My son, 14, just won’t read. Okay, that may be an exaggeration, but simply put, I’ve failed to inculcate the joy of reading in him. Our whole family loves reading and the house is stacked with books. I’ve tried introducing every kind of book to him since he was a kid—from fiction, non-fiction, biographies to sports books—but a book acts like a sleeping pill for him. His school requires him to review a book a fortnight. To get him to read that one book is a major hassle. I don’t want to hold a gun to his head and put him off books forever. He has no problems with study books, incidentally—he just doesn’t get reading for pleasure. Downtime is spent playing computer games, cricket or watching TV. Any ideas?
Self-help: Read aloud to your child.
It may sound a bit outlandish, and your son may at first think you’re trying to baby him, but I think it still works: Read to him. Yes, even to a 14-year-old. Only, don’t do it at bedtime, so that it doesn’t appear like a babyish activity. However, once he gets used to the idea, you could read to him when he’s in bed too.
Very few youngsters don’t enjoy a good story. It’s just that the medium, a book, has become a bit of a “bore” to a lot of children this age. The act of sitting down and engaging with just paper and print seems static and dull to them in this age of everything dancing or singing, parachuting or exploding on a screen. You could sequence it this way: First ask him which book he would like to get to know. Don’t use the word “read” at all—make it clear that he does not have to read it, he only has to choose two books that interest him. Then fix a time that works for you both and sit together—just 20 minutes is good enough to start with; you’ll be surprised at how much reading ground you can cover in that time.
If you think you can swing it right away (or then a few sessions later), you can ask him to read some of it out to you—the two of you can alternate this way—during one session. If he baulks at this or ridicules this or if you find this odd, let me assure you that many adults read a book this way. They take turns to read it out loud to each other. This way, the book comes alive and you save each other some eye strain! Being read to is a very different and soothing feeling—perhaps a throwback to when we were children. In the context of reluctant readers such as your son, being read to definitely takes the resistance out of reading. You may just find that he gets drawn into reading on his own after a few weeks of this. If not, you will have still drawn him into the world of books, somewhat. “Talking books”, after all, is a thriving trend.
Some parents literally bribe their children to read. There really is no point cajoling and inducing children to read or setting them reading tasks. They’ll do it for you, but will not cross over to reading for the sheer pleasure of it. When a parent or any significant adult gets involved in the active act of reading and getting children acquainted with books and their contents, it goes a much longer way.
Taking the high road—“reading is for really smart people” or “computers and game stations and movies are no-brainer activities”, among others—just does not work because a) it’s not true, and b) it is likely to put a child’s back up and increase his resistance to reading.
Gouri Dange is the author of The ABCs of Parenting.
Send your queries to Gouri at firstname.lastname@example.org