Understanding The Breakthrough Years

“Just wait until they’re a teenager!”

Many parents of newborns have heard this warning about the stressful phase that’s to come. But what if it doesn’t have to be that way?

The Breakthrough Years is not just a book; it's a science-backed, evidence-based essential guide to adolescence. This book demystifies the journey of adolescence, bridging the gap between parents' fears and teenagers' needs. It offers insights, drawn from extensive research and real-life stories, into the complexities of this critical phase of life.


Praise for The Breakthrough Years

Pamela Cantor, M.D.

Founder, Turnaround for Children

"Finally! A front row seat at the very essence of human development, one that challenges many of the assumptions about adolescents that are just plain wrong. The Breakthrough Years is a brilliant, accessible guide to understanding the adolescent brain and what teens themselves want us to know about what this incredibly exciting time in their lives means to them and the futures they aspire to."

Velma McBride Murry, PhD

Profeor, Departments of Health Policy & Human and Organizational Development, Vanderbilt University

"Ellen Galinsky’s The Breakthrough Years is a must-read book for adolescents, parents, educators, researchers, and anyone with an interest in positive youth development. This book is not only timely but is also culturally and contextually relevant, providing insights on core elements for fostering positive developmental outcomes for all youth."

Kenneth Ginburg, MD, MS Ed

Founding Director of The Center for Parent and Teen Communication, and author of Building Resilience in Children and Teens

"Ellen Galinsky taught us long ago how much adults mattered to teens, even as so many others were (wrongly!) trying to portray the generations as emotionally disconnected. Now, reflecting the genuine respect she has for adolescents and families, The Breakthrough Years, guides us how to make the difference in young lives by giving us the strategies and tools to respond to what young people say they want from us. This meaningful, extraordinarily well-written and thoroughly-researched book is the indispensable guide you have been waiting for to learn how to seize the opportunity adolescence offers."

Karen Pittman

Founding Partner, Knowledge to Power Catalyts

"Galinsky’s love for adolescents as individuals and for the developmental period of adolescence shines through on every page. This is absolutely the most informative, compelling, and passionate book on adolescents and adolescence I have ever read. I will be quoting it heavily for years to come."

Mort Sherman, Ed.D.

Senior Associate Executive Director, Leadership Network, AASA The School Superintendents Association

"Solutions, practical advice, and insights are what we need right now. Ellen Galinsky’s connection of research with the voices of young people and their families is a singular contribution to educators and the communities they serve."

Richard M. Lerner, Ph.D.

Director of the Intitute for Applied Research in Youth Development, Tufts University

"Ellen Galinsky has written a singularly important, creatively unique, and timely book. The Breakthrough Years seamlessly integrates cutting-edge research; the cumulative knowledge of youth program professionals; and the wisdom, insight, and decades of experience of its author. This book is required reading for scholars, practitioners, parents, and youth themselves. I could not put it down...a superb contribution to science and society."

Aliza Pressman, PhD

Author of The Five Principles of Parenting; Host of Raising Good Humans Podcast; Co-Founder The Mount Sinai Parenting Center

"So often the narrative about adolescence tells us our children are in trouble. This meticulously researched book is different. It highlights the timing of heightened adolescent brain plasticity, thus giving us an opportunity to support adolescents and the tools to navigate these changes. If you have, care for, or care about an adolescent, this book will change your relationship and most importantly inspire you―not frighten you―in the process."

Lisa Damour, PhD

Bestselling Author of The Emotional Life of Teenagers, Under Pressure, and Untangled

"Grounded in science and rich with real-life examples, The Breakthrough Years beautifully explains the inner workings of the teenage mind and details exactly what adolescents need - and deserve - in order to thrive. Ellen Galinsky's compassionate call-to-action is an essential guide for anyone raising, educating, or caring for teenagers."

Michèle Borba, Ed.D.

Educational pychologist, TODAY show contributor, and bestselling parenting author of Thrivers: The Surprising Reasons Why Show Kids Struggle and Others Shine

"Destined to be a classic, Ellen Galinsky’s new book, The Breakthrough Years is abreakthrough in its own right. It gives us a whole new view of adolescence based on the latest research and provides the tools we need to understand our teenagers and help them thrive. She’s the gold standard when it comes to parenting!"

Mitch Prinstein, Ph.D.

Chief Science Officer of the American Psychological Association, author of Popular

"A tour de force! Finally a science-based instruction manual for the adolescent brain that parents, educators, policy-makers, and teens themselves will benefit from reading and living by! The Breakthrough Years combines amazing insights on what teens want adults to know with an outstanding and easy to digest review of current findings in psychology and neuroscience. Don’t attempt to raise a teenager without reading this book first!"

Angela Duckworth

Ph.D Author of Grit

“A true treasure trove of EVIDENCE-BASED WISDOM on adolescent development. I loved it.”

Daniel J. Siegel, M.D.

A MASTERPIECE […] the Breakthrough Years offers us all a practical path to cultivating resilience and well-being for our next generation.”

Adam Grant, Ph.D.

Author of Hidden Potential and Think Again

THIS BOOK SMASHES COMMON STEREOTYPES OF TWEENS AND TEENS. Ellen Galinsky marshals extensive evidence to reveal what adolescents today are really like—and how to help them grow and flourish.”


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Key Takeaways

Did you know…

Only 14% of parents use positive words to describe the adolescent brain vs 59% who use negative words

66% of parents say other adolescents are easily influenced, but only 29% say their own children are easily influenced

The science shows us adolescence is actually a time of enormous possibility.

Teenagers Sitting Norma Mortenson (1)

Key Takeaways

5 Things every teen wants us to know

  • Understand our development
  • Listen and talk with us, not at us
  • Don’t stereotype us
  • We are trying to understand ourselves and our needs
  • We are drawn to learn life and learning skills

Book Description:

Blending cutting-edge research with engaging storytelling, The Breakthrough Years offers readers a paradigm-shifting comprehensive understanding of adolescence.

Galinsky’s nine-year inquiry into the adolescent brain and behavior, including conducting original studies—uniquely informed by the questions adolescents have about their own development—shows why our understanding of adolescence is out of step with the latest research—and how to correct it. She:

  • Identifies Five Basic Needs—such as belonging, developing competence, and building an identity—and shows how we can meet these needs in positive ways;
  • Presents Five Life Skills based on executive functions of the brain that are developing rapidly during adolescence like setting goals and strategies, perspective taking, problem-solving, and taking on challenges, and shows how we can promote them;
  • Introduces a new mindset, Possibilities Mindset, and Shared Solutions, a problem-solving process that parents and teachers can use to help create solutions to adolescent’s challenging problems.

Ellen Galinsky’s paradigm-shifting book will help parents and those who work with teens to understand adolescence not as the “I hope we can get though these years” but as the breakthrough years that they truly can be


About the Author

Ellen Galinsky, co-founder of Families and Work Institute (FWI) in 1989, serves as its President. Additionally, she is the elected President of the Work and Family Researchers Network and holds advisory roles with various organizations including AASA and the Administration for Children and Families, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Prior to her current positions, she served as the Chief Science Officer of the Bezos Family Foundation and spent over two decades at the Bank Street College of Education. Galinsky's lifelong pursuit involves identifying societal questions, conducting research, and translating findings into actionable insights, focusing on work-life, children's development, and parental relationships. She is the author of numerous publications, including the best-selling book "Mind in the Making," and her forthcoming book on adolescence, "The Breakthrough Years," has received acclaim from notable figures in psychology and education.

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