How to Win the Reading Battle: The Perennial Struggle for Teens—and Their Parents over the Need to Read

Last Updated: Mar 20, 2012 10:39:00 AM

We’ve been telling parents and students for years that there’s no more important “academic” habit to develop than reading. Just the other day my wife was bemoaning the fact that a significant number of employees (managers and associates) in her national company are poor readers at best. The effects are discouraging in the workplace, and some schools are not holding out much hope to remedy the situation. For many high school students, reading is time-consuming. Parents today still find it difficult to place themselves in the shoes of a teen who is distracted beyond our understanding and experience by the continuous static of tweets and texts. Everything is “now.” Nothing will wait. Reading is a drag. Many parents are so old school—literally.

For the college-bound high school student, the need to read awaits in plain sight—in the form of the SAT and ACT. The more a child reads, the better she will score on these tests. Colleges still place the greatest stock in a student who demonstrates comprehension skills. But there’s more to it than that: reading opens up humanity’s love of and reliance on story-telling to make heads and tails of a complicated, ostensibly human-driven world. We need a complete story, too, not just a chapter.

Good news. There are a few ways to coax your teen into reading. Some are tried and true; others rely on the very gizmos that seduce them away from the written word. Let’s start with those.

1. Get an iPad, Kindle, or Nook

Since kids are so into battery-operated toys these days, leverage their curiosity and desire into a potentially outstanding purchase. So many books are available for tablets now, and it’s so much easier to turn on a teen to reading by turning on an e-reader. This multipurpose device will give your student access to thousands of well-written, popular books. For students with learning challenges, there are books whose contents are actually read aloud, so that the student can follow along.

2. Twilight, Rings, Potter, Narnia, and Many More

When we ask students who are only occasional readers about the books they recall, most often they mention a serial tale. Something about these multiple-volume series attracts the reader. These books are intriguing, fun, and target the age group. Although the Hardy Boys may be firmly stuck in the last century, other sibling pairs—of both sexes—live on in today’s burgeoning selection of tales. Not sure about names? Google this: teenage literature trends. Fasten your seat belt.

3. If you liked the movie, you’ll love the book

Soul Surfer, the story of teen surfer Bethany Hamilton, comes to mind. Take your child down to the local bookstore, and have her read the book cover and bio. Confessions of a Drama Queen, White Fang, The Golden Compass, The Princess Diaries, to name a few others.

 4. “Real World” Reading

Lots of teens have no idea about what they want to “be” when they grow up into the post-college world. But some do. Kinda. Moms often enough ask that famous and exasperated question, “Well, what do you like?”  Shrug. For those kids who express any kind of developing notion, carpe diem. Seize on their idea and go with it. Is there a driver’s license on the horizon? Get that manual now so that the written exam will be a breeze. Auto mechanics? There’s lots to choose from at the book store—or at your local AutoZone. Aircraft piloting? Large-animal veterinary medicine? Soccer? The pelagic biome? Well, no, forget that last one—unless I meant marine biology--ya’ know, SCUBA, snorkel, reef, and SPF35. With so many possibilities, there’s a good chance you’ll find something in the library stacks to pique the interest.

5. Yes, Reading Time

Sure, moaning and groaning. But if you have lucked out with any of the above suggestions, this is the natural follow on activity. Join your teen. Hey, you may be in the same boat as your teen: you’ve let the excuse of “life’s complexities” get in the way of expanding your brain amidst the calm of a devoted half-hour’s immersion in fiction or non-fiction. You’ll find that the hardest part is maintaining your resolve. After a reading period or two, reward your teen and yourself with something small but out of the ordinary as compensation for that lost time on the iPhone.

6. A Reading Duet

Two valuable prepositions: to and with. Offer to read something exciting to your intransigent teen. Ask him to read a paragraph or two. DON’T be a schoolmarm and correct pronunciation and tone and all that unless specifically asked by the reader. DO share your personal reactions to demonstrate how a piece of fiction you may be reading together actually affects you. No need to ask for the same from your child at the beginning. Just offer your own thoughts in order to show that the reading provokes the humanity within you. Even if your duet plays only one note to begin with, you may achieve some harmony down the line.

Our reading support often encompasses test prep, a likely place to leverage enthusiasm by emphasizing the qualities of the well-written paragraph, how to read for understanding, how to increase reading speed without sacrificing comprehension—and the positive outcomes from applying our principles. For less time-constrained requirements, our one-on-one tutoring can make seemingly dull prose come alive with meaning and intent. We love to transform the monochrome into a full palette of colors.

What we’re proposing here doesn’t encompass much that’s new; we’re covering age-old ground. With the state of the education world as it is, though, it doesn’t hurt to remember what’s tried and true. You’ll hear us incessantly promote reading because we love to do it ourselves! The written word can conjure personal imagination like virtually nothing else. Let us know how you implement you own plan, and what actions have worked for you. We are all ears—and eyes. Focus on the goal, and act.

-Barry Mallis

Topics: Study Tips Test-Prep College Planning

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