Link copied to clipboard

I get it. Reading – reading actual books or e-books because a person wants to, not because the book is required for something – reading seems not so important as it once did. What reading you and your teen children do these days is probably done on the Internet, probably can be finished in a few minutes tops, and probably is something that, if it were available as a video, you’d watch instead.

A recent study shows that 45% of 17-year-olds say they read by choice only once or twice a year. In 1984, 64% said they read once a week or even more frequently.

But who cares? Well, these are your children who need to get into college and keep up with other kids. These are your children who need to get a good job that pays them a nice salary so they can move out of your house and only come home for visits every so often. These are the teens who are future parents of your grandchildren, grandchildren who, even now a decade before they’re born, you know you want to value reading and learn to read.

Reading has fallen off in the past 30 years. In 1984, only a fraction of 13-year-olds (just 8%) and only a fraction of 17-year-olds (just 9%) said they never or hardly ever read for pleasure. Now those numbers have nearly tripled to 22% and 27%. About a quarter of teens never crack a book for fun. This is in contrast to 9-year-olds, over half of whom still read every day for fun, while only 19% of 17-year-olds do.

Parents are reading to kids less too. In 1999, parents of children two through seven read to their children an average of 45 minutes per day. By 2013, parents of young children were reading just 30 minutes per day. How many minutes did you read yesterday to your six-year-old?

So here’s the thing: there’s a clear connection between reading and school success. It might be that smarter children read more but certainly the opposite is also true: children who read more get smarter. In my work as a college professor, one fact stands out: the reading is difficult. Students who do the best in college are students who can not only read the words but who can sit still long enough and think about what they’re reading well enough to slog through the texts. Reading ability develops with practice. The teen years are not the right time to let reading skills get rusty.

What to do?

  1. Model reading. Reading isn’t just a “school skill” but something smart adults to do. If you’re not reading anything by choice right now, fix that. Get something to read and let your kids see you reading it.
  2. Be flexible about what your children read. Paper books are nice but they’re not the only good reading material available. Support your older children’s interest in magazines, graphic novels and comics, e-books, and newspapers. Get a library card for your teen and encourage her to use it.
  3. Share reading. Talk about what you’re reading and ask your teen to tell you about the main character or the plot of his book or the key ideas she’s finding in a work of non-fiction.
  4. Read the book before watching the movie. If you’ve already seen the movie, then do read the book too, but doing the reading first permits you to form your own ideas about the characters. Talk with your teen about the two.
  5. Encourage your teen to write his own. You know your kid could write his own book, his own graphic novel, his own screenplay. Maybe your teen and a friend or two can collaborate. Encourage this.

Most of all, keep reading going for your older elementary school kids. Help your pre-teens stay connected to books and don’t let this connection fall away. Keeping reading going is easier than re-starting it later.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Join Dr. Anderson in an online conference for teachers and parents. Find out more at Quality Conference for Early Childhood Leaders.