I’m sure I’m showing my age but who else remembers the RIF* “Reading is Fundamental” commercials on TV in the 70s/80s? “Once a child learns to read, the world becomes an open book!”
I grew up reading everything I could get my hands on: Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, trips to the school library for whatever the librarian suggested, my father’s Time Life hardcover books on World War 2 (yeah, I was that kid…) and every magazine that came to the house. We typically ordered a ton of mags that my mom would read first and then they’d make their way to the waiting room of my dad’s dental practice for the patients to read. The happiest days of my elementary school experience were when the Scholastic Book Club order forms would be handed out and I’d circle everything I wanted to buy, then get brought back to Earth by my mom telling me to pare it down!
I was talking with a high school girl recently about cell phone use and social media. After hearing her describe the countless hours her friends spend (waste?) on social media, I asked her about her personal phone habits. Thankfully, her mom has set limits on her phone which this young woman was actually relieved by; it gives her a structure that she admitted she might not be able to set on her own. When asked about what she missed about pre-cellphone-life, she immediately said reading books. (cue my “crazy, bewildered face” look). I said “What do you mean?” I didn’t understand because I read all the time, sometimes on a Kindle but mainly hard copy books from the library.
Imagine my dismay when she told me that hardly anyone reads books anymore because they are always surfing social. She noticed her own lack of reading and was planning to make a concerted effort to read more. When she mentioned it to a friend, the friend replied “I haven’t read a book in years outside of school. My attention span is shot. I can’t even watch the one-minute TikTok videos because they’re too long.” This girl is 14. Heaven help us.
We need to help kids find the joy in reading again! If they have reading issues, audiobooks are also a great option. A study from 2016 showed that a third of high schoolers hadn’t read a book for pleasure in the last year. The problem isn’t just that they aren’t reading for fun, it’s that the attention span needs to be trained and reading comprehension needs to grow in order for the student to understand and retain the more complicated material they will encounter in college. A kid that is reading books for fun with involved plot lines, larger words, and expanded world views is more likely to handle academic reading better than one who isn’t.
How do we get them to read more and scroll less without nagging and making it a chore? Well, it isn’t by forcing them or threatening to take their phones away; that will just make them rebel against it. The best thing would be to make good content available to them at home. Do you have a bookshelf of your old favorite books? Maybe leave some of them around the house and casually mention the ones you loved. Model good behavior for them with regard to phones and reading; perhaps you can have a designated reading time for yourself and make it known that you put your phone in another room while you read so you’re not tempted to scroll. Ask them how they feel about reading and make trips to the library together. Maybe there is a series of Young Adult books that you could read together and discuss over a trip to Starbucks or other fun activity or even offer to host a “phone-free book club” for her and a few of her friends. Watch a movie adaptation of a book and then read it to compare differences! The book is often better, as they’ll see. Go to a bookstore and roam together, letting your child choose the aisles and subject matter; you’ll learn a lot about what’s on their minds by observing their choices. There are so many options of activities that lead to or encourage reading while making great memories with your child.
If you’re unsure where to start, here is a terrific link to some amazing books for teens! I’m making my way through them myself:
I hope you’ll take notice of your children’s reading habits and encourage them to fit reading for fun into their life in whatever form works best for them.
* Reading is Fundamental, Inc. (RIF) is the largest non-profit children’s literacy organization in the United States. Founded in 1966, its mission is to make reading a fun and beneficial part of everyday life. Even more important, RIF fosters equity and empowerment through reading with a vision of creating an opportunity for all children to be successful readers.