by Meredith Flory

In 2016, the Pew Research Center revealed that 26% of American adults admitted to not reading any part of a book in the last year, and this included audio and electronic book formats. While this doesn’t necessarily take into account those that read frequently in other forms, such as magazines or news articles, it does include readers that may not have finished a complete book or do not read frequently. If I want to encourage you to “raise readers,” this means raising adults that still use reading as a way to learn, empathize, better themselves, and to simply relax and escape, not just raising children who enjoy reading.

So, what do you do if your high schooler is behind on reading, or is an efficient reader, but doesn’t enjoy it anymore? What are some of the unique challenges to raising a teenage reader?  To answer this question, I looked through my interview and research notes of the past year– what had parents, educators, and researchers shared with me that was specific to encouraging teens in reading and writing?

Modeling Reading for Pleasure

Teens beginning to take AP or honors classes will be asked to read more difficult literature that may not be appealing to them. There may be a historical or cultural barrier to understanding the text, they may have to read more in shorter amounts of time, and they may be asked to analyze texts in ways that requires more difficult thinking.  This may cause some teens to associate reading only with work, and not something that is pleasurable.  You can help encourage them to continue reading for fun by facilitating constructive “brain breaks” over weekends, holidays, or even on a weeknight they seem particularly stressed.  Several educators I have spoken with have suggested board games as a way for families to bond and relax, while still encouraging word play and critical thinking.  If your child has a younger sibling, allowing them to participate in reading bedtime stories to the younger child, or having the whole family read a book that is easy enough for everyone, can encourage both children to have confidence in their skills.

Reading for school can become more and more frustrating for a struggling reader that continues to fall behind.  Instead of asking these teens to read for long amounts of time, help your teen manage their study time and take breaks so they don’t become overwhelmed.  Karen Cliett, an educator in Richmond County, advises having struggling readers tackle “fewer sentences at a time,” rather than being expected to work on large pieces of reading. Helping your teenager break down one paragraph of a difficult reading assignment can help build their confidence as they work to understand just one piece of the information.  She also suggested the website – a website that has informational texts that allow you to change the lexile score while the content and accompanying picture stays the same. Teens read at a level that is comfortable to them, then read the same news article at a more challenging score context – this can help them practice using context clues to determine the meaning of a word, and work on understanding longer, more complex sentences. is another site that will take pieces of text and reword them into an easier to understand language.

Building Vocabulary in Creative Ways

Many teens are preparing to take college entrance exams, such as the SAT or ACT, and Trina Finlay, an educator in Columbia County, says apps are particularly helpful for building vocabulary. Finlay recommends the College Board app, Kahn Academy, and Ready4SAT.  Word game apps or websites can also be a fun way to continually work on increasing a teen’s use of more descriptive and difficult words.

Cliett acknowledges that understanding root words can help build vocabulary at a faster rate, as students can use this as a tool to determine the possible meaning of an unfamiliar word. Older students do not have the luxury of time to build their vocabulary one word at a time like younger children do so instead of learning lists of words as younger children do, teens who are still struggling to build their vocabulary need help understanding prefixes, suffixes, and how words are put together. Understanding the root of a word, will allow teens to learn how to determine the word meaning as they go.  Feeling comfortable with looking up definitions or synonyms can help too, so allow your teen to see you looking up a word on an app, or talking about other words you could use that sound better can also show that part of lifelong learning is not feeling shame in asking about what you do not know.

Encouraging Emerging Talent and Skills 

Older teens are beginning to think about what their adult plans will be.  Reading can be a great way for a teen to explore their options, and you can model how reading or writing is important in your own chosen field.  If you have to bring work home, think about how you might be able to share some of that work with your teen. Can you show them a newsletter or email you are writing?  How important are communication skills in talking to your clients? Perhaps you have a friend that works in a field your teen is interested in – would they suggest reading material or let your teen visit their office to see the skills required? As a teacher, I would often show my high school and college students professional letters, my resume, or other material I had to write on the job in order to demonstrate how the skills they were learning in my class might apply to a job they want. And in doing so, it also helped build connections with my students.

You can also subscribe to age appropriate magazines on a hobby, possible career field, or any other topic of interest to help introduce your teen to reading and new vocabulary.

As an educator, Finaly suggests checking in with a media specialist or English teacher at your child’s school to see what extracurricular activities related to reading are available. Finaly often hosts reading bowls, book clubs, and poetry events to encourage writing and reading.  While the students that participate are often those that already enjoy reading, it is important to encourage your child if they are a strong reader and help them find social outlets for their interests.

This article appears in the September 2017 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
Did you like what you read here?