Fitness experts talk about the importance of regular exercise and fresh air for tweens and teens, so surely a teacher librarian can talk about the importance of reading in their lives? It should be our goal to keep older kids reading for so many reasons.
We live in a time when our young people are hyper-connected, over-scheduled and (in many cases) in over their heads trying to keep up with school syllabus requirements and the complexities of their social lives. It is little wonder that recreational reading often dips as students enter high school and lives become frantic.
In many cases reading becomes all about wading through ‘set texts’ and core subject content. But I’d like to just hit *pause* for a moment and have us reflect on what reading offers our young people, and why it should be every parents and educators priority to keep them reading.
High-level literacy is critical
There is a plethora of research and anecdotal evidence out there on reading improving the academic outcomes of young people. It makes sense that those who read are those who can wield words effectively, communicate meaning at a high level and critically analyse all forms of written, spoken and visual story.
If you are yet to hit the high school years with your young people, you’ll also get a shock at just how much reading and high-level literacy is needed to achieve in all subjects. Even senior Mathematics exams are heavy on the word count! However, developing your child’s identity as a reader is not just about academic gain in the secondary years of schooling and beyond. Reading offers our tweens and teens something far greater, though perhaps less tangible.
Reading develops empathy
Reading develops empathy and emotional maturity. Young readers ‘walk in the shoes of others’ through beautifully nuanced novels with characters who are different to them. These characters reflect the hardships and the joys of their life back at them and make them feel less alone.
Books often give young people the words when sometimes they have none.
Books offer readers the opportunity to explore ‘the big issues’. They help them explore the ever-growing list of devastating global events, environmental issues that feel insurmountable and the need for tolerance and kindness is all areas of modern life. Books offer subtle messages of acceptance and connection, and can be a gateway to tough conversations. They often give young people the words when sometimes they have none, to talk with those around them about how they feel and how others may also feel.
Make it part of their routine
But how to keep older kids reading? Well I come back to the PE teacher or sports coach analogy. We have it drilled into us that time must be found for moving our bodies, and for many young people, training sessions dictate the look and feel of their week.
In the same way, I think that reading should be a part of the ‘schedule’ of tweens and teens. If fitness is important for exercising the growing body, then reading is important for exercising the expanding brain and nourishing the maturing soul and parents and educators should pull out all stops to ensure recreational reading continues.
5 ways to encourage a reluctant older reader to read
1. Create balance.
Ensure there is a balance in all things, from eating, to physical exercise, social media use, extracurricular pursuits, socializing, study and recreational reading. Have those conversations and talk about your expectations, how balance in important in your own life and how you balance your own life. One of the best ways to keep older kids reading is to ensure you are a reader yourself…
Reading should be a part of the ‘schedule’ of tweens and teens.
2. Transition them
Did you child leave primary school and perhaps just get ‘lost’ in the vast volumes of YA books on offer? Was it perhaps overwhelming for them content wise? Consider reading alongside your tween and ‘holding their hand’ (metaphorically speaking probably!) as you walk them from primary school novels to middle grade novels and then into YA reading territory. You will enjoy the journey as much as they do.
Try one of these: 16 books series for reluctant readers of all ages
3. Offer incentives.
I am not above bribery. Offer new books, money, screen time or whatever their ‘currency’ is. Many of us pay our children pocket money for extra work or rewards for great grades – I think the same can apply to books, for a time. Once a child falls deeply into a book, the rewards becomes less important but sometimes it’s just getting them to the point at which they do indeed fall into the book.
4. Make it social.
Browse the blogs and social media accounts of favourite middle grade or YA authors. Encourage your child to curate their social media in such a way that authors are a part of their daily feed. Many authors are very active on social media and engage with their young audience and with other book creators – one social media follow of an author often ends in many social media follows of authors.
Many authors are very active on social media and engage with their young audience.
5. Bring books to life.
Join a tween or teen book club or start a club with peers – join up to my book club waitlist here if this appeals to you. Make time to visit authors when they visit local independent bookstores or literature festivals. Many YA authors have rockstar status and are inspiring – in both reading and in life.
Suggestions for some new book ideas
If you are looking for books for your tweens or teens, I’ve got you covered! Follow the links below for lots of suggestions to keep older kids reading.
• Check out this list of 33 FAB YA books – all of which I’ve now read and enjoyed. This list was compiled by one of my favourite teen reviewers, Book Boy Joe Visser, who has also written about teens and reading in my book Raising Readers. Joe, along with Jazzy of Jazzy’s Bookshelf are wonderful teens to follow online.
• Good books for tween readers – I’m all about the tweens and what is great for them to access.
How do you keep older kids reading? Or are yours all over it already?