You’ve got to be a reader to raise a reader: My take on recent research on teens and reading

Common Sense Media recently issued a report about kids and teens and their reading habits. The four principal findings (I’m going to quote CSN directly) were these:

  1. Reading rates have dropped precipitously among adolescents.
  2. Reading achievement among older teens has stagnated.
  3. There’s a persistent gap in reading scores between white, black, and Latino kids.
  4. There’s also a gender gap in reading across ages.

The NY Times and NPR are both aghast at the findings, but their responses focused more on the problem — and how it has arisen — than on solutions. Common Sense Media itself has offered several strategies to increase reading, but I’m going to suggest my own.

4 Ways to Get The Kids in Your Life Reading

  1. Shut off the TV, computer, and all visual media. I’m not just saying this as a religious person, I’m saying this is as a teacher: kids will choose these forms of entertainment when they are accessible, but they have been shown to negatively impact literacy, attention, and more. Make your TV and computer less accessible. No TVs in children’s rooms, for one, and password protect all computers.
  2. Let kids and teens read what they want, not only “classics” or what’s on a course syllabus. People who follow my blog know that I’m a staunch censor of my kids reading material — but not for style or genre. If your kid likes graphic novels or comics, hunt them down. They prefer non-fiction over novels? Help them find non-fiction books. Are they the hands-on type? Find them how-to manuals on home repair, car repair, gardening, origami…whatever.
  3. The library is your friend. Kids will need a constant stream of reading material, and if you plan to fork out the bucks to pay for it, you might begin to resent it. Go to your library. If there are several nearby, visit all of them and find the branch your kids like most. You’ll save money, the librarians often can aim you to great picks, and even if your kids are lured by computers, you can tell them that they must pick out three new titles to take home before they sign onto a computer game.
  4. And, PLEASE, be a reader yourself. This is the most important tip of all. When you go to the library, pick some books for yourself. Verbally describe how you picked those titles. Read them on the couch beside your kids. If you want to learn something, say, aloud: “I wonder if there’s a book in the library to teach me how to do that?” and follow up on it. If you drive under a billboard for an upcoming movie that looks appealing, wonder (again, aloud): “Hmmm, is that movie based on a book? Maybe we should read it first?”

All these strategies have worked in our home, and I hope they help y’all out, too. Of course, then you might have book addicts. And you might have to pry magazines out of their hands late at night.

Avid readers out there, do you remember what got you reading? Teachers, parents, aunts, and uncles, how do you encourage the kids in your lives to read? Please share your strategies in the comments.

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