Today? I’ll be blunt. Raising a teenager is hard.
Raising children is hard, what am I talking about?
But, the teen years are something….something….something that I cannot yet articulate, probably because I’m smack dab in the middle of them, myself. Well, not me, I’m an adult. I mean raising them. I have two living under my roof right now. While I am not a Young Adult Librarian, I do get asked, more frequently than ever, how? How, how, how do I keep my teen reading?
For the record, I don’t. Or at least, not always. This librarian’s teenagers aren’t always reading, no. But, I’ve had some measure of success with my teens and have some thoughts (of course I do!) on the matter – but am always interested in having more. Please feel free to chime in.
Let me get settled and take a long drink from my herbal lemonade. Oh yeah, my aunt, whom I recently visited, served me some herbal lemonade the other day. One sip and I was a goner. Make your own lemonade or buy it in the store. In a pitcher put a big ol’ handful of mint (my aunt has pineapple mint in her garden, which she swears by). Add in a few springs of some other herbs, too. A basil leaf or two, a little thyme, a sprig of sage. Let it sit awhile. A few hours, maybe. Pour over ice and drink. Mine is a bit red because I mixed lemonade with pomegranate green tea, as I like things a little less sweet. It is a refreshing way to blog on the front porch when you’re about to talk about teens and reading. On second thought, maybe add some gin. Just sayin’.
First of all, your teen is reading. She is reading texts and Instagram and maybe her emails and cell phone. She reads the notes you leave for her taped to the fridge, street signs, and the content on her favorite web site. I bring up the obvious because when your kids are little and still learning to decode and figure out the English language, they really aren’t reading quite as much. I mean, they might be trying, but your teen is reading (as are you) all the time, everywhere she goes.
But the parents I talk to want more, of course.
And there is a whole lot more.
Teens are being assigned volumes of reading in school these days. Articles for History class, chapters in their Biology textbook, a novel for English. You can search online for articles outlining the appalling number of hours assigned to teens for homework and how, in some experiments, the average adult can’t keep up when he tries take on a teen’s homework load.
Some of the assigned readings will be long forgotten (or, in some cases, skimmed or ignored entirely), but some will have lasting effects. I have a friend who reads the Hobbit about once a year, ever since it was assigned reading in the middle school. She fell in love with it as a tween and finds new meanings with every reading, some 30 years later. I’ve also revisited books from my past because I remember enjoying them so much. To Kill a Mockingbird, Pride and Prejudice, The Awakening come to mind as books I’ve re-read as an adult. This is to say: don’t despair when your child hates a book for English – he won’t like them all, but some will have lasting power. Time will tell. And? Once again, your teen really is reading. He is reading a lot for school.
Before you comment that none of this is what you mean – that you want your child, who used to read with a flashlight long after bedtime, to reemerge as a reader – please try to remember. Did you read much outside of school when you were a teen? I’ve always loved to read, but I know my check-out rate from the library took a nosedive starting in middle school. I was busy. I came out on the other side. Chances are, your child will, too.
Time is an issue, here, though. Between school and extracurriculars, sports, working, being part of a family, chores, socializing, and goodness knows what else, these kiddos aren’t left a whole lotta time for pleasure reading, which is really what we’re after. Here are some loose thoughts on the matter.
In regards to teens not having much time to read, help them find reading material that is short and sweet. It may be unlikely that a teen has time or emotional energy for a big, thick novel right now, but here are things she might both enjoy and have time for:
A compilation of short stories. Read one at a time – easy to pick up and put down. I’d hope that by now, you, as adult, know that length does not necessarily equate quality. Sometimes short stories can be tricky to locate in the library and/or the bookstore – ask for help! A few I’ve read in recent years: 13 edited by James Howe; A Couple of Kooks and Other Stories about Love by Cynthia Rylant; Geektastic by Holly Black; Guys Read (series) Edited by Jon Scieszka. But, believe you me, there are tons more out there, especially spooky/scary ones, if your reader takes delight in fright!
How about some poetry? Oh, don’t force it if you already know she’ll roll her eyes. However, there is some fun teen poetry out there (I’m not talking Whitman or Dickinson, unless she really does enjoy such poets, of course) that, if she is willing to give it a try, is excellent reading. Ask a librarian for ideas or head to the 811 section, yourself.
Subscribe to a magazine, preferably one that interests your teen. Again, articles are a manageable amount of reading, given all the other to-do items in a teen’s life.
Likewise, see if there is a section of the newspaper your teen might like to read. The Sports Section? Entertainment News? Real Estate Listings? I dunno. You might be surprised.
