the familiar but also pick up on information they may have missed out on in the first reading. They may question something the author wrote or, more likely, will attempt to put what they read into context with their lives.
Or maybe something happened that day to trigger a memory of something they read in that book. Having a book to go back to forms a reinforcing loop of information.
The Best Self-help Books for Teens
Now that we've ascertained that books are the best medium for non-judgemental delivery of personal growth incentives, let us present a few titles for you to explore - and then hand off to your teen.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teenagers by Sean Covey. Sean’s dad Stephen famously published the groundbreaking The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, now a global bestseller. Sean’s book brings a special perspective to the same area, especially for young people. Funny and fun to read, the advice is practical and welcome.
Chicken Soup For The Teenage Soul: Stories of Life, Love and Learning by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen. This is another teen version of an adults’ classic. It sells itself as a handbook for surviving with your sanity and sense of humour intact. Like the original, some will find the chicken soup a bit on the yukky side, but there are some tasty nuggets in there too.
Dr Christian’s Guide to Growing Up by Dr Christian Jessen. Who can fail to be reassured by the charming presence of Dr Christian? While this is about the physical side of growing up, it covers wider issues of body image, mental health and sexuality. For a common-sense starting point for discussions, you can’t beat it.
Totally Me: The Teenage Girl’s Survival Guide by Yvonne Collins and Sandy Rideout. This is billed as the ultimate survival guide for “smart girls who want to find their way and have fun doing it”. It’s the stand-out book in a crowded section. Readers say they enjoy the zippy and light-hearted tone and the emphasis on self-esteem. It quickly becomes an essential reference book.
Blame My Brain by Nicola Morgan. Now in its third edition, this book was written to allow teenagers to understand their own brains. It shows what’s going on in kids’ heads, why and why it’s important. Easy to read, despite communicating complex ideas – it’ll help everyone understand each other better.
The Teenager’s Guide to Money by Jonathan Self. As the adults’ world seems to be doing a reasonably poor job of clearing up the financial mess it got into, maybe it’s time for young adults to prepare themselves for taking over. Being in charge of their own money is a start and this user-friendly guide will simply explain important things such as living on a budget and how a bank account works. It will help equip youngsters to make responsible financial decisions now and in the future.
How To Get What You Want by Nina Grunfeld. Life coach Nina leads teenagers through ten sections adding up to a sensible and accessible guide to a fulfilling future. Areas covered include identity, focus, goals and confidence.
Bonus Segment: the Best Websites for Teen Self-help
You would think that, after advocating so strongly for printed reading material, we would abstain from mentioning any digital self-help outlet altogether, right?
The thing is, effective communication revolves around speaking in a way that the person you're conversing with will understand and feel most comfortable with. Likewise, our digital natives - those who've never known life without a smartphone feel more comfortable interacting in cyberspace.
If you want to reach them where they feel most at home, you have to consider digital media as a bridge to doing so.
So, if your cunningly placed copies of Chicken Soup and Effective Habits have garnered no hits, try texting a few of these sites' addresses:
- Life Learning Today
- Even Happier
- Becoming Minimalist
- Mind Tools
- Success Soul
On these sites and others, you will find an assortment of worksheets and activities meant to drill down to the heart of what's plaguing your teen (or yourself!) and find ways to work around them. You can read inspirational stories of triumph over adversity, commonsense tips to minimise seemingly insurmountable problems and come out stronger on the other side.
Your teens may not bite at first but, if you revise your habits and mindset - in other words, you lead by example, whether stealthily or overtly, those stubborn adolescents will eventually want to get in on those good emotions, too.