Read it like you mean it: How to get teenagers to love reading


Teenagers are an interesting age group that high school teachers have voluntarily chosen to engage with on a daily basis. If home schooling hasn’t been enough proof, surely parents already know that you have to be a special kind of person to volunteer for that gig. And of all the tasks that teachers and parents of teenagers have to battle against, it’s usually getting these hormonally charged young adults to eat their veggies and pick up a book.

So how does anyone get someone to read? Is it recommending something you liked that you think they will like? Or is it force-feeding them something that is good for them? If you have ever tried to force a teenager to do anything you’ve wisely ruled out the latter. The secret here is really not a secret at all – it all comes down to choice and presentation.

“You should be reading the classics, they’re good for you!” is just as effective as putting brussel sprouts on the table for dessert. The way reading is presented to a teen is just as important as the reading material itself. Many parents rack their brains trying to source and pitch the materials that they think might suit their teens, but like bolognese, the good stuff needs to be hidden behind something familiar.

The best place to begin is a conversation about what your teen is currently reading – even if it’s just social media feeds. Have they read anything at school in any of their subjects that was interesting? Let this branch into a conversation about their likes and dislikes, what they’re curious about or fascinated by. Once you have a topic, it’s time to give them the wheel (or the mouse) and let them browse an online book store to pick a title they want to begin with. Receiving a parcel with the title they picked for themselves is an instant winner. You could even encourage them to pick two books that are totally different in form, style or length that are about the same topic.

Next (like a good bolognese) it’s time to sit and share it. Teens may try to do the opposite of what you want them to do, but when it comes to scrolling devices they’ll feel a lot harder done behind a hardback while you’re flicking your feed or sitting up late on your laptop working. You need to make the time to learn to love reading as a family. Put a relaxing playlist on in the background and settle on the couch for a good book – together. Put aside a time of the week when you’ll all be able to relax and read, device-free time to flick through your pages. Perhaps its the hour before you plan to watch a Netflix film, or eat dessert, to ensure that even the least intrinsically motivated teen has an extrinsic motivator to give it a go. ‘Devices down’ time also opens the possibilities of impromptu conversations about what’s happening in each of your books while you’re reading. It doesn’t even need to be in the same room, everyone can find their own nook. I suggest a family phone box on the kitchen table to mitigate any sneaky peaks at feeds behind the pages!

If parents feel unsure about where to begin with text choices that might best support the needs of their children there are a number of ways they can get that information. Speaking to your child’s English teacher or literacy coordinator in their school is a great place to begin! They could also use tools like Education Perfect to run a Reading Comprehension diagnostic test or set some lessons that will give them in depth data about their children’s key competencies and areas they need more time to develop. Breadth of texts is important, yes, and this will come with time. Not many teens pick up Shakespeare for fun.  After all, reading is an acquired taste that improves with a slow introduction and a series of positive experiences.

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