Remember that feeling of picking out a stack of books, running to the most obliging adult, and begging them to read you a story? Then there is that warm, tingly feeling you still have when you see a book from elementary school--one of those the teacher read to the class as we all lost ourselves in an imaginary world for a bit. Reading is one of those common experiences we all share. It is entertainment, education and promotes bonding. We begin experiencing reading even before we can do it by ourselves. By middle and high school, something happens though. No longer do we look forward to those "class books" and those shared moments. Why is this? What changed?
Well, here's what I see everyday in my job as a 7th grade English teacher. My middle school students can all tell me about a book sharing experience that brings out a smile, however, these experiences are few and far between after 5th grade. Frequently, parents ask me what books their child should be reading. That one is easy to answer. Too often, parents ask what book their child IS reading and each time I answer, I am sure to include a reason or two for a parent to pick up a book with their child.
Here are my top five reasons adults should continue to read with the teens in their lives, well after the kids are reading on their own:
5. Fun: Let's face it, many of these YA books are big in the entertainment biz. Just look at Harry Potter, Twilight and most recently, Hunger Games. Reading some of these pop culture phenomenons along with your kids can offer up a fun experience for the whole family. Last year, during the Hunger Games boom, so many kids were reading the series, we organized a field trip to the movie. Nearly the entire 7th grade (300 kids) went and we had parents volunteering to chaperone like we had never had before. While there was learning involved, the whole experience ended up more like a big celebration of pop culture and community building.
4. Conversation: For many adults, talking to teens feels like a litany of chores lists, commands and discipline. Having a common book to talk about can lighten the mood a little and give both you and your child the chance to practice having adult conversations. Book talk can eliminate the threat of judgement and "personal" topics, allowing both kids and parents to let down their guard a bit.
3. Support: Reading, even fiction novels, is essential for learning. As the readers age and become more and more complex, so does the structure, vocabulary and content of the books written for them. To help students access the new levels of reading and analysis, they need help. They need to hear conversations about the books, they need to hear a broader vocabulary and they need to develop an understanding of the content of the novel. Even the most informal of conversations about the text can boost their engagement and encourage them to pursue the outcome of a more challenging story.
2. Bonding: Even if you aren't entertained by the books your teen is reading, there is this unspoken bond that happens between people who have read the same book, as if only they share secrets the author has whispered. Reading these books also gives adults an inside look at the topics that interest, intrigue, confuse and fascinate their developing young adult.
1. Unsuspected Surveillance: Odd as it may seem, reading the same books as the teens in your life gives you an inside look into their world and may alert you to problems before they become tragedies. With this one, you do have to use some caution and intelligence so you don't jump to conclusions. Teens are naturally interested in drama, so the teen pregnancy stories and stories about drug abuse and such do not mean your child is involved in these activities. However, being able to have those conversations mentioned in reason four will give you the open door you need if you suspect poor choices. The best example I have of this actually inspired this blog post and comes from my best friend and her stepson. I noticed he posted on his Facebook about someone creating a fake profile with the name Hannah Baker and talking about people from school. Immediately, I was alarmed and able to message both him and my friend about handling the situation carefully. See, in the book Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, Hannah Baker is a character who committed suicide and left her suicide note in the form of thirteen tapes to be passed along between the thirteen people she felt responsible for her choice. A fact I knew because I had recently read the heart wrenching book.
Teens often hide "their world" from adults and believe no one will understand them. They want to reach out and connect with us, but frequently don't know how. They try using coded messages and actions like the Facebook incident above, hoping someone will pick up on the message and reach out to them. Sharing the reading experience with them provides avenues for communication and trust that may not be there otherwise. Give it a try, ask your kids what they are reading, pick up a copy and join them. Can't hurt.