The World of Teens and Books
by Eddie Jones
The Internet, smart phones, online gaming, and streaming videos have changed the reading habits of our youth. Can we keep books in “their” social network? According to a recent study by Common Sense Media, nearly half of six- to eight-year-olds are daily readers, however, by the time they reach high school age that number has dropped to a quarter of all youth. By age 17, only 19% of youth are daily readers.
“American girls read for pleasure for an average of 10 minutes more per day than boys, a trend that starts with young children and persists into the teenage years,” reports KidsScreen author, Wendy Goldman Getzle.” It’s also reflected in achievement scores, with a gap of 12 percentage points in the proportion of girls vs. boys scoring “proficient” in reading in the eighth grade in 1992 and 11 points in 2012.
A quick review of what’s selling in the YA book market shows a heavy dose of dystopia and dark stories for those youth who do read for fun. Meghan Cox Gurdon, Children’s Book Reviewer for The Wall Street Journal asks:
“How dark is contemporary fiction for teens? Darker than when you were a child, my dear: So dark that kidnapping and pederasty and incest and brutal beatings are now just part of the run of things in novels directed, broadly speaking, at children from the ages of 12 to 18.”
First let’s address the gender gap. Generally speaking, boys enjoy stories with male leads. Girls will read books about boys, but boys rarely read books where the girl is the primary focus of the story. So if you’re aim is to get your son reading for fun, pick a story that includes a male lead who possesses a unique skill but appears overmatched by adversaries and problems. The book should include a specific goal (treasure), consequences for failure (death of someone or thing) and show the value of moral choice (book’s theme). Boys like action, physical confrontation, and most⎯though they won’t admit it⎯secretly like having a female friend in which they confide. This is one reason why books with a reluctant female partner appeal to both genders. (Think Hermione and Harry Potter.) This may explain why girls enjoy stories with strong male characters who demonstrate sound moral judgment and act honorably.
If your child enjoys solving puzzles, suggest a good mystery. Invite them to become a super sleuth. If it’s a murder mystery, ask who dies, why and how? This gives you an opportunity to talk with your child about the consequence of violence in a non-threatening way. See if your child can list the names of suspects, possible motives and clues. Adventure and coming-of-age novels lend themselves to different questions but the idea is to get your child talking about the book.
Suggest a special place for reading. For boys, a tree fort or make-shift hideout can be a safe and exciting place to read. A closet can serve as a pretend cave. Drape a bed sheet over chairs and suddenly you have an indoor tent. Your aim is to give your child a secret reading spot that becomes their own.
Establish a set reading time. Aim for a time of day when your child is mentally alert. Establish a page limit, a chapter for example, or a set time.
Offer to read aloud to your child. Even older kids enjoy listening to a great story read aloud. Studies have shown that tweens and teens whose parents read to them have higher reading scores on standardized test.
Encourage your child to create a book club. Encourage them to invite friends to become members. Offer to take their book club on a field trip as a reward for finishing and reviewing a book.
Readers are leaders—buy a child a book and change a life.
Eddie is a North Carolina-based writer and founder of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. He is also an award-winning author with HarperCollins. His middle-grade series, the Caden Chronicles, is a paranormal murder mystery series. Dead Man’s Hand is the 2013 Selah Award winner for Young Adult fiction and Dead Low Tide was recently nominated for a Selah. Learn more about the Caden Chronicles and its super sleuth, Nick Caden, at CoolGhoulGazette.com. Visit EddieJones.org for information on how to become a better writer.
We’d like to hear from you. Please share your comments below or like us on your Facebook page. Be sure to check back each month for more articles and products available at your local Christian bookstore.