Since entering the library field, I can’t count the number of times a parent has secretly pulled me aside asking for help to get their teenager to read more. The story is almost always the same– the teen loved books as toddler, read as a child but somewhere along the road he stopped reading. Parents ask “Is there a magic book that will lure them back to reading? Will the Hunger Games make a reader of my son?” I used to conduct a “text book” reader advisory interview to try to suggest some titles, authors or even different formats for the teenager. This always felt weird since I was never actually talking to the teen. Now, I talk to the parents about how we model reading behavior and how we might influence a teen’s reading habits. As many of us and our patrons read more books, newspapers and periodicals from the screen rather than from the page, this conversation might prove more helpful in getting teens to read than the recommendation of the perfect book.
Modeling Reading Behavior
We all know that children who see adults and parents read are more likely to be readers. I ask the parent to think about how she reads and what her teen sees her reading. Our ability to model good reading behavior diminishes when teens see their parents on the handheld devices and assume that they are checking their work email. I ask parents “do your teens know that you are an avid reader of The New York Times if the subscription comes to your Nook and not your door?” Likewise, a teen may never see the great cover to the Lee Child thriller that you are reading and won’t ask to read it when you are done. I ask parents “do your teens know what you like to read and how often you read?”
Influencing a Teen’s Reading Habits
While it may seem that I am against ereaders, I assure you that is not the case. Screen reading only diminishes an adult’s ability to model good reading habits if the parent doesn’t let the teen know what they are doing. In short, I suggest to parents that they talk about the books they are reading. I advise that parents make sure that they can lend their ebooks to their teen’s personal ereaders. Parents should mention what they are reading on their Facebook pages, and tweet articles that they find interesting. This is the contemporary equivalent to leaving the newspaper open on the kitchen table with a post it note. Social media has created tremendous opportunities for community reading and to share reading experiences. I encourage parents to utilize these avenues to showoff and share their reading habits with their teens.
Sometimes parents really respond to this conversation and other times I know that they are disappointed that I have not provided the right book for their teen. Thinking about how we read might be more helpful than thinking about what we read.