It’s Summer Reading time again. How to get your teen to read? We came up with a dozen strategies and ran them by our panel of teen experts: Josh, Camille, Nayesha, and Sanjay (a mix of avid and reluctant readers). The results follow.
- DON’T lecture your teen about the benefits of reading. OK, it’s true that reading
Persuasive, right? BUT citing the research can make reading sound like eating spinach: something you do because it’s good for you. Nayesha rejected this strategy in three words: “It wouldn’t work.”
- DON’T use threats. “Threatening the kid isn’t gonna make him wanna read,” Josh texted me. Camille agreed, ranking this strategy the lowest. Nayesha added: “Most teenagers I know are very moody.” Enough said.
- DON’T talk about using good judgment. If your teen is required to do summer reading, then good judgment says, “Do the reading so you can get an A on your book report in September.” Sanjay’s response: “Whatever!” (I have to agree. Good judgment tells me that, if I go to the gym today, I’ll be buff come September, yet here I am on my couch. And my brain is fully developed—unlike teenagers’ brains. No offense, but the judgment control center in human brains isn’t fully developed until our mid-20s.) Bottom line: invoking the importance of using good judgment amounts to lecturing. Don’t lecture.
- DON’T proselytize. That means no speeches, and probably no referring your teen to inspirational lists of the myriad reasons why you should read, even if some of them are pretty great (e.g., read “to find out there are people just like you”).
- DO be a role model. At home and at the library, express your own enthusiasm for reading. Tell your teen what you like about it. Adds Sanjay: “Don’t be fake.”
- DO read with your teen. Get a second copy of the book, or borrow your teen’s copy when they are asleep. If you’re reading the same book, you can
- Talk about the book together. Nayesha: “I think that’s fun.”
- Play games based on the reading. (Generation G loves games.) Decide together in advance what the prizes will be. For example, you might want your teen to make you coffee every morning for a week. Your teen might want you to buy him ice cream and stuff. Josh, a devoted player of Xbox, liked this strategy the best. “Good,” he texted.
- Decide together how many pages you’ll read each night. Josh: “Good because if the kid doesn’t like to read u can get him to read 4 or 5 pages.” Nayesha wasn’t sure: “It seems a little babyish, don’t you think? If the parent chooses a dull book. . .” But wait, Nayesha! Read on!
- DO help your teen find books (but let your teen choose the books).
- Encourage your teen to choose books they will be interested in. Perhaps your teen loved Complicit by Stephanie Kuehn and would be excited to know that Kuehn has written more books. Perhaps your teen is wild about tennis; help them find a book about tennis.
- Help your teen to find books on their reading level. But keep in mind that, as Amanda Steiman of CalStateTEACH writes, “a high schooler, when presented with a high-interest-text, even if it is a bit hard, could be motivated to get through it in a way that is different from, say, a reluctant 3rd grade reader. I think that interest should drive the search for reading materials and that it should be broad—graphic novels, poetry, magazines. Reading anything is good.”
- Check out online reading sites and e-book sources with your teen.
- Make frequent trips to the public library. Leave enough time for relaxing browsing. “My mom used to take me to the library,” said Nayesha. “Now I really like reading, so I don’t really need to get forced to read.”
- Check your judgment at the (library) door. If your teen loves romance novels but you’re not a fan, remember: One reader’s trash is another reader’s treasure.
- DO provide structure. Decide together what time of day will be daily reading time; help your teen stick to it.
- DO listen while your teen reads aloud to you. Nayesha: “I enjoy reading out loud.”
- DO read plays aloud together. No acting experience necessary!
- DO be supportive. Camille gave this strategy the highest compliment: “Could work with older teens.” The whole panel gave it a thumbs up, suggesting that, though your teen may be moody, they appreciate your support. (In fact, spending quality time with your teen can have multiple benefits.)
About the author:
Sarah earned a bachelor’s at Harvard and a master’s at Columbia, and she completed CalState’s teacher preparation program. She has taught and tutored for 16 years. She has also worked as a writer/editor and is a published poet and playwright. Sarah tutors in reading, grammar, test prep, study skills, and writing–English and history essays, creative writing, and college essays. You can book her for a session today!