It is natural for many parents to worry about getting their children to read while on vacation, but the stakes may seem especially high this year, after months of “distance learning”. When it comes to teenagers and reading, definitions count.
Yes, research shows that teenagers are reading less, a drop that starts in elementary school II. But many experts think that the criteria used by researchers are very limited and reflect the way we often instinctively define “reading” as reading fiction in general, and literary fiction in particular. And physical books, not including digital ones.
Today’s teenagers are reading, both in print and online, according to education experts, librarians and teachers. But what they are reading – horror and dystopian books, sports magazine profiles, online news articles, etc. – is often not considered in research as “reading”.
While reading a news story is not the same as reading a non-fiction novel or book, experts say it doesn’t help adults to belittle the reading that many teenagers are doing.
In their book Reading Unbound: Why Kids Need to Read What They Want – and Why We Should Let Them (free reading: Why children need to read what they want – and why we should let them do it, in free translation) teen education experts Michael W. Smith and Jeffrey D. Wilhelm highlight the fact that the children who were observed had “surprisingly rich involvement with texts that we don’t value very much”. According to Smith, a professor at Temple University, “many were avid readers of marginalized texts.”
This is particularly true with male teenagers. As reported in their previous book, Reading Don’t Fix No Chevys, Smith and Wilhelm’s studies found that many teenagers are interested in reading books and other materials through which they learn something , like the story of a favorite sport or even car manuals. They take pleasure in becoming an expert on something. (Of course, this is also true for many girls).
“But this is exactly the kind of reading that parents and teachers want children to ‘leave behind’,” said Wilhelm, a professor at Boise State University (Idaho, USA). As the adults they live with underestimate what they like to read, many teenagers – especially boys – do not consider themselves readers, a perception of themselves that begins in elementary school II and worsens with age.
“I teach children’s literature at an education college so that my students become teachers,” said Laura Jimenez, a professor at Boston University’s Wheelock College of Education and Human Development. “There is rarely a man in the classroom and, when there is, he says, ‘I am not a real reader’. But they are not considering what they actually read. “
As true digital natives, teenagers are increasingly reading online texts, especially news, sports and entertainment articles, as well as social media. A teenager, who is a passionate reader, recently told me that “it takes a lot more effort to read a book than to look at the screen”. Although reading on the screen also carries the temptation to “start playing or checking your social networks,” he said. “It is almost impossible to avoid.”
So, what is the role of parents when it comes to teenagers and reading? Here are some tips and strategies from experts:
1) Check – and value – what your children like to read.
As an adult, you may see some titles like junk and articles online about popular artists as a waste of time. But try to avoid criticizing the type of reading your child is doing. It is crucial to allow teenagers, who often have a lot of lessons to do, to choose what to read in their spare time. Laura, for example, has a son who likes to read news, so her family has subscriptions to various media outlets.
2) See the type of reading your child enjoys as a bridge to other types of reading.
One way that parents can encourage their children to diversify is to explore different types of reading on topics that interest them. And don’t leave out online texts. Smith cites his own experience as a football fan who reads everything he can: statistics, short player profiles, long articles about players and books. “I think we make a mistake when we draw hard lines between books and other types of reading,” he said. “I read more online and consider myself a reader.”
Wilhelm offers another perspective on this “focus on topics” idea that parents and teachers can use. Let’s say your son has to read Romeo and Juliet for school and is reluctant to do so. Why not approach Shakespeare’s play as a story about “what makes relationships end? Which ninth-grader isn’t interested in that?”, Wilhelm asked.
3) Read aloud to your teen or listen to audiobooks together.
Yes, your son can read. But there is a distinct pleasure in having someone read aloud to you. It also creates a “common experience,” said Abigail Foss, an advanced English teacher at Northwood High School in Silver Spring, Maryland, who says her students “love having them read to them.”
Another possibility for this idea is to listen to audiobooks together, something ideal for car trips, but it can also be done at a picnic at home or even during a “reading dinner”. For parents and teenagers, listening to audiobooks and reading a book aloud are great activities to do as a family, even for a short time every day. This will also help to have a common theme for family conversations.
4) Make time for the family to read.
Adults do not always set the best example for teen readers who want to train. So try to decrease the time spent on the phone with e-mail or social media and dedicate 20 minutes a day to reading a book or magazine article, while the rest of your family also read something that each one chose. Even if your teen doesn’t get the idea, you can still enjoy a piece of your day to read something for pleasure. / TRANSLATION OF ROMINA CÁCIA
Carol Francischini trains on the balcony of her home