Welcome to Reading Lists, comprehensive book guides from the Strategist designed to make you an expert in hyperspecific or newsworthy topics (or at least a fascinating dinner-party companion), from microdosing and psychedelic therapy to French cooking. Here, a selection of books about understanding adolescence.
Adolescence can be a confusing time for kids and parents alike. Hormones are raging, bodies are changing, and finding ways to talk about it all can be uncomfortable. Even if you are embarrassed, it is essential to “make the space comfortable so that your child can know that sex and puberty aren’t things that need to be associated with shame,” advises therapist Mary Borys. A book can be an excellent resource for learning about the often embarrassing topics of sexuality and reproductive health. “Sometimes, talking is less and reading is more,” says licensed clinical psychotherapist Karen Arluck. “The most important thing for children and adolescents is that literature on anything to do with sexual and reproductive health is presented in a clear and honest way,” adds psychotherapist Matt Lundquist.
We consulted a bevy of child- and adolescent-focused psychologists, social workers, and sex educators to find the best books about adolescence for children, tweens, teens, and parents alike. Our panel of experts includes clinical psychologist Alexandra Goletka, psychologist Kristen Piering, clinical social worker and sex educator Sonalee Rashatwar, licensed clinical social worker Glenda Stoller, family therapist Sarah McCaslin, and professor of developmental psychology at New York University and author of Deep Secrets: Boys’ Friendships and the Crisis of Connection, Niobe Way. As always, each book comes recommended by at least two experts.
The best book for children
“When talking about sex and puberty it is very important to address topics of sexuality from an early age,” says Goletka. She recommends this book for children in preschool, kindergarten, and early elementary school. It contains diagrams of both male and female anatomy and engages with both puberty and sexual and reproductive health. “This book does an excellent job presenting physiology and reproduction in a clear and creative way,” says Lundquist. However, he adds that it is only “limited to heterosexual intercourse.”
The best book about puberty for girls
Three of our experts cited this book as a must-read for younger girls. Borys calls The Care and Keeping of You “a tried-and-true classic” best suited for girls between 8 and 10. This illustrated guide covers everything from getting your first period to dealing with acne. “This is a great, accessible, and nonintimidating book, designed for younger girls, to help them understand and appreciate their changing bodies,” adds Piering.
The best book about emotional well-being for girls
The Period Book, which was recommended by two of our experts, not only tackles puberty but has been updated to address the ways in which technology has impacted sexuality for today’s teens. For example, it includes a section specifically geared toward teaching girls about how to deal with sexual harassment both on social media and in real life.
The best book about menstruation
Everything a teen girl needs to make informed decisions about her menstrual cycle. Period. Borys calls it “a straightforward book” that “speaks to girls on a direct level without trying to gloss over anything or be too juvenile.” This volume covers everything from tampons to menstrual cups and aims to empower young women. It contains both scientific illustrations and diagrams as well as personal testimonials from real teens.
The best books about puberty for boys
Stoller recommend this book for preteen boys. It broadly covers everything from hygiene to relationships to bullies. However, this book does not touch on the topic of sex and sexuality, so while it’s a good primer for puberty, it will need to be supplemented with additional books.
American Girl, which published The Care and Keeping of You, also developed this book aimed at younger boys. Both Borys and Goletka recommended this easily digestible text. Remember that “perceptions change as children get older, and the explanation that worked when your child was 5 will no longer work when your child is 12,” says Goletka.
The best book about emotional well-being for boys
Borys recommends this book because not only does it “speak to the changes in your body during puberty, but it also addresses sexuality.” This revised edition also covers topics such as body image, sexual harassment, consent, and using social media safely.
The best book about sex and sexuality
Lundquist recommends this book as the best comprehensive guide for teens. It covers everything from puberty to sex to social and emotional health. It also addresses more complicated issues such as “relationship dynamics as well as topics around sexual abuse.” S.E.X. is also an excellent text for LGBTQ+ teens, as it covers sexual and gender identity and outlines “different ways of being physically intimate, from kissing to anal and vaginal intercourse.”
The best books for parents
“As a family therapist and the parent of a preadolescent, Brainstorm is a sacred text to me,” says McCaslin. Stoller also recommends it is an essential guide for parents. Dr. Daniel Siegel aims to present parents with an approach to dealing with their teenage children by focusing on the science of the brain during this developmental period.
Two of our experts recommended this book by journalist Peggy Orenstein. According to Way, this book is “an honest and revealing look at girls’ experiences of sex and of pleasure (or lack thereof) during sex” and is an essential read “for all people who care about girls.” Orenstein conducted in-depth interviews with over 70 young women, as well as academics, experts, and psychologists in writing the book. Girls & Sex is distinct because of Orenstein’s “willingness to ask questions of teenagers that no one else asks,” says Way.
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