The 12 Must-Read Books for Parents of Young Adults

The key to forming long-lasting relationships with your adult children comes down to something very simple: understanding.

Understanding your adult children will open doors to critical conversations and will convey the love and support you want to provide, which your young adult craves. All of us, no matter the age, struggle to connect with others when we are not feeling seen or heard. That connection can feel tenuous, especially with those closest to us.

To help you understand the journey of a young adult, I am here to provide a bit of direction through recommended readings that have supported adolescents, young adults and families over the past decade. 

Start by taking time to slow down and focus on yourself, make the necessary adjustments to your own behaviors so you are prepared to tackle the changes to repair and support, both of which will help build genuine relationships within your family.

With a focus on individual work, we have to dig deep and feel all the “feels” and embrace the discomfort of challenging ourselves in new ways.

With that, the following books will benefit you throughout the journey of parenting a young adult.

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom

Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom is a great starting point with four simple recommendations of behavior allowing you to live a thriving life, giving yourself structure and direction. Ruiz identifies the “four agreements” as

  1. Be impeccable with your words
  2. Don’t take anything personally
  3. Don’t make assumptions
  4. Always do your best.

We all know these steps and can comfortably accept these as the best guide to living a thriving life, though it is a powerful reminder when we break each of these down and truly understand what each step means individually.

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

Brene Brown is one of my favorites with her focus on the reality of how common discomfort is and how real it is in most, if not all, relationships. Brown’s book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead highlights the power of uncovering previous experiences and struggles that we can use to build ourselves in our relationships with others through understanding our feelings, thoughts and behaviors in our pursuit for perfection.

Brown identifies that nothing matters until we take the first step. Brown shares a quote from Teddy Roosevelt clarifying “it’s not the critic that counts” but rather the one who is most deserving of the credit for the effort is “the man in the ring.” You doing your work and investing in yourself, doing the best you can and being the best you is far superior to all the critique and feedback that others feel is necessary for them.

Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone

Brown doesn’t have a “bad” book and I can recommend anything written by her because each has a unique and important message. Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone is one of her newest, and the connection she makes with the reader is created through the invitation for others to discover vulnerability and challenging the shame associated with being real. Brene states that in a world full of differences, we can feel like we belong in any setting if we do one simple act: “be who we are.” Discover what it means to be you!

Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

The third and final recommended read by author Brene Brown is Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. Brown stated, “The research taught me how to stay brave in struggle – and not just getting my ass kicked in the arena, but how to own my disappointments, failures, and even those heartbreaks that can take your breath away.”

Brown highlights the realness of life and the experience we all know – falling down and experiencing failure. Rising Strong helps us identify what it takes to stand up again and truly own our experiences – the good and the bad. Vulnerability is one way to be you.

No Excuses!: The Power of Self-Discipline

One of the most difficult roles of a parent is setting boundaries and saying “no” to our kids. Brian Tracy’s No Excuses!: The Power of Self-Discipline helps us explore the boundaries and concept of saying “no”.

We can get caught up in the successes and achievements of others, belittling ourselves and not allowing ourselves to be true to our goals because we are chasing the shadows of others. Tracy helps us find intention in our goals and efforts to attain success and happiness.

As we explore the role of parenting, we share the struggles and experiences we have had while we work diligently to be examples and teachers to our children and the responsibilities we take on by the choices we make within each of our families. We will continue exploring the parenting journey while I introduce a few more books I love.

Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers

For parents, I most frequently recommended Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers by Gabor Mate. This is a book that I have read multiple times, have applied in my personal role as a father, and have encouraged my own family to explore. Mate speaks in a voice directed at parents of younger children with intentional communication and, most importantly, invitation to engage in the relationship together.

All too often parents send children away to “reflect” on their behaviors, and what do these young children connect with when they’re separated in “time out?” They are connecting with something other than their parent or caregiver, creating a deficit in the safety of their connection.

Mate encourages parents to spend time with their children to build relationships rather than expecting their child to connect when they are away from each other. 

I remember being a teenager, in the midst of immense social pressure, awkward physical development, and transitioning from child to teen, trying to play every sport and be friends with the cool kids, and make a name for myself.

What I didn’t know at the time was that all the conversations my parents were having with me were intended to provide supportive direction, not helicopter parenting and an attempt at humiliating me by setting unreasonable curfews, boundaries and expectations. And it wasn’t my parents fault that I didn’t listen to them – it was my own.

Parenting is a struggle, and as your adolescent children become young adults, and ultimately adults and maybe even parents themselves, they remain in dire need of your support, encouragement and patience.

