This is no gardening manual—Tom Sturges’ Grow the Tree You Got is a parenting book containing advice “and 99 other ideas for raising amazing adolescents and teenagers.” I’ve read plenty of parenting books, but the problem is that after about 50 pages, while I’m nodding “yes, yes, this is just what I need,” the rest of the book often just delivers more of the same. 

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I have a daughter who will soon be 13. I know what I want to do to gain her trust—namely listen more and lecture less—but in the heat of the moment, I often lose my cool, which causes me to lose credibility and accessibility with that daughter whose trust I’m trying to gain. That’s why Grow the Tree You Got speaks loudly and clearly to me—it’s heavy on inspiration and offers pointed criticism about how most parents react to adolescents by drawing them in, instead of trusting them and letting go.

Sturges uses his own adolescence and that of his three sons to provide the right amount of encouragement.  Most parents of tweens and teens can benefit from one or more of his theories. Here are just a few examples of how this book inspired me:

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  • Beware of the “WCSS” (rhymes with “fix”).  The Worst Case Scenario Syndrome is when parents automatically assume the worst. Sturges says, “Just knowing WCSS exists has saved me a lot of time and agony, and kept me from being sophomorically and ridiculously unkind to my children when I’ve felt another attack coming on.”
  • Kids need dreams. One of my biggest takeaways is the importance of nurturing my kids’ passions. This book may be worth reading simply for the essay “A Big Dream is Just Transportation.”
  • Mistakes happen. As an adult, I’ve learned more from many of my failures than my successes. I need to remember that the same will likely be true for my daughter.
  • Sibling rivalry needs to be taken seriously. As my daughter entered her tween years and her younger brother started school, a whole new round of doubts entered her mind as he began achieving things. Sturges gives tips to combat insecurities as well as one very effective strategy to minimizing bickering.
  • Along those lines, I have to remember to give my daughter privileges reserved for the firstborn.  “The older child has earned this right because he was your parenting experiment, your very own guinea pig, the one upon whom you tried out your unproven theories and strategies.”  My experience with my daughter has made my first seven years easier with my son, and the trial and error of the teen years we’re navigating now is going to benefit me when he becomes a teen.

What surprised me about Grow the Tree You Got was how much I needed the encouragement and cheerleading.  I’ll revisit this book whenever I feel discouraged or overwhelmed at the big task of growing a child into a responsible young adult for a fresh dose of sage advice.

Jennifer Donovan has been reviewing books online for over four years—and reading ever since she can remember. As a child, she favored realistic fiction, and she is still drawn to the stories of people's lives found in memoir and in character-driven fiction. Jennifer has been managing editor at 5 Minutes for Books since she launched the site in 2008 with the goal of providing diverse content meant to encourage people of all ages to read.