Over the past 30 years, the number of teenagers who say that they “never” or “hardly ever” read had tripled (Common Sense Media). This trend, unsurprisingly, is the opposite of what parents would like to see – according to Scholastic, 75% of parents with children aged 6-17 would like their children to read more books for fun. They’re smart to want this; studies have shown that strong early reading skills can positively affect general intelligence in later life, and can improve one’s understanding of other peoples’ mental states, i.e. improve empathy, according to Science Magazine.
The percentages of younger children who read for pleasure has stayed constant over the past 30 years (Common Sense Media), which shows that the big problem many parents face is that interest in reading drops off significantly as children hit their teenage years. This isn’t surprising; teenagers priorities change, they have more homework, they usually get their hands on a cell phone, and on and on. Also, they tend to not want to do the things their parents want them to do. (No, this does not mean that telling your kids that they should hate reading is a good strategy!)
That said, the key to raising an engaged reader is to make reading an intrinsically valuable activity; not something done like a chore, or a homework assignment, but a fun activity that your son or daughter is motivated to do by the simple enjoyment of it. Anecdotally, the reason I hear most often for why young people don’t enjoy reading is that it “feels like homework” or “isn’t as interesting as other things.” So, as someone who was an avid reader through childhood and still is today, here’s what I think is the key to sparking a love for reading in your kids, and a few suggestions on books they might enjoy.
There's No Such Thing as a Bad Book
It would be great if parents could get their children to read books they themselves like or find valuable, but for most people that’s a bridge too far. Kids tend to enjoy escapist books, or aspirational stories, and in my opinion (and experience) there’s no such thing as a mundane book for a young person. It might be Twilight, or detective stories, or anything else, but as long as it’s a book they can’t put down it’s a step in the right direction.
I teamed up with Kacey Templin, our PR Specialist at ThinkFun and an avid reader herself, to create a short list of books that we both enjoyed as teenagers and young children if parents need inspiration.
You’ll probably have noticed that my list is heavy on science fiction and fantasy. These genres tend to get a bad rap in some quarters, but I think they’re a perfect fit for kids (and adults, frankly).
One last thing for parents to consider when trying to keep their teens interested in reading is what the boundaries should be. Should books with R-rated language be allowed or should things stay PG-13? There are plenty of books in both categories that will keep kids entertained, so parents should be able to steer their children in their preferred direction without too much trouble. I personally wasn’t given any restrictions in the reading material I was allowed, but the overwhelming majority of the books that interested me were PG-13 or below, so parents don’t necessarily need to worry that self-directed reading will expose their teenagers to things they’d rather have them avoid.
We are raising the next generation of big thinkers. When a child turns the first page of a book they’re opening up a world of possibility. We must make sure they have the mental advantage by encouraging a love of reading at a young age.