Parents and Young Adult Literature (page 3)
“Tell me a story.”
“Read just one more!”
“Can we go to the library today?”
Such requests are among the pleasant memories that parents have of their young children. These memories become even more cherished when parents look at these same children, now teenagers rushing off to part-time jobs or after-school sports or spending so much time with friends that they no longer seem to have time to do required school assignments, much less read a book. When parents ask us what they can do to encourage their teenage children to read, we find it easier to tell them what not to do because we’ve observed at least three clear-cut roads to failure.
- Don’t nag. There’s simply no way to force young adults to read, much less to enjoy it. Don’t nag. There’s simply no way to force young adults to read, much less to enjoy it.
- If you choose to read the books your teenagers are reading, don’t do it as a censor or with the intent of checking up on your child or your child’s school. If you choose to read the books your teenagers are reading, don’t do it as a censor or with the intent of checking up on your child or your child’s school.
- Don’t suggest books to your teenager with the only purpose being to teach moral lessons. Don’t suggest books to your teenager with the only purpose being to teach moral lessons.
Lest we appear unduly pessimistic, we hasten to add that we have also seen some genuinely rewarding reading partnerships between teenagers and their parents. These successful partnerships have resembled the kind of reading-based friendships that adults have with each other. Mutual respect is involved, and the partners take turns making suggestions of what will be good to read. Conversations about characters, plots, authors, and subject matter come up naturally, with no one asking teacher-type questions and no one feeling pressured to talk about what he or she has just read.
Teenagers enjoy being in a helping role (i.e., being experts whose opinions are valued). Some of the best partnerships we’ve seen have been between our students whose teenage children have volunteered to read and share their opinions on the books they’ve seen their mothers reading (sorry, we can’t remember hearing of fathers in this role, although we have known fathers who do read and serve as examples). A key to enticing young people to read is simply to have lots of books and magazines available. But they need to be available for genuine browsing and reading by everyone in the family, not purchased and planted in a manner that will appear phony to the teenager. A teenager who has never seen his or her parents read for pleasure will surely be suspicious when parents suddenly become avid readers on the day after parent-teacher conferences.
Perhaps a more important benefit than modeling behavior is that when parents read some of the best new books (the Honor List is a good starting place), they gain an understanding of what is involved in being a teenager today. Parents who have read some of the realistic problem novels have things to discuss with their children regardless of whether their children have read the same books. Even when children are not interested in heart-to-heart discussions, parents are more understanding if they’ve read about the kinds of turmoil that teenagers face in struggling to become emotionally independent. In our own classes, and we understand the same is true for others teaching young adult literature, we are getting an increasing number of adult students who are there simply because they enjoy reading and talking about the young adult fiction that was not being written when they were teenagers. Those who are parents of teenagers consider it serendipitous if their teenagers also get interested and begin reading the same books.
A more structured approach is for parents to work with youth groups and church groups or to volunteer as a friend of either the public library or the school library. These kinds of activities provide parents with extra opportunities to involve young people in sharing reading experiences. In such situations, it is often a benefit to have other young people involved and for parents to trade off, so that they aren’t always the leader for the particular group in which their child is a member.
© ______ 2009, Allyn & Bacon, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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