A friend who has been reading my posts grumbled, “Sunita, you keep saying that we should get our children to read. But how on earth can I get my teenager to read? And where does he have the time, between school and homework and coaching classes and football practise? Besides he is at that age where anything I say is to be ignored or rebelled against!” Her words made me smile, not because I found what she said humorous, but because I understood exactly what she meant. Getting your teenager to read might be difficult, but not impossible.
Getting Your Teenager to Read
Having worked with young adolescents in my Creative Writing workshops and as a “Skills for Adolescents” teacher, I know how difficult those years can be. During the early teens, there is so much happening on the physical, social and emotional front. That is why I feel that if your child is not a reader yet, this is the perfect time to make him/her one.
Okay, okay! Don’t kill me yet; hear me out please! Yes, I know what you are going through as a parent of a teenager. I know how difficult it is to get them to do anything you want them to do. So the trick is to get them to want to do something on their own. Get them to “want” to read. How do we do that?
Let’s look at what is happening to your teenager during these years. Your baby is no longer your baby, (though you may want him/her to remain one). They are growing up with ideas and thoughts of their own. Now their thinking is not longer limited to concrete facts, but goes into the realm of abstract concepts. Ideas like world peace, justice, truth become important to them.
Ideals become important. They need a hero to worship, someone to look up to and emulate. They love arguing. They are getting interested in the outside world. They love solving problems and puzzles.
Use this to get them to read.
1. Think about what kind of book they would like to read; not necessarily what you would want them to read. Romance, whodunits, mysteries, adventures…these are the things that appeal to them. Remember how you fell in love with Mr. Rochester or Mr. Darcy when you read Jane Eyre or Pride and Prejudice in grade 8th? Or tried to solve the murder before Hercule Poirot or the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew? That’s exactly what they will enjoy but only if you don’t force it down their throats.
2. Do you read? I can’t emphasise this enough. Children will read if they see others reading at home. Even if you don’t start now. Pick up a book you think you might like and start reading. Let your child see you doing that. As they say, fake it till you make it. You will eventually find a genre or an author that you will enjoy reading.
3. As you read, laugh out aloud at passages that amuse you, rant at things that bug you, start conversations about these . It’s okay if you get into an argument with your kids over the way the book makes you feel. You are teaching her/him that a book can ignite passion; and teens are all about being passionate over ideas and ideals.
Just last week I read a book where the hero stalked the heroine to the extent of putting a secret camera in her house and posting the videos online. She finds out but falls in love with him and forgives him. This was something so wrong, that I could not keep quiet about it. I vented out my irritation to my daughters and we had a whole discussion on what to expect from a future life partner and what are definite deal breakers.
4. Read out to your child if she/he does not want to read. When all else fails, it time to take desperate measures. Have a family reading time, just as you have a family TV watching time. Just half an hour a day. Remember, it is something that will help your child succeed in life and his/her success is important to you, right?
Chose a book that you know he will enjoy if he gets around to reading it and read aloud. They are never too old to be read aloud to.
I have a group of 7th and 8th graders who used to not read except for what was made compulsory by the school. They had never opened a Harry Potter book. So one day, I decided to read out the first book to them. We went on to discussing the way J.K. Rowling has described people; the way the story opens; whether they liked fantasy as a genre; whether they believed in magic. The book suddenly became relevant to them.
I read out only a couple of chapters to them, but by the end of the month they were hooked on Harry Potter and each one had managed to procure the book either by purchasing it or borrowing it from the library.
5. This reminds me that at this age, they love “series”. So it is a good idea to introduce them to a book that is part of a series. Get them a Hardy Boys or Sweet Valley or Artemis Fowl, even Goosebumps.
Go ahead and enjoy revisiting those old favourites of yours with your teenager.
Sunita, I don’t have children but I am a teacher and taught adolescents for quite some time during my teaching career. This article really appealed to me and all your suggestions are very practical.