I started reading books when I was about nine years old. Although I can’t really remember exactly what drove me to get my first book and read it to completion, I do know that at that stage in my life I found socialising with my peers exhausting. Doing this at school was enough for me and therefore, I didn’t have the desire to do it when I was home, after school or on weekends.
Then one day, I was doing a school project which required that I go to the library to do research. I wasn’t prepared for what presented itself before me as I walked in – so many books in different shapes and colours.
I must have asked the librarian a thousand questions, and ended up going home with at least five books, three of which were related to my school project and the other two were fictional novels – one from the Goosebumps series and the other from the Sweet Valley High collection.
And I’ve since graduated to averaging two books a month in between all my other adult commitments.
But last year, I encountered a great challenge: how to encourage my teenage sister to read. She seemed to be more interested in watching television or learning lyrics to the latest hit song. This frustrated me a lot.
I introduced “reading hour”, where we both took an hour from our day, and read what we could manage. I quickly saw how irritable this task made her. She grew impatient, and ended up dreading the session.
I had to find a different approach to my pursuit. Luckily enough for me, I’m very persistent and I exercised great patience. Here are the tips that worked for me:
1. Get library membership. While it might seem like an unnecessary thing to do if you prefer to buy your kids their own books that they can keep, the library is where kids their age are. If you can, involve them in the process. The more they see their peers playing around choosing books or reading at the designated areas, the more intrigued they will be.
2. Let them watch movie adaptations. I thought this would have the opposite effect; I believed she wouldn’t be interested in the book because if “it’s in a movie, why read about it then”, but I found that she became interested in how a movie can be different to the book.
3. Get comics. These are easy, light, and quick reads. Which makes perfect material to get them started. I noticed my sister’s love for Supa Strikas comics and because it’s such a quick read, it leaves her hungry to read more.
4. Introduce audiobooks. If your teen owns a smartphone, this is a perfect tool to introduce them to. They don’t have to be carrying books around. The fear of looking like a nerd can hinder their interest in reading because no teen wants to be a nerd because nerds are often bullied. The bonus is, this tool is available on a device they are already attached to. They can listen to audiobooks on their way home to and from school.
5. Find and keep around books with relatable content. Teenagers experience a lot of challenges and struggles in their homes and school. From peer pressure to social awkwardness, changes in their bodies to new feelings that they do not understand, i.e. a crush, grief, loss and more. This also expands to topics they have interests in such as sports or science fiction.
6. Ensure to keep diverse and representational content. The more diverse the content, the better, this will keep their minds busy. Finding a different topic to read about is like finding a new recipe for your favourite meal. It’s vital to have books that have different types of content, especially with topics they enjoy. Another important factor is representation. When they read about people who look like them, sound like them, experience the same things as them, it’s easier for them to be interested to read more.
7. Discuss. If your child’s interest is at its peak and they are talking about the content they’re reading, encourage them. Have a discussion with them about what they’re reading. Talk about the characters and their behaviours. Link the discussions with real-life examples. Talk about the new words and phrases they’ve learned. This is also your chance to re-instill the benefits of reading. Talk about their own progress, like how their vocabulary has expanded and become better.
8. Model reading. I recently saw a Facebook post where a man asked a mother who was reading on the train with her adolescent daughter reading her own book about how she got her child to do that, since “all these kids are attached to their phones nowadays”. She said she didn’t do anything, but that her daughter mimics everything she does. And this couldn’t be truer. I’ve always read in front of my sister and prior to her even showing little interest in reading, she would ask questions like, “What are you reading about this time?”. Practicing what you preach is important. And you are never too late to start reading yourself!
Tell us: do you encourage others to read? How?