Your little darling is moving into those tumultuous teen years, and everything is more of a struggle, including how to keep him or her reading.
Recent studies have shown the number of teens who read for pleasure once a week or more has dropped substantially.
“Teens today communicate in ways that are different,” says Rebecca Smykla, former library media specialist with the Palm Beach County School District.
It's a challenge to engage them in reading because teens spend more and more time on their phones, she says. That’s not necessarily bad, though. “Visual literacy is still literacy, and we have to find ways to entice teens to use reading as a form of pleasure,” she says.
7 WAYS TO ENTICE YOUR TEEN TO READ
- LET YOUR TEEN LEAD. Don’t push your ideas for what they ought to be reading. They’re testing boundaries, exercising their judgment and decisions. They’ll read what engages them: from vampires and robots to ballet and coding.
- RESPECT POP CULTURE. Movies and music are major driving forces in Young Adult lit. Popular movies are often popular books first, like "Harry Potter," "The Hunger Games," the "Divergent" series and the "Twilight" stories. Encourage the connection after seeing the movie: Ask how it compared to the book, what parts did the movie leave out, did the actors make the characters seem like you expected? Or approach the movie-book pair from the other end: If they enjoyed the movie, leave out a copy of the book for them to pick up.
- RELAX THE RULES. Not every teen starts on Page 1 and reads to the end. They may start with the last chapter to see how it ends. Maybe they skim chapter titles quickly to see what sounds intriguing and start in the middle. Do they read a few chapters, put it down and never come back, then pick up another one and do the same thing? It’s OK, they’re reading.
- BE FREE WITH THE FORMAT. A graphic novel in a comic-strip format is still a novel. Fiction from a favorite video game is still fiction. Short-form blogs by rock stars and major league heroes may feed their passion and keep them coming back. Even audiobooks can boost language and oral skills. If your child likes an audiobook, find more in print like that and leave them on the table.
- LEVERAGE PEER PRESSURE. Teens want to read what other teens are reading. Check out the Young Adult Library Services Association’s BookFinder site, with lists of the best fiction and non-fiction, great graphic novels and audiobooks. (YALSA’s Teen Book Finder is the name of the app.) The Palm Beach County Library System has a list of great graphic novels.
- MODEL WHAT YOU WANT. Keep reading yourself, at the same time as your teen when possible. Talk about your own book; describe the characters and action; ask them to guess how it’s going to turn out. Make a deal: Let them recommend a book for you to read in exchange for them reading one you pick. Then talk about them.
- CONNECT COMMUNITY SERVICE HOURS TO READING. Volunteering at the local library helps teens connect with books. The Mandel Public Library in West Palm Beach and the county system have links or phone numbers for volunteering on their sites. And the Literacy Coalition of Palm Beach County also has a ReaderCorps youth initiative for volunteers to organize book drives, read to younger children or participate in read-a-thons.
• Rebecca Smykla, former library media specialist, Palm Beach County School District