Children are not born with an aversion to reading. We see this when our teenagers were mere toddlers. We get them a waterproof bath/shower book, and they fall in love. Thick board books with beautifully-drawn illustrations and our toddlers not only carry them around as their go-to comfort object but also bully us parents or guardians into reading them over and over again. My own kids’ personal favourites ranged from “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle and Sandra Boynton’s “Blue Hat, Green Hat” to Curious George when they were pre-school, to the Harry Potter series when they were twelve.
So what happened when they turned 13? How did they become such adamant book haters by the time they finish secondary school?
Psst… However, if your child doesn’t particularly like to read, check out our article targeted at parents with young children here https://tueetor.com/blog/help-child-doesnt-want-read/ .
David Denby of The New Yorker reported back in 2016, “Most of our teenagers’ social life, for boys as well as girls, is now conducted on smartphones. It’s very likely that teenagers, attached to screens of one sort or another, read more words than they ever have in the past. But they often read scraps; excerpts, articles, parts of articles, messages, pieces of information from everywhere and from nowhere.”
As Denby points out from Sherry Turkle’s book, “Reclaiming Conversation”, there has been a paradoxical and peculiar boredom produced by the act of constantly fleeing boredom. Ever since the first iPhone was introduced (back in 2007, a mere 11 years ago), the all-encompassing ‘digital culture’ has enveloped us more quickly and thoroughly than most of us can imagine. After all, reading technologies have ‘changed’ in the past too; television has altered human consciousness and social norms ever since their introduction sixty years ago, but kids survived and became adults. So what’s happened that’s far more detrimental?
Now, he goes on to say, reading anything serious has become a chore, like doing the laundry or looking after your kid sister. Or, if it’s not a chore, it’s just an activity like swimming or shopping, an activity like any other. Reading has lost its ‘privileged’ status: few kids are ashamed that they’re not doing it much. As a parent, I completely agree; I see that with my own teenage son, who looks at me incredulously (a look bordering on disgust) when I suggest reading a book rather than turning to a device for unwinding and relaxation.
Louanne Johnson, teacher and editor at scholastic.com says there are real reasons for when teenagers spurn reading for pleasure. Reasons not to be scorned at but instead, we as parents should patiently coax out of our teenagers, or if we aren’t able to, must learn to identify. Here is a checklist of reasons (‘symptoms’) that experts have identified and possible solutions (‘medicine’!) to help counter the symptoms.
#1: Your teenager has no interest in the material they are required to read
Symptoms: Teenagers might be forced to read literary classics like ‘The Merchant of Venice’ in school that do not interest them. Sometimes, even the very idea of the printed word turn them off altogether.
Medicine: Find something so compelling that teens forget that they are reading! Literature’s one thing, but we should definitely also attend to teenagers’ interests. So instead of forcing teenagers to read literary classics, perhaps educators can give in to the changing tide and select more compelling YA fiction like ‘The Fault In Our Stars’ or ‘The Hunger Games’. If schools won’t cover these books, as parents we should!
Besides, good reading habits have nothing to do with technology. E-readers, tablets, laptop screens are all capable of delivering long-form text. Jordan Shapiro, an education expert, believes that even we if eliminated every digital technology from our lives, our kids still won’t read, unless we encourage them to. Hence, confiscating devices to force your teenagers to read is useless; why not introduce them to apps that encourage reading like the NLB app or the Amazon Kindle app?
#2: Your teenager get lost in reading and can’t remember what they’ve just read
Symptoms: Have your eyes ever glazed over while reading something? And everything just flies over your head? The same thing can happen to your teenagers! They may somehow miss the important points that when they read, stopping them from creating a mental reference. Without that reference, words are just that, words.
Medicine: Help them create a mental picture of what they’re reading. And as they create a mental picture when they’re reading, they’ll need to add details and more details, until the picture becomes clearer. Teach your teenager to see that if you lose the picture when you’re reading, you start to lose comprehension. Simply teach them to back up until they see the picture again, and continue reading from there.
#3: Your teenager can’t read as fast as their peers
Symptoms: Everyone reads at their own pace and it shouldn’t matter if your teenager is a speed reader, somewhat average, or on the slower side. However, in the competitive schooling system in Singapore, some slow readers might feel left out, if they continuously read slower than their peers.
Medicine: As parents we should allow our teenaged readers to read at their own pace, even if it means that they don’t cover as much ground as the speedier readers. On the other hand, there are some who are in such a hurry to complete their reading just for the sake of completing the reading, that when they do, they have absolutely no idea what they’ve just read.
Both types of readers need to take a step back, and read at a pace they’re comfortable with. Read at a pace that allows for comprehension, and when they’ve caught up, they will be able to do so with more confidence and perhaps, more pleasure. That will make reading more enjoyable – for both non-serious reading and schoolwork.
#4: Reading makes them feel stupid
Symptoms: Maybe your teenager hates reading because she has always been labeled slow in school, and believe that she is too far behind to ever catch up. Reading, then, makes her feel stupid.
Medicine: Inform your teenagers that their level in reading doesn’t and shouldn’t correspond to their level at school. It is just a measure of how well he or she reads at a specific level of complexity in vocabulary and sentence structure. Most people (adults included!) believe that reading-speed correlates with intelligence and this is absolutely not true at all. Reading is a skill and it can be improved with consistent practice (i.e. reading!).
To get your teenagers to improve, encourage them to learn to derive the meaning of unfamiliar words from the context of a passage and to practice reading a little at a time every day. A good way to do this is to introduce a one to two-page magazine article of their go-to subject, and read for at least one minute every day. And then stop at exactly where the minute ends. Ask them to describe the mental picture of the passage they’ve read. With this method, most improve within a month, and they will see that practice may not make perfect, but it certainly does make for improvement.
#5: Reading gives your teenagers a headache or makes their eyes hurt
Symptoms: Recent research studies now suggest that nearly half of those who are labeled as learning-disabled, are actually suffering from light or scotopic sensitivity. People with light sensitivity find reading difficult and sometimes even painful, particularly when the material is printed on glossy paper.
Medicine: Check to see if your teenager’s reading environment comes equipped with fluorescent lighting or other lights that cause glare on the page; which would make reading even more difficult.
If you have teenaged children who were generally cooperative but start to get restless and squirm as soon as you see them read, do be alert for signs that they find reading physically uncomfortable. According to scholastic.com, they may squint, frown, rub their eyes, try to shade what they’re reading, or they may keep shifting their books far away or very near to their faces, blink rapidly or even, lose their place constantly when they read.
Mr Kenny Leck, owner of local independent bookstore BooksActually, says in a Straits Times’ article interview, “The emphasis on reading for education is killing [the love of reading] slowly.” He says that the focus should be on cultivating the joy of reading, rather than on instrumental goals such as improving English proficiency. If reading is about broadening one’s horizons, then maybe we will have a fighting chance.
So, help broaden your teenagers’ minds! More importantly, read with your teens. And teach your teens that it matters that they read. And if you haven’t checked on your teenagers and their reading habits recently, it’s past-time for a check-up! Written, compiled & edited by a proud bookworm Cecilia Leong.
Bonus Medicine: Tueetor’s Premium Partner Cognitive Connections’ recommended booklist from Time.com http://time.com/100-best-young-adult-books/ will help keep your teenagers reading for life 📖. Or if you require specialized help, please visit https://tueetor.com/cognitiveconnections , or call them at +65 64752747. You can also check out their specially-curated June school holiday workshops here https://tueetor.com/blog/world-cup-primer-tueetor-mayjune-school-holiday-guide/.