Parenting Teens with Love and Logic: Preparing Adolescents for Responsible Adulthood

A book I have worked through with just about every family I’ve worked with in my professional career is Parenting Teens with Love and Logic: Preparing Adolescents for Responsible Adulthood by Foster Cline. Cline walks through the obstacles of parenting and the role we fill as a loving mother or father. Cline reminds us of the common parenting practices of “helicopter parenting” and “drill sergeant,” which we can all picture right now just thinking about it. Cline introduces a more productive method, instructing us to become a “Consulting Parent.”

Now That They Are Grown: Successfully Parenting Your Adult Children

Now That They Are Grown: Successfully Parenting Your Adult Children by Ronald J. Greer identifies and clarifies the reality that there is a significant change in a parent’s role with young and adolescent children in comparison to adult children.

Through much experience and observation, the transition to adulthood is slippery and full of unknowns, and as a parent seeing the struggles and challenges, we want to be encouraging and supportive without being overwhelming and empower the behaviors that enable young adults to live as big kids rather than mature, responsible individuals.

Doing Life with Your Adult Children: Keep Your Mouth Shut and the Welcome Mat Out

Jim Burns, Ph.D., has the experience necessary to be able to step into the conversation about how to continue the role and responsibilities of parenting even after your children have grown and become adults. We know the adventure doesn’t stop the day our adult children turn eighteen and move out – parenting is a life-long investment and commitment.

Burns’ book Doing Life with Your Adult Children: Keep Your Mouth Shut and the Welcome Mat Out is written for parents of adult children by a parent of an adult child, so as to speak from first hand experience of raising his daughter and providing space for communication and connection through understanding the changing relationship dynamics. The invitation remains open ended and the critique is based on trust and support.

Setting Boundaries with Your Adult Children

Parenting is not easy. Period. In her book, Setting Boundaries with Your Adult Children, Allison Bottke speaks from personal experience of surviving her time helping her son learn through his own efforts rather than mom stepping in to rescue and save him from falling.

Finding your S.A.N.I.T.Y. through reflection and acceptance of current situations to create an environment that allows for building of communication and mutual understanding. Bottke highlights the truths of long-term parenting and showing up for your adult children in very different ways than is needed by juvenile or adolescent children.

Helping our adult children from the sidelines can be easier said than done, and supporting an adult child without stepping in to fix their struggles can be heartbreaking and gut wrenching. And the outcome so many parents have seen through this approach is improved communication, improved connection and healthier relationships.

Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain

Understanding how the adolescent brain works is critical for each of us. Daniel J. Siegel, MD, author of Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain, understands this need all too well and wrote this book for adolescents to learn about themselves. In doing so, he speaks to young and old alike, helping us understand what we were doing when we were young, and helping us comprehend a bit better the behaviors we are confused by while parenting our own children, whether juvenile or grown adults themselves.

The brain is complex and functions in miraculous ways to help us find intention, make choices, and act in a way we can own and be proud of – if we are willing to make the necessary connections and build healthy habits. Siegel’s research and approach is an invitation for us to stop assuming we know everything and learn the workings of the mind.

If you are reading this as either an adult or parent, you’ve been a teenager before, and I have heard parents tell me, and their children “I’ve been a teenager before, I get it.” My response: “You could not be more wrong.”

Society today has created a very different experience for young people than any of us had growing up, regardless of the generation we were raised in. I will tell you, my parents grew up different than me and I grew up very different than my children. The world is different, and for this, we are seeing kids feel, think and behave very differently to match their experiences and environment.

Born to Be Wild: Why Teens Take Risks and How We Can Help Keep Them Safe

The social, family and personal pressures young people live with create opportunities for experience each day, and for this, Jess Shatkin created the reminder in her book, Born to Be Wild: Why Teens Take Risks and How We Can Help Keep Them Safe. We cannot “fix” our children when they’re acting in questionable ways – not because we “don’t get it,” but because there’s nothing to “fix.”

Young people do some ridiculous things that leave us feeling surprised, confused, discouraged, and a laundry list of additional emotions, and guess what? That’s okay! Your role is to feel those emotions, own your emotions, and communicate with love and support, voicing concern when needed, with the focal point on inviting your children, whether young or adult, to continue trusting that you will always be there for them.

For you to be there for them, it is helpful to understand the different ways in which they live. Kids are going to get hurt, make choices that we may not agree with, and we can still love them and seek to give them the love they so desperately need. 

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Greg (MSW, LCSW, LCAS) is the Executive Director of Skyterra Embrace. Through his work with people living with trauma, attachment, substance abuse and addiction, and other mental health difficulties, Greg enjoys creating opportunities to encourage growth and development. For more information on Embrace, click here.