Novels in verse are gaining popularity, and, if they are written well, can be truly spectacular. There is a craft to this form of writing such that (unlike this blog) so much can be said with so few words. The result it often breathtaking. They tend to be quick reads, with their sparseness, but many of them pack a punch. You can search “novels in verse” or “free verse novel” in a library catalog or ask a librarian/book seller for ideas. I almost hate to recommend any specific titles because there are so many good ones.
Graphic Novels. Get to know them. Get to love them. Definitely fodder for many more blog posts, but reading is reading, and there are some graphic novels that’ll knock your socks off. I won’t get on my soapbox about graphics right at this very moment, but I will add this: after a long, hard day as an American teen, there really isn’t anything wrong with sitting back and relaxing with a graphic.
Finding more manageable texts for your teen is one step, but here are some other thoughts:
- Read aloud to your teen. I know, I know. You’re looking at me as if I have a second head and wondering if I really do have teens of my own. I’m not asking you to crack open The Grapes of Wrath and read side-by-side on the couch together. I’m just suggesting that, should you find an interesting article or a funny paragraph in a book that you are reading, you read it aloud to him. Whet his interest. Keep sharing the written word; it could lead to more reading. If you don’t share, it certainly won’t, so share a little here and there.
- So, that begs the question: are you reading? Do you serve as a reading role model? Let’s be real. If you have a couple of teens (or more than a couple – in which case, how are you doing this?) you, yourself, are plenty busy. But are you making time to read every now and then? Just a smidge? If you’re a child of the 80’s (as I am), you might recall that horrible commercial/PSA, back when you caught cartoons on Saturday mornings, where the dad asks his son, “who taught you how to do this stuff?” Yeah, you know the one. “You, alright! I learned it by watching you!” Well, I’m being a bit melodramatic, but parents who read tend to raise kids who read. Look, I know you’re busy. And I’m not judging. I go through long stretches of not reading very much at all (and I’m a librarian, people), but if you make reading part of your home life, everyone in the house is more likely to pick up something delicious now and then.
- Audiobooks can be awesome. Borrow CDs from the library, learn how to use your local library’s subscription to Overdrive (or something similar), get an Audible account. While listening to books isn’t exactly the same as reading, it is still something.
- Visit the library and/or the bookstore. I realize some teens have no interest in either place, but some actually do — but they never think of going. Once there, they may be inspired. Before nagging your teen about reading, be sure he actually has something to read. It may seem pretty obvious to you, but we’re dealing with the teenage brain, here. One of my teens asked me the other day, “where’s the milk?” Um, where it always is? (Or, more often than not, I reply with a blank stare. I mean, really.) I’m told that their brains are doing all kinds of thinking and rearranging during these years and that this is perfectly normal and not to worry. I hope this is true because at some point, I want them to have their own refrigerators, filled with their own cartons of milk that they purchased and located all by themselves. How is that possible if they’re asking me these questions? They’re in the Teen Zone. And again, I hear the words “totally normal” to describe this event. This is all to say that they will not necessarily read if they do not have a Good Book. You may need to help a little, even if you think the solution to finding a Good Book is pretty clear. Teen Zone and all that. Take them to find one, if you must. Nudge.
- School can, ironically, be a hindrance to teen pleasure reading. Look at the calendar and see if there are vacations and long weekends when a book might be tackled, and suggest the idea then. Know that, as always, you want your teen to enjoy the experience. Thus, even though you, like me, might possess the superpower of nagging, try to encourage, instead. Support the effort. We all respond better to positive energy than negative. You certainly do not want to make pleasure reading a battleground.
- Take a look at your teen’s habits. Is there a way reading can find some room? Many people read a little before bed, so that’s an obvious choice, but there may be other funny little times in the day when encouraging a bit of reading makes sense. Times when, oh say, she could get off her cell phone? Time when, maybe, he stops playing video games? Oh, boy. I just don’t think I can talk about encouraging teens to read and avoid mentioning the competition they face with technology. The competition we all face with technology. It probably deserves not just one, but many, separate blog posts. For now, let’s say that we know that video games, cell phones, and computers all compete with books for our teen’s time. However, there are still ideas you, as a family, might want to implement. No electronics at breakfast? (A great start to the morning and a good time to read the newspaper, for example.) Times when nobody can get on a screen (after a certain hour at night? Every Sunday morning?) How about making sure a book gets carried in a backpack or purse along with the cell phone? When waiting at the dentist or when caught by a train and the cell phone runs out of battery or interest (yes, it is possible), there is always a back-up book.
My lemonade is drained, and I fear this blog post is far too long. Let’s reconvene on the front porch again soon. Until then, feel free to share your ideas about keeping teens reading with me. I’m all ears. We just might revisit this topic again sometime for another batch of suggestions!
Contact me at fplweb (at) frontporchlibrarian dot com