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10 ways to encourage your high-schooler to read

By Louise Baigelman, MEd

When teens struggle with reading , getting them to sit down and actually do it can be challenging. But it doesn’t have to be a battle. Use these strategies to encourage your teen to read more.

1. Keep things real.

Make explicit connections between the ability to read and future options in life. If she’s thinking about college or a career path, have open, honest discussions about the ways reading might be necessary for success. Find role models who struggled with dyslexia , but who persevered and came out on top. Just be careful to discuss, not preach. Encourage your child to brainstorm with you and to generate some of the ideas you discuss.

2. Let your teen choose.

The best way to encourage kids to read is to allow them to read whatever they find engaging , whether it’s comic books, cookbooks, or romance novels about vampires or zombies. The books they’re drawn to might not be your favorites, but don’t discourage those preferences. Reading is reading. Avoid any urge to censor their choices.

3. Look for books at your teen’s reading level.

When teens struggle with reading in high school, it can be challenging to find high-interest books at their reading level. Look for books that specifically target reluctant teen readers, such as those offered through Story Shares and Saddleback Educational Publishing. It’s also a good idea to let your child use assistive technology that makes reading easier , such as audiobooks . Getting practice with an accessible text is better than giving up on a traditional book that is geared for more advanced readers.

Note: The author is the executive director of Story Shares, a nonprofit organization that distributes high-interest content for struggling older readers.

4. Model reading.

The best way to create a culture of reading in your home is to read as much as possible. The more kids see their parents reading, the more likely they are to follow suit. This doesn’t change once they enter high school. Teens are even more resistant to any message that implies do as I say, not as I do.

5. Discuss what your child reads.

Talk in meaningful ways about what your child reads. Ask questions and encourage debate. Create an environment of deep discussion and critical thinking. Talking frequently about what kids are reading can help in more ways than one. For example, kids who have or ADHD may prefer talking about a story to reading it. Help kids stay motivated by having them read short passages and then discussing them.

6. Resist the urge to criticize.

When teens are reluctant readers, you want to prevent them from shutting down about reading altogether. And that means keeping negative opinions about what they read to yourself. If you don’t like the vampire stories your teen likes, don’t voice that criticism. If you think magazines are inferior to novels, don’t share that opinion while your teen is reading a magazine. Be tolerant and encourage kids to read, whatever form that takes.

7. Find a compelling series.

Readers who get hooked on the first book in a series can follow the same characters or themes through many more books. For teens with learning and thinking differences, starting a new book can be daunting. But the familiarity of a series can make it easier to understand the text and can reduce the negative feelings associated with starting a new reading task. Find the right characters or themes, and even reluctant readers will be eager to pick up the next book in the series.

8. Connect reading to your teen’s passion.

By high school, struggling readers may have lost the motivation to work on reading skills. But you can encourage them to stay engaged by looking for ways to connect reading to subjects that are relevant to them. For example, if your teen is a reluctant reader who wants to work with animals, make it clear how important reading will be to learn more about veterinary science.

9. Tie reading to social media.

If your child likes texting friends and posting on social networks, you can give mini-assignments that use those interests. For example, encourage your teen to start following a blog and to read interesting posts aloud to you occasionally. Or you could ask your teen to be on the lookout for interesting abbreviations people use in texts and then make a cheat sheet or to quiz you on what these abbreviations stand for.

10. Leverage interest in current events.

Highlight the ways that your high-schooler can use reading to keep tabs on what’s happening in the world. Encourage your child to pick up a newspaper or subscribe to a magazine. For teens with learning and thinking differences, reading might seem frustrating or boring. But if your child is interested in sports, politics, celebrities, music, you name it, there will always be something to read.

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