Bibliotherapy: Books to Help You Cope With Teens

Category: Reading

Folklore would have us believe that goblins, given half a chance, steal the beautiful babies of unsuspecting humans and replace them with changelings: nasty, wicked, unmanageable and unreasonable creatures. But there’s no need to turn to superstition to deal with that raging bundle of chaotic mood swings that was once your sweet child. Instead, order a copy of Get Out Of My Life, But First Take Me and Alex Into Town by Suzanne Franks and Tony Wolf. Not only is this a self-help guide that will provide you with new strategies for coping with your teen, it’s also very funny. And let’s face it, when you have a teen swinging between temper-tantrumming and suicidal moping, you don’t just deserve a laugh, you need it too.

There are lots of self-help type books these days for parents living through those difficult years, but how about turning to fiction to help you understand what’s going on in your teen’s life? Not only is it easy to forget what it’s like when your body and brain are racing through puberty, but all too often today’s teens have pressures on them from school, friends and social networking that we, as parents, have no experience of.

How about turning to fiction to help you understand what’s going on in your teen’s life?

If you have a teen boy who seems to have regressed to a sub-human life form, you might try Kevin Brooks’s Being, the story of a boy who goes to hospital for a routine operation only to find out he’s not who – or what – he thought he was. As the book blurb explains:

Sixteen-year-old Robert lies anaesthetized.

'What the hell is that?'

'That, Mr Ryan, is the inside of this boy.'

'Christ . . . It looks like some kind of plastic.'

As Robert slowly wakes, he can hear, he can feel, but he can't scream.

The operation isn't over. But life, as Robert knows it, is.

On the surface, Being is a contemporary science fiction thriller. But it’s so much more than that. Robert’s story explores the emotional turmoil and crippling self-doubt that often accompanies the rapid changes of the teen years; that stress of wondering if you are, in fact, normal and human. The sense of alienation, even from your own body, not to mention the sense of loss: what happened to the boy you were, the boy you really liked being?

Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, on the other hand, is about a girl from a happy family who turns from a sunny kid into a monosyllabic, anti-social teen. Be warned: it’s beautifully told, but not an easy read. Melinda, the story slowly reveals, has a very serious reason for her sullen silence; thankfully one that few parents will have to deal with. If you’d like to get inside the head of a teen who really doesn’t know how to say what’s bothering her and who’s terrified of the consequences if she does, then read this book.     

But let’s not forget there’s a funny side to all those teenage worries and woes. Liz Rettig’s Kelly Ann Diaries, set in Glasgow, follow Kelly as she navigates the everyday minefield of school, friendship and boyfriends. Not only will these books give you a fresh and much-needed perspective on your teens’ shenanigans, they’ll have you laughing out loud too. Liz has brought up both a son and a daughter, so she’s been at the battlefront, fought the good fight, and survived.

Jinx, a verse novel by Australian author, Margaret Wild, is a good choice if you’re short on time as you drive your teens around and pick up their dirty socks. When tragedy strikes, Jen changes her name to Jinx and feels everyone is better off without her. Told in short poems narrated by different characters (Jen, her mum, her dad, her friends), it’s hard to put down once you start.

Let’s not forget there’s a funny side to all those teenage worries and woes

You’ll probably find your teen wondering what you’re reading. You may even find them picking your books up if you leave them lying around. This is good! Use the characters and stories to create neutral ground where you can discuss issues and emotions without directly connecting them to your child and what’s going on in their life. Be careful to listen, though, rather than just giving your opinions. For every word you get to say, allow your teen twenty. Express interest in their take on the books. Praise, don’t criticise. Try to understand.

And keep in mind what the great American author Mark Twain once wrote, “When I was a boy of 14 my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” 

Magi Gibson

Magi Gibson is an award-winning poet, as well as author of the Seriously Sassy novels for children. She received a major Scottish Arts Council Bursary in 2007 for her children's writing, and has held three Scottish Arts Council Fellowships and one Royal Literary Fund Fellowship. She lives in Glasgow, and as well as writing, is a bibliotherapist and former Reader in Residence with Glasgow Women's Library.

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