“This book is really good, Mom.”
This simple comment surprised me because it came from my head-down-phone-in-face teenage daughter. Throughout her toddler and elementary years, she devoured one book after another. But, as with most teens, once she held a smartphone in her hand, the printed page was pushed aside.
That’s why her comment brought me hope.
We know that reading to babies and toddlers is critical to the development of their brain and their language skills. We take them to story time at the library. We transition from reading to them to listening to them read (however painful it might be) as we try to meet the 20 minutes of nightly reading required by their elementary school teachers.
But when they reach middle school, the pressure is off and we leave them to their own devices. Literally. But we shouldn’t.
Benefits of Teen Summer Reading
Research shows that there are tangible benefits to our teens continuing to read over the summer months. Besides being fun, reading:
- Expands their vocabularies and improves their writing skills—a definite plus when it comes to college admissions tests
- Helps them handle complex ideas and expand their knowledge base, which is useful in a variety of life situations
- Expands their horizons as they learn about other people and the world
- Shows them that everyone has problems in life and that they’re not alone in the feelings and emotions that are consuming their thoughts
10 Ways to Make Reading a Family Focus:
But keeping our teens reading over the summer is no easy task. Here are the steps I take to encourage my teens to choose pages over screens.
1. Read myself – and make sure they see me.
My night stand is piled high with books, and I have a few others scattered here and there. But my days are busy and when I do have time to sit down and read, too often I reach for my phone instead of a book. When my teens see me opting to scroll instead of read, it’s natural that they make the same choice. So, I’m being intentional about changing that message and reaching for a book instead. By doing so, I’ll be modeling the behavior I want to see in them.
2. Limit screen time—theirs and mine.
I’m stunned by how much time my daughters can spend on their phones but, to be honest, I’m just as bad. We all need an adjustment. I’m going to set aside some mandated screen-free time each day to encourage us all to read more.
3. Ask them about what they’re reading.
This might be a quick conversation in the car, or a lingering one at the local coffee shop. I’ll go beyond, “Wow, you’ve read that much already?!” to probing questions about the characters, setting, plot, author, and what she does or doesn’t like about a book.
4. Schedule regular and leisurely trips to the library or bookstore.
I’m going to make this a weekly outing and give them plenty of time to browse the shelves and check out new treasures. I will not rush them so that I can get on to the next errand. I’ll encourage them to spend their gift cards and to take photos of books they may want to get the next time.
5. Not shame them on what they’re choosing to read.
As long as it falls within our family values, I’ll keep my opinion to myself. Make-up tips and celebrity profiles are not my cup of tea, but they’re my daughter’s fascination of the moment. And graphic novels do count as reading.
6. Read a movie.
From The Hunger Games to Divergent to The Fault in Our Stars, there are dozens of YA novels turned into movies every year. Reading a book and then seeing the movie (or vice versa) can lead to delightful conversations as we compare characters and plot twists. Plus, it will help keep my teens’ critical thinking skills sharp over the summer.
7. Encourage get-togethers with book-loving friends.
Especially those who are willing to attend library teen events with my teens.
8. Read to them.
This is undoubtedly the hardest, but evidence suggests that parents should continue to read aloud to older children, even tweens and teens. A child’s reading level and listening level don’t balance out until the 8th grade, so they can better understand complicated plots read to them than read by them. This stokes their interest in reading more.
Reading aloud also stimulates vocabulary growth since books contain 50 percent more rare words than television shows or conversation. And reading together provides quality time for teens and their parents.
9. Introduce them to audiobooks.
As we prep for summer road trips, we’ll be stopping by the books on tape section of our library. We’ll find something we can share as a family while we clock the miles, rather than everyone isolated on their own devices.
10. Download books onto their e-reader.
Right now, my husband is the only e-reader in our house and he loves it when I surprise him with a new download. If I come across a book that I think he might be interested in, I go ahead and download it to his device. (Easiest gift shopping ever.) If your teen prefers reading on a tablet or other reading devise, why not surprise them by doing the same? Bonus: library e-loans are free!