It’s remarkable that there aren’t free-standing brick-and-mortar stores with nothing but parenting books. Amazon lists more than 110,000 of them, and they’re in that unique class of books where buying one or five doesn’t prevent you from buying another dozen. The experience of parenting is simultaneously so overwhelming yet so individual and unique for each person that no single book could possibly capture the experience or meet all the needs for even one person looking for guidance (or catharsis).
So regardless of what your current parenting home library looks like, I’m here to offer five suggestions to add to it from an evidence-based science perspective, limited to those published in just the past year or two. One of them is a bit cheeky, I’ll admit, because I coauthored and it’s not on shelves yet, but it seemed remiss not to include it. I receive countless requests to review books and a couple dozen physical books in the mail each year, and all the books I review here were provided as review copies. However, I’ve only included the ones I’ve had time to read and found worthwhile.
Screen-Smart Parenting: How to Find Balance and Benefit in Your Child’s Use of Social Media, Apps, and Digital Devices by Jodi Gold
As a pediatrician, Jodi Gold probably fields questions about TV, iPads, smartphones and other screen time questions daily. With three children of her own stretching from digital native to one old enough to remember when the iPhone came out, she has also wrangled with these questions in her own home. The combination is what makes her book smart, guilt-relieving and down-to-earth. You won’t find a Luddite here. In fact, a key message running through her book is that you can’t fight technology — it’s here and it’s here to stay, so the key should be finding healthy, balanced ways to engage with it and teaching those behaviors to your children. Of course, the first step, she emphasizes from the start, is being honest with yourself about your own usage. She recommends that each family log what technology and gadgets they use and how often so they can start there with developing a plan that’s right for their family.
It’s rare to find a book — much less an evidence-based book — that offers something for parents of infants up through teens, yet Screen-Smart Parenting does just that. Part two of the book is divided by ages: 0-2, 3-5, 6-8, 8-10, 11-14 and 15-18. From whether toddlers should play with iPhones to when a school-age child should get their first phone to whether to follow your kids on social media to how to deal with cyber-bullying or sexting, Gold covers a broad field aptly. She doesn’t shy away from tough topics — she addresses depression, anxiety and suicide — but she never suggests that one solution is right for everyone. She also recognizes the limitations of relying on evidence for a field changing so rapidly that her book was dated the day she typed her last word. She summarizes what we know to date, how reliably we know it and the much bigger areas we need more research in. But the attitude with which she approaches technology and parenting will not grow outdated. My children are still young — the first in kindergarten — yet I can see myself referring back to this book well into their adolescence (and hopefully she’ll have a new edition by then!).