Raising Readers—When They’re Fast Growing Up

teen reading 2019

I thought I had the formula down for getting a kid to love reading, So I did the same things with my second son as I’d done with my first: same bedtime reading routines, same trips to the library, same evolution from picture books to read-aloud favorites. But as he got older, whenever I suggested curling up with a novel, he’d say, “Yeah…no thanks.” Naturally, I pushed until one day he smacked his hands on his hips and said, “I’m not like you, Mom. I don’t love fiction.” Gulp.

Right around that time, my older son was being pulled in one direction by the middle-school workload and in five other directions by binge-worthy shows, his phone, friends, swim practice and play rehearsal. Factor in social media and video games, and reading was becoming an afterthought. 

But...no! As a novelist myself, I refused to go down without a fight. Maybe it sounds cheesy (I can totally picture my teen rolling his eyes here), but I firmly believe reading helps kids become good people. How can you read The Fault in Our Stars and not think about what it means to lose someone you love? The Hate U Give encourages readers to empathize with victims of police brutality—just like The Book Thief makes the Holocaust feel very real to 21st-century teens. Since I wasn’t giving up on reading in my household, it was time for a game plan.

Books Are Not One Size Fits All 

My son said he wasn’t into fiction. But he didn’t say he wasn’t into reading. Instead of force-feeding him what I wanted him to read, I followed his interests, which at that moment were military history and geography. I got him atlases and, sure enough, he dove onto the couch, buried deep in maps and World War II secret codes. 

Work Those Movie Books 

I recently brought a teen friend to the bookstore to buy some novels before a plane ride. She couldn’t figure out what to get, so I asked what movies she loved. Love, Simon and Everything, Everything were a couple of favorites, so we selected the books those movies were based on. Her dad later told me she devoured one of the books on the flight and insisted on finding another by the same author. 

Don’t Knock the Library 

I always have books on hold, and I pick them up and swap them out, giving us a rotating stack of choices. When my kids are craving online shopping, I direct them to the library website: They search for books—click, next, click—and we don’t spent a dime. 

Step Away from the Screen 

Netflix is awesome but there has to be a regular time when everyone puts down their shows (and games and Insta). Yeah, parents too. I often read novels after my boys finish them, which they love, and we talk about them over dinner.  

Bring on the Bookstore Battle Sometimes we’ll go to a bookstore and I’ll tell my sons they can pick out one shared book and they have to keep it under 20 bucks. Suddenly it’s like they’re mining for gold. They’ll make piles of books, weigh the pros and cons, and argue about who will read it first—and that is totally my kind of sibling fight. 

Carolyn Mackler is the author of several novels for children and young adults. Her latest book, Not if I Can Help It, is about a girl with sensory processing disorder.