Get your teen back into reading (and get to know them better in the process!)

April 13 |

It's National Library Week, and we're celebrating on Offbeat Mama!

Girl Holding Book Looking Out Window free creative commons
Photo by D. Sharon Pruitt, used with Creative Commons license.

So, apparently something happens when kids hit thirteen: they no longer like reading. I can't verify this as fact because I happen to be quite the book nerd — always have been, probably always will be. But alas, the stats are there. In 2007, the National Endowment for the Arts published a report on reading that found, among other things, "Teens and young adults read less often and for shorter amounts of time when compared with other age groups and with Americans of the past" and "reading is declining as an activity among teenagers."

But why?

I think the easy answer is to blame all those gadgets we have nowadays, but I'm not sure it's the right one. Another answer that appears obvious is blaming the parents: if you don't see your parents read, they say, then you probably won't either. There may be some truth to that, but for every kid that doesn't read because she never saw her parents doing so, there are kids like I was who read voraciously despite having very few memories of her parents reading. You could also blame schools: I definitely remember visiting the library with a class once a week in elementary and middle school, but trips like these seem to have fallen by the wayside.

Truthfully, I think the real answer is a combination of these factors and many more. Sure, most electronics that begin with a lowercase "i" can be a distraction to many of us, including teens, but these in and of themselves shouldn't be a hindrance to reading. In fact, the Internet has spawned quite a few online book clubs for teens, like Spinebreakers, Teen Book Lovers, and Random Buzzers. The American Library Association (ALA) has even instituted Teen Reading Week!

Not every parent has the availability to take his or her child to the library for story time once or twice a week, and many may not realize that reading to children from very young ages can potentially make a huge difference in a child's development. If you were never read to as a child, you're probably less likely to read to your own children.

So what to do? If I'm recalling my teen years correctly, a lot of teens can to be… self-focused, to phrase it gently. Luckily, the quality of Young Adult (YA) reads is light-years ahead of what it once was. I don't want to over-generalize, but many teens like to read books about, well, other teens. The particular genre of book can vary — for every kid who digs The Catcher in the Rye, there's another who would like something like The Hunger Games. If you're feeling at a loss when it comes to YA fiction, the ALA compiles an annual list of the best books in the genre. Pay close attention — young adult fiction is so well-written these days that many adults are flocking to the shelves right along with their teen-aged counter-parts. [Aside from Ariel: I read a LOT of young adult fiction.]

On the flip-side, plenty of teens want to go above and beyond their age level. My favorite book when I was sixteen was The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, which is about Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters and their times dropping acid and gallivanting around the country on a painted bus (note: I was most definitely not dropping acid while in high school, which makes this book selection all the more fabulous, if you ask me). Similarly, one of my closest friends devoted the better part of her teen years devouring everything Jack Kerouac's ever written.

My suggestion: use literature as a way to get to know your teen better. You can make a thing of it: grab a coffee (teenagers can have that, right?), have a chat, and visit your library or local book store and peruse the offerings. You never, ever know what you might find, or what kind of revisited (or newly-formed) reading habits can develop.

Related post: Finding a friendship with your teen