The Grown-Up’s Guide to Teenage Humans

By Josh Shipp

HarperCollins Publishers, 2017, ISBN: 978-0-06-265406-9, $26.99

Raising teenagers is challenging even in the rosiest of circumstances; the struggle amplifies enormously when those teens are living in the child welfare system and come with a history of trauma. Enter Josh Shipp, whose instructive book “The Grown Up’s Guide to Teenage Humans” offers a step-by-step roadmap for parents and caregivers navigating the treacherous teenage years.

Shipp, who himself grew up in foster care, opens the book by offering a window into his own admittedly troubled teenage years. Getting kicked out of placement after placement became a sort of game for teenaged Shipp, and he strove to see how quickly he could bring foster parents to the breaking point. The thing that ended this destructive cycle for him was one foster parent who refused to give up on him — an adult who finally saw his potential rather than his problems. Thus, the premise of the book: All it takes is that one special adult to turn around a kid’s life, and that special adult can be you.

Shipp seeks to demystify the words and behaviors of the ever-mysterious teenage human, and offers an age-by-age breakdown of the various phases from preteen years through high school graduation. Guided by research, Shipp highlights the shifts in mental, emotional and physical development that take place during each of these ages. He suggests the motivations behind acting out and translates what parents often say into what teens actually hear.

Perhaps the most valuable is a section dedicated to troubleshooting common conflicts and confrontations parents of teens can expect to face. Shipp abandons classic prose style in lieu of a highly practical format including sections like “What to Expect,” and “What to Do.” Numbered and bulleted lists guide parents through tricky and intimidating conversations about drug use, eating disorders and encouraging teens to consider therapy.

Published just last year, the book discusses modern-day problems like cyberbullying, overusing technology and inappropriate social media posts. For some such conversations, Shipp has even drawn up scripts to help parents lead the discussion in the right direction.

A “Resources” appendix provides even more usable tools, including a cell phone contract and a list of mutually enjoyable bonding activities for those looking to carve out some quality time with their teen.

Throughout the book, Shipp stresses the invaluable importance of investing in the teenage human in your life; namely, investing your time, energy and support. Part of what teens are doing by acting out, he says, is testing to see who will stick with them through the good and bad. By showing up time and time again, you establish yourself as a person they can trust, respect and turn to no matter what.

Throughout the sometimes sticky scenarios covered in the book, Shipp’s frank but playful writing style, informed by his own lived foster care experiences, offers welcome levity without avoiding the tough stuff. “The Grown-Up’s Guide to Teenage Humans” is the kind of solid, user-friendly resource you’ll want to share with your friends.

— Reviewed by Sara Tiano

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