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.
Since 1984, the number of teens who read for pleasure once a week or more has dropped from 70 percent to 53 percent among 13 year olds, and from 64 percent to 40 percent – less than half – among 17 year olds, according to a 2013 government study.
“Teens today communicate in ways that are different,” says Rebecca Smykla, a Library Media Specialist with the Palm Beach County School District, and engaging them in reading is a challenge. Teens spend more and more time on their phones, Smykla says, and that’s not necessarily bad. “Visual literacy is still literacy, and we have to find ways to entice teens to use reading as a form of pleasure.”
Here are seven smart ways to get – and keep – your teen reading:
- 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 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 they 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 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 audio books can boost language and oral skills; if she likes an audio book, 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 new BookFinder site, with lists of the best fiction and non-fiction, great graphic novels and audio books. YALSA’s Teen Book Finder is also the name of the app. The PBC Library System has a manga/graphic novel themed blog, ToshokanComix, under the Kids & Teens tab at the main site. You can also find a list of great graphic novels here.
- 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 their community services hours to reading. Volunteering at the local library helps teens connect with books. The Mandel Public Library in West Palm Beach and the Palm Beach County Library 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, library media specialist, Palm Beach County School District