I am having trouble getting my 12-year-old to do his nightly required reading. He is a pretty good student, but we fight about his reading log every single night. My friends are saying the same thing about their kids; they never pick up a book for fun and they argue when they have to read for school. What can we do?
A recent report from Common Sense Media stated that about one third of 13-year-olds and almost half of 17-year-olds said that they read for pleasure fewer than two times a year. That is outrageous! Still, I was not surprised to read the findings of this report. Year after year, as digital devices become more present in every aspect of our lives, I have observed a steady decline in my clients' children's interest in reading. Here are my thoughts:
• Read. There is no better way to encourage a child to enjoy a good book than to make sure that he (regularly) sees you enjoying a good book. I know you're overloaded, overwhelmed and strapped for time. I know that it's tempting to veg out in front of the TV at the end of a long day. But if you want your child to associate reading with something pleasurable, then you will have to show -- not tell -- your child that how much you get from immersing yourself in a good book.
• Buy good books. There are thousands of outstanding books for children of every age level and area of interest. Visit the library, spend time browsing at the bookstore, or let your child search online for recommendations based on books she has liked so that you aren't asking her to read something she isn't enjoying.
• Limit screen time. For most children, it is easier to play a video game or watch TV than it is to generate pictures in your imagination as you read and make sense of written material. If you want your child to read more, you're going to have to endure his complaints. "I don't feel like reading right now. My head hurts. It's boring. It's hard." Be kind, acknowledge his feelings about wanting to be "plugged in" to something, and put your feet up with a good book. He may decide that since there's nothing "better" to do, he may as well join you.
• Make reading about love and connection. Cuddle up with your child while you take turns reading aloud. Get cozy on the couch as you each share a bowl of popcorn while you read anything -- even a comic book! Transform reading from an isolated experience that she has to log for 20 minutes into something that feels good, and you'll be on your way to helping your child fall in love with reading.
I have often said that if a child completes high school with a passion for learning and a love of reading, his education will have been a success. Don't give up on helping your child discover the endless gifts and wide horizons that come with developing a love affair with reading.
Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected. She is a family therapist, parent coach, and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting.
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