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How to Motivate Teens to Read More

Smiling female teenager is on sill, holding disclosed volume

By Audra Glidewell, M.Ed.

Taking a genuine, constructive interest in your teens’ reading lives can help them improve their reading abilities and can also deepen the family bond over a shared experience with books.

Remember snuggling with your kids and reading bedtime stories when they were little? The coziness, the giggles, the cries for “just one more book!” Yet, now it may seem like your teen has forgotten how to read anything that is not on a glowing screen. According to the National Council of Teachers of English, “The more one reads, the more fluent one becomes as a reader. The more one reads, the easier it becomes to sustain the mental effort necessary to comprehend complex texts. The more one reads, the more one learns about the people and happenings of our world.”* So, how do we get our teens to read more?

In order for struggling readers to become better readers, they have to READ, which is the last thing they want to do if they are struggling.

One of the best ways to motivate all teenagers to read is to find books on (or just above or below) their level that are of high interest to them. If they can find books they love about their interests, they are much more likely to actually read. Whether it’s helping your child find a book about social justice or one about skateboarding, putting in the time to find the right book is a great investment. Your child’s teachers and school librarian can be great resources for finding books. (And don’t forget about graphic novels and comic books, which can be helpful for struggling readers because of the visual cues.) When your child does read a book she loves, use whatshouldireadnext.com to find similar books. Consider getting your teen an e-reader, such as a Kindle, if he seems more willing to read on a screen.

Another way to motivate teens and tweens to read is to model it for them. Talk to your child about what you are reading, whether it’s a report for your job or a just-for-fun novel. Let your teen see you reading for pleasure.  Or why not read the same book as your child and start up conversations about it? When you finish the book, bake cookies together and share a treat while talking about the characters. Go out to a coffee shop and share thoughts on a book while sipping lattes. Young adult (YA) fiction, as the teen genre is called, includes plenty of deep thematic ideas to dig into. You can each read the book simultaneously, or you can read aloud to each other. Reading to your kids doesn’t have to stop in elementary school. For more ideas on how to start reading aloud to your older kids, check out the Read-Aloud Revival podcast or read the book The Read-Aloud Family: Making Meaningful and Lasting Connections with Your Kids by Sarah Mackenzie. Taking an interest in what your teenager is reading can build your relationship with him or her as well as promote more time spent reading.

What about when your kids are assigned a book for school, and they just can’t get excited about it? No! Don’t give them the CliffsNotes version! I suggest having them read the book while listening to the audiobook at the same time. The audio keeps them moving along through the book and will hopefully draw them into the plot.  This technique works for all kids but is especially helpful for students with learning disabilities, such as dyslexia and ADHD. Or even plan a family movie night to watch the film adaptation. In my high school classroom, we watched Romeo and Juliet before reading Shakespeare’s play to give students a context for their reading and to get them excited about the storyline.

Whether your teens struggle with reading due to a lack of motivation or to learning disabilities, there are ways you can support them. Taking a genuine, constructive interest in your teens’ reading lives can help them improve their reading abilities and can also deepen the family bond over a shared experience with books.

* https://ncte.org/statement/independent-reading/

Audra Glidewell is a former high school English teacher with a passion for helping students build their literacy skills. She earned her M.Ed. in Literacy Studies from the University of Texas at Arlington. Audra is also the Senior Copy Editor and Proofreader for Good Life Family Magazine.

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