The best book you’ve never heard of on … navigating the tween and teen years

File under: books Anne can’t shut up about.

If we bump into each other in person on a regular basis—if I chat with you on the field hockey sidelines, or see you at children’s birthday parties, or meet you for regular drinks or coffee dates—the odds are pretty good I’ve told you about this book. I talk about this book a lot.

If we don’t—well, thank goodness for the internet, because if that title stood out to you at all, this may very well be a book you need in your life.

A little over a year ago, at a birthday party, a friend jokingly asked, What’s been keeping you up at night lately?

Where to start?, I answered, and rattled off a quick list that ran from my favorite jeans developing a giant unmendable hole in the seat to the constant churn of drama in my daughters’ social circles at school.

I can’t help you with the first, she said, but I’ve got you covered on the second.

And then she recommended a brand-new book from a first-time author, called Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions Into Adulthood. My friend is a psychologist in the public schools, so I trusted her recommendation, found myself a copy immediately, and read it before the weekend was over.

I wouldn’t have picked this one up based on the title alone; my girls aren’t teenagers yet. But my friend told me that’s exactly why now is the time to read it.

I loved Lisa Damour from the first page, when she explains why she wrote the book, and the meaning behind the title. Life with teenagers (and sometimes, life with kids of any age) can feel like a tangled mess. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

She says that despite the day-to-day roller-coaster of the teenage years, there is a predictable pattern to teenage development, a blueprint for how girls grow. In Untangled, she lays out a map for teenage development—a rough picture of what needs to happen during the teenage years for girls to successfully transition into young adulthood. To make understanding this process easier, she breaks down this journey into seven distinct developmental pieces, explains what each looks like, and why it’s important. (Examples: learning how to harness their emotions, care for themselves, and plan for the future.)

This book continues to be not just practical, but also enormously reassuring to me, as it focuses on what healthy teenage development looks like in an encouraging, positive way. Damour emphasizes that these years can be hard at times, because change is hard—but that doesn’t mean something is wrong. She explains what each developmental piece can look like in a girl’s life, with numerous specific examples, and then highlights both the good and potentially difficult aspects of each piece in the developmental journey.

In Untangled, Damour takes pains to show the wide variety of normal, healthy teenage behavior, and how adults can become partners instead of adversaries as teens move toward maturity. But she also tells adults when to worry about their teen’s behavior: what red flags and warning signs to look out for indicating that a teen needs help. As a parent, I greatly appreciated the way she differentiated between “difficult but normal” behaviors and ones that truly merited concern.

Two notes about this book: I found it extremely helpful for understanding my sons as well, although the primary emphasis (and ALL examples) are about girls. And of the seven developmental transitions Damour dives into in this book, two typically occur during the middle-school years, ages 11 to 13, so if you’re a parent to middle-schoolers it’s not to early to pick this up.

I’ve read this several times already; it’s a book I would download into my brain if I could. If we’ve chatted at a parent coffee, I’ve probably already raved about this book to you in person, but if not—jot this title down, because it’s too good to fly under your radar.

Pick up Untangled wherever new books are sold: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, your local independent bookstore. (If your library doesn’t carry it, ask your system to purchase it—you’d be doing them a favor to get this one in the system!) I own this one, as I do many books I want to read and refer to regularly.

Is this a subject that speaks to you? What additional resources would you recommend for raising tweens and teens?

P.S. Girl drama, and the central struggle of parenthood, and 7 books I wish I could download into my brain. This post is part of an infrequently updated series: click here to see more of my best books you’ve never heard of.

best book tween teen years


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  1. Michelle says:

    Wholeheartedly agree! Reading this last year provided much comfort in my journey to parent my now 14 year old daughter. Might be time for a brush up now that she’s entered high school. I found this book very affirming and I told many of my Mom friends about it, too.

  2. Lisa Gelber says:

    Yes, if you have a daughter, you need this book! It helped my relationship with my daughter so much when I learned the importance of giving her some space.

  3. Sarah M says:

    I LOVE Dr. Leonard Sax’s books on boys, girls, and parenting (he has 5 and they are ALL worthwhile). Some are about the teenage years, some about shifts in parenting culture over the last few decades, and I find them fascinating. They’re full of research, personal anecdotes (he’s also a psychologist) and brain science. Good stuff!

    • Jennifer says:

      I have two boys, ages 12 (almost 13) and 10, no daughters. My older one is definitely starting on the teenage roller coaster. Would you recommend this book, or another one more tailored to boys or all preteens/teens? Thanks in advance for any advice!

  4. Shawnna says:

    I totally agree. I read my library’s version, then bought it and now have to re-read to highlight. There’s so much good information in this book – and with 2 daughters I will really need it!

  5. Katie C. says:

    Love that comment about downloading into my brain, because while I was listening to the audiobook (which Dr. Damour narrates) I kept thinking, “How can I talk like her?” I don’t have any kids, and I loved this book because I’m female and volunteer with teenage girls.

  6. Erin in CA says:

    Another YES to Untangled. My daughter is 11 and my son is 14, and this is the most valuable pre-teen/teen book I’ve read, by FAR. She has so much experience with teenagers, so her examples and suggestions are so practical and real. I finished it this spring, but kids grow so fast at this age, I may already need to re-read parts. Glad you’re recommending it, Anne!

  7. Katie says:

    I’ve been on a bit of a tween/teen fix recently too. I’ve also read Blame My Brain, Brainstorm, Quiet Power (teen version of Quiet which my 11-year-old introvert daughter _loved_), and Queen Bees and Wannabees. I agree that Untangled is the best of the bunch, with Brainstorm as an honourable mention 🙂

  8. Kristin says:

    So, I’m about 3 chapters in, and I have to say I’m really unimpressed so far. I’m curious if I am alone in feeling like the author is saying your kid is not normal or healthy if she doesn’t shun you and keep lots of secrets from you. Perhaps being a homeschool family makes this different since my girls aren’t around peers the majority of their day, but my daughters have a lot of friends at both church and their co-ops. Yet we have a sweet close relationship, and neither I nor people around us who give us extra eyes to see think that our loving and trusting and close relationships are dangerous or unhealthy. So, I’m definitely open to a different perspective on reading this? Maybe I’m misunderstanding her.

  9. Krista Golden says:

    1000% agree! This book sits on my nightstand and is used as a sort of bible to help me guide my now 15 year old daughter through the tough stage of adolescence – and I do believe it is so much tougher these days than it was for my generation. One of my favorite nuggets of advice I received was her analogy of when girls are swimming in the middle of the pool (ie spreading their wings, pushing back, giving cold shoulder, rolling their eyes) and how they behave helped me understand her more and not take her behavior personally. And to treasure the times that she “comes to the side of the pool”. Love this book.

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