How do I get my teenager off her phone and back reading?
Lorraine Levis offers some practical suggestions, reading tips and YouTube links
Lorraine Levis: we need to find a way to bring reading back into their lives, rather than taking the phone out.
My 13-year-old has stopped reading and won’t look up from her phone. How do I get her back?
When it comes to the question I get asked most often, this one easily takes the top spot. There are many reasons why children move away from reading but I do think the main focus should be the start of the statement, not the end.
You say that she’s stopped reading which implies that she did at some point. I’m also going to assume that this is a query about encouraging them to read for fun, rather than you looking for tips on how to get them to do their English homework. I am not much use for the latter unfortunately but the former can have many solutions. First, we need to look at why children might be turning away from books and to phones instead as I think it’s safe to say they’re not spending hours playing Snake like I was.
Children grow up with such varying experiences that it can be so hard to pinpoint the element which will transform your child into a “reader” rather than just someone with the ability to read. That spark inside a child, which allows them to cross the threshold of the written word into an entirely new world, is something which can’t be taught, only really nurtured and developed.
In many ways that spark is also extremely fragile and it’s something that everyone is at risk of losing, not only children. The desire to pick up our phones and endlessly scroll is extremely tempting at times. The same goes for your children but a thousand-fold.
Imagine that instead of mindlessly liking a cartoon your cousin shared or watching a video of a cat trying to jump from a door jam to a wardrobe, your entire social life revolved around a couple of apps where you could easily miss something and be out of the loop when you got back to work the next day. That is the endless expectation placed on young people today. When the world is at your fingertips and you’re expected to be omni-present, it can be hard to justify doing anything else.
But as you say yourself, they used to read. So we need to find a way to bring reading back into their lives, rather than taking the phone out.
Perhaps we should frame our solution with what the phone offers which books don’t?
Reading by definition is a solitary pastime, not normally easily shared in real time. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
Booktuber A Frolic Through Fiction
Booktuber Book Roast
The book club has made a major comeback over the last few years and the stereotype of adults going to each other’s houses to admit they haven’t finished the book and proceed to gossip over wine has largely died out (I won’t say completely, I still haven’t finished Flowers in the Attic).
Many bookshops and libraries now offer free bookclubs for children and teens as well as a good number of schools providing them as an extra-curricular activity.
If none of these options are open to you, make the first move! Discuss the idea with your daughter and see if she has any friends who would be into reading a book a month and getting together to have a chat about it (obviously snacks should be provided). If not, let your community know that there is demand and you might just find there are plenty of other people just waiting for someone to step up!
Of course, if you can’t take your teen into the real world with reading, one of the best/worst/scariest/most exciting things about the internet is the ability for you to find a community for everything you might be interested in. There are always people ready to connect over shared interests and reading is no different. Booktube and book blogs are great places to start and are full of young people using their influence to create fun and engaging content. Finding the intersection between reading and social media can help your child find new and exciting books to read as well as new friends and people to follow.
Leave book snobbery at the door
Now I hope I don’t insult too many people but I feel it needs to be said. If you start a sentence with “when I was your age I was reading x” then you’re really not helping your cause. Publishers have become much more nuanced in producing books that young people can actually relate to.
Before the rise of teen and young adult literature as we know it, reading for pleasure was much more exclusionary as books for older children were rarer or non-existent. Because of this, many went from children’s books directly into adult or, failing that, they would be encouraged to read the classics which didn’t necessary speak to everyone or their experiences. It is helpful if you can leave your judgement at the door and respect their interests and what they want to read, even if you don’t understand it.
So ultimately my main point is to allow children to fit books into their lives, rather than trying to force them to turn to books to the detriment of another element if it. You need to respect that if your child is reading something they enjoy, be it a 500-page epic or an article they’re scrolling through on their phone or an audiobook in the car, reading and stories are personal and given the means and opportunity, they can find a way to fit them in.
Here are my recommendations for books to ease your child back into reading.
The Selection (Series) by Kiera Cass
A dystopian Love Island but with only one possibility. 35 girls compete to win the heart of Prince Maxon but not everything is as it seems. One of the most addictive series I have ever read!
Theodore Boone (Series) by John Grisham
Yes it’s that John Grisham and his teen detective series is as addictive and thrilling as his adult novels. just not as grown-up. It follows a young wannabe lawyer as he get’s caught up in real life cases.
The Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan
Books through verse have risen in popularity and the woman spearheading this rise is our own Laureate na nÓg, Sarah Crossan. Verse novels are a great way to build confidence as you can get through a book quickly but this isn’t the poetry you hated in school. This is poetry that speaks to everyone.
The recommendations below are all wonderful examples of what Booktube is all about. A brilliant community with lots of discussion and debate, it’s a great way to intersect books with social media.
Lorraine is an ex-bookseller, children’s book expert and enthusiast. Her debut nonfiction book, Once Upon a Reader, is publishing with Currach Press this Autumn. She is a children’s sales executive for Penguin Random House