Helping Older Children and Teens to Build Good Reading Habits

Helping Older Children and Teens to Build Good Reading Habits

This week we continue our posts on reading in honor of Picture Book Month. Younger children aren’t the only ones who benefit from reading. Teens and young adults get a lot of rewards from reading for pleasure as well. Here’s one of our past posts on helping your older children to find time and books to read.

We have explored why it is so important to read to your children and why it is important for you to read. Well, all those benefits that you can get from reading can also come to your older children and teens when they read to themselves. The trouble is that the rates of reading for pleasure drop as children get older. A recent study found that while about 53% of 9-year-olds read every day, only about 17% of 17-year-olds do. Those numbers are too low for both of those groups.

So why don’t older kids and teens read? Well, the reasons are not that different than the reasons adults give for not reading.

1. They don’t like the things that they are required to read so why torture themselves with more reading once that is done. I will go back to what I said to adults who don’t like to read: There are millions of different reading choices out there. When they are not at school, kids can pick their own reading material. There are a lot of authors who are concerned that children are not reading as much as they used to so they have started web sites to suggest great titles and authors. Check out sites like ReadKiddoRead for kids aged 0-18 and Reading Rants for teens (adults might want to check some of these out as well). Also check with your local librarians. They tend to know what kids like.

As much as I hate to point this out, boys read less than girls. And they often say that they cannot find interesting books. So there are web sites with lists of good books for boys, like this one at Common Sense Media or this one by Penguin Books.

For a great story of how a father helped his child to learn to like to read, and a good idea, read this.

2. They don’t read very well so it’s not that much fun to read for pleasure. The best way to get better at reading is to read. And this is why it is so important that children and teens LIKE what they are reading, so they will read more. Which means that if your child or teen has trouble reading books that are marked for his or her “age level”, let them read something else! Categories should not matter when they are reading for fun. Graphic novels are a great way to practice reading. Or magazine articles, which are shorter so might be easier to take in.

 3. They have trouble paying attention to what they are reading so can’t remember what they have read. Here I would be tempted to say that they must not like what they are reading that much. But if a teen is trying to read when her younger brother is running around yelling and the TV is blaring in the background, it will be hard to focus on even the most riveting book. So try to find an area where your child or teen can read in (relative) peace and quiet. (I am a big fan of old, comfy chairs.) Again, shorter reading materials at first will be easier to pay attention to and will help ease her into the habit of reading.

4. They feel like they are going to have to finish every reading selection even if it is long, too hard, or just plain not interesting. Same rules apply here as for adults: children and teens do NOT have to finish reading something they don’t like when they are reading for pleasure. They might have to do it for their homework or at school. But that is all the more reason not to make your child finish a book that he doesn’t like when you are trying to get him to read for himself. Doesn’t matter how much it cost or that he picked it out at the library. Let him move on.

5. They don’t have time between all the screen time, texting, etc, to read. This is where you as a parent need to step in. It is so essential that children and teens read for their future academic success and for their health. So you may need to set a time for them to read. And you may need to set up a reward for doing it, at first. When they find their favorite type of reading, it will become a reward in itself. But to get them started, they may need to earn a movie, or time to play a video game, or time with their parent all to themselves. Also, they may need a buddy. If you sit down and read at the same time that they read you are being a great role model AND helping your own reading habit at the same time. Plus, you could both read the same book and then talk about it. You may end up really liking your kids’ suggestions for reading material. And don’t assume that your child is too old to be read to. Maybe when you share a book, you can read one chapter to your child or teen, she can read one chapter to you, and then you spend time reading by yourselves.

Overall, just like adults, children and teens need to be interested in the things that they are reading, and be able to read them without stress, in order to keep reading. There are tons of great resources on the web to help children and teens (and even adults) find out what they like to read. And yes, searching those web sites counts as reading!


Resources for finding great books for children and teens:

Graphic novels for grades K-10

More great graphic novels for kids with commentary about content

2016 great graphic novels for young adults

Top 100 novels for older children and teens

More 100 great novels for teens and young adults (worth checking out for older children, too)

2016 best fiction for young adults

Image: © Jacek Chabraszewski|


Want to hear more from us? Sign up to receive alerts when we add new content. We will never share your information.

Katherine Pears
Dr. Katherine Pears is a senior scientist at Oregon Social Learning Center (OSLC). She earned her Ph.D in clinical psychology and has worked with OSLC since 1998. Katherine is the principal investigator and co-developer of the Kids In Transition to Schools (KITS) program. Currently, she oversees all the clinical and research activities for KITS. When she’s not in her office, you’ll find Katherine in the kitchen whipping up her latest creation or outdoors hiking a scenic trail.


Leave a reply