Parenting advice: How to make teenagers read a book

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If adults who are illiterate cannot influence their child’s interest in reading, and we continue to cut back elementary and second teacher-librarians who will be there to inspire children and teenagers to be interested in reading books? Also, if media continues to attract the attention of adults during the day (TV, social networking, gaming, email, texting) what time is left to show children how enjoyable and important reading books can be.

The importance of modeling reading to young children and teenagers cannot be understated. Our brain contains mirror neurons and what is referred to as the mirror neuron system. Essentially, neuroscience research is showing that mirror neurons fire in our brain when we observe someone doing an action or when we do the action ourselves. Even just imaging the action can cause the mirror neurons to fire. As children watch us perform actions their mirror neurons replicate what we are doing. If we attach that action to a pleasurable activity such as reading to your child than the dopamine reward system is activated. Dopamine is released in the brain reinforcing the pleasure of that action for our children. Thus, when a parent picks up a book and snuggles up to their child before bedtime this association is reinforced between the mirror neurons and the dopamine reward system.

Research is showing that there is a significant correlation between reading aloud to children and educational advantages. In 1985, a landmark report in the U.S. called “Becoming a Nation of Readers” stated that reading aloud to children is “the single most important activity for building knowledge required for eventual success in reading”. Reading aloud also promotes vocabulary development, listening skills, attention span and other emergent literacy skills. However, if a parent cannot read efficiently how many will even attempt a bedtime story? More importantly, if reading is not modeled to children as a pleasurable activity how many of these children will discover this fact themselves as teenagers?

Given the information above one can easily understand why reading books for pleasure is declining for both adults and teenagers. There is a lot to do to reverse this trend both at the parent and school level. As a society we have to address adult illiteracy and increase funding to schools to promote a love for reading books. More importantly, the competition for the teenager’s time in terms of media usage may be a reality we cannot change. This fact then brings to light how the brain of a teenager will change as a result. We may not be providing enough opportunities for teenagers to further develop empathy, social cognition, attention, language, and reasoning skills.

There are many factors that could be interfering with a teenager’s willingness to read a book. Now to answer your next question: Is there anything I can do about it?

Let’s assume you read to your teenager as a child and show a continued love for reading yourself. Let’s assume your child does not have a reading disability, like Dyslexia, or has an attention disorder (ADHD) that causes frustration when reading. If this is the case, then your teenage son is in a prime position to reading books once again. Though, you now have to lure of social media or just media in general. For example, video gaming and social networking are extremely attractive dopamine reward systems. At this point, setting boundaries for media usage may be important to free up time for the teenager to read books.

Here are some recommendations for encouraging your teenage son to read books. Some of these recommendations may seem impossible. This all depends on your son’s personality and connection to family. Also, he just might be in a stage where he is not interested in reading a book outside of school and may one day develop the habit again. Here are some ideas:

  • Set a time in your house that reading is the only activity permitted. No exceptions for any family member. You might start with a 30 minute reading time on Saturday and Sunday. If there still young enough, this might work.

  • Set boundaries on media time per day (TV, video gaming, computer, etc). If there is down time and a book of interest is available, he might just read it.

  • As a parent, share the findings or ideas from a good book that you are reading with your teenage son. Make it a discussion point at dinner. Read from the book or quote from the book at ask his opinion on this idea or finding.

  • Encourage your teenage son to read before turning off the lights to sleep. Promote this activity over video gaming just before bedtime. This is where my two teenage boys read the most. Each spend about 60 minutes reading before sleeping.

  • Play audio books in the car to encourage the love for story-telling.

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