Strategies for Encouraging Reluctant Teen Readers
Marian Mays, Librarian

By Marian Mays, Librarian

One question that pops up frequently for any librarian working with parents is, “How do I encourage my child to read more?” We all know that reading benefits us intellectually and academically, but many parents struggle with how to encourage these behaviors at home. Some parents worry that, if they weren’t avid readers, they wouldn’t be able to encourage that behavior in their children successfully. And, because there is so much research and media-driven push for promoting reading literacy, reading often becomes an obligation that parents think they must encourage for their children to become successful. Here are some quick tips to try at home to encourage reading behaviors among teens of all ages:

Tip #1: Encourage Reading for Fun

Many parents feel that their kids must be reading at a certain level, at a certain time, with certain content. Unfortunately, that translates to one thing for youth – pressure. Throw away preconceived notions about “good” versus “bad” books or “books for fun.” Any librarian will tell you that the first step to get any reluctant reader interested in books is to focus on their interests. If teens are already feeling reluctant to read, placing limits on the level or content of a book may discourage them further. At the end of the day, book leveling limits choice.

Here at Forest Ridge, we do have some separation of categories (middle school versus high school fiction). Still, we encourage all middle schoolers to investigate high school literature, and vice versa, if they are interested. For more information about book leveling, you can check out this article from School Library Journal about how that can disempower reading.

Tip #2: Don’t Judge

Staying non-judgmental is tough! We’re all opinionated and have different preferences. However, many teens may shy away from unfamiliar content or content that appeals to them due to fear of judgment. Teens interested in “geeky” stuff, teens reading something over again, teens reading non-traditional books like manga, comics, graphic novels, teens reading magazines, and teens reading things that are above or below their current reading level are all pursuing a behavior that will lead them into being a lifelong reader. Encourage it! Support teens in having independence over their reading choices. Remember, it’s not what they read, but how often they read that matters.

Tip #3: End the Graphic Novel Stigma    

Something I hear all the time from parents is the classic, “My teen only reads graphic novels. How do I get them to start reading real books?” Well, good news! Graphic novels are not only real books, but they are just as impactful. There is a widespread cultural stigma surrounding graphic novels that implies they are not as intellectually stimulating or challenging as traditional novels. However, there is some research to suggest that they might be more stimulating than traditional books! Why is this? Well, when reading traditional books, you make inferences from the text. However, when reading graphic novels, you’re using text and pictures to synthesize information, which adds a level of complexity you don’t get with text-only novels. The word count for most graphic novels is the same as the word count of text-only books of that level, these types of works can average more complex and rare words per 1,000 words versus traditional text novels. And, graphic novels aren’t just for superheroes anymore. They are written in numerous topics, like Forest Ridge’s new non-fiction addition They Called Us Enemy, by George Takei, a non-fiction graphic novel that details Takei’s childhood imprisoned within American concentration camps during WWII.

Tip #4: Surround Yourself with Reading

Buying lots of expensive books to place around the house with no goal won’t necessarily encourage teens to pick up a book. However, building positive relationships with literacy will. Role model reading for kids every day. Not a reader? Start with five minutes. Read a magazine. Read on an e-reader. Listen to books in the car on the way to activities. Schedule a weekly recurring trip to your public library. Consider buying special books that meet your teen’s interests as gifts. You can also read together as a family at any age, even if it’s just a chapter (or page) at night. Essentially, the time limit or amount read matters less than encouraging your child to discover that reading is a positive thing.

Encouraging reluctant readers can be a stressful experience, but it doesn’t have to be! With motivation and dedication, you can help reshape reading experiences for your teen and can encourage lifelong reading habits.





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