How to get kids off screens and into books again


Confession: My teens don’t read, or at least I didn’t think they really read until I talked to Kaye Newton, author of “How to Get Your Screen-Loving Kids to Read Books for Pleasure” ($12.36, Linland Press).

The Brentwood, Tenn., mother of three teenagers thought the same thing about her own children. They went to a terrific elementary school that valued reading, and then they went to middle school and stopped reading for fun.

Instead, they were assigned books to read, classics that they had trouble applying to their own lives. “The Scarlet Letter” — how is that relatable to a middle-school girl?

The beginning of middle school, Newton says, is also about the time when her kids first got cellphones. They traded fiction books for friends’ texts and Snapchat messages.

“How to Get Your Screen-Loving Kids to Read Books for Pleasure” is full of ideas to get kids reading again for fun as well as lists of books they might like depending on their interests.

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Here are some of those ideas that you can use. (Hint: Spring break is coming up. That’s nine whole days without school assignments to spend with a great book.)

1. Work with the school and teachers to encourage more reading.

Some schools, even middle and high schools, have Drop Everything and Read time during advisory periods. How can your kids’ school get that?

Are teachers willing to offer a choice in reading the classics? If “Pride and Prejudice” isn’t your daughter’s cup of tea, could she choose “Lord of the Flies” instead?

Do kids have access to the library, and not just as a place to take a test or serve detention? How often do they get to go to check out a book? Are they encouraged to go there?

Ask teachers or the librarian to recommend books to your kids. Their favorite teacher telling them personally it’s a good book has more meaning than a class assignment.

Try to make the classics relevant. “The Scarlet Letter,” that’s all about sex and a society’s view of it. Help your kids understand the scandal behind it at the time. It’s a regular soap opera — or think of it as the Snapchat of the day.

2. Create a book club.

Have your kids invite friends over to discuss a book they read for fun every month or every couple of months. You supply the snacks. They supply the conversation.

3. Get your kid a book buddy.

Mom telling you about a new book might seem lame. A favorite cousin or uncle telling you about it might be cool.

4. Take your kid to the library or bookstore.

Make it a family outing. Follow up with a trip to a coffeehouse for reading the books they just checked out or bought.

5. Read out loud again.

It could be that you all read a book together, or it could be that you read an article together. Just because they can read doesn’t mean that you can’t have story time anymore.

6. Find books that interest them.

Are they fascinated with race cars or football? Maybe they’d like to read a sports biography. It really doesn’t matter what they read but that they are reading.

7. Read the book before the movie or after the movie.

“Ready Player One” by Austin author Ernest Cline is coming out in movie form at the end of March. Read it before you see it. Or, if they’ve loved a series like the “Hunger Games,” have they read the books? Champion it as “the book has a lot more to it.”

8. Read books that play off their favorite things in pop culture.

Did they love the Netflix series “Stranger Things”? Maybe they’d love some Stephen King books. Or maybe they want to get a Dungeons & Dragons manual to read.

9. Read a book together.

If they are assigned one for school, pick it up, too, and talk about it on the car ride to school or while they are reading it.

10. Download audiobooks.

Just because they aren’t actually reading the words doesn’t mean they aren’t doing some of the things a book requires: using your imagination, concentrating, analysis.

11. Download e-books.

If they are more comfortable reading a book on a screen, let them.

12. Consider anime.

Reading subtitles while watching a Japanese anime is reading and shouldn’t be frowned upon.

13. Extend the book series that they love by having them read fan fiction or write their own fan fiction.

Find out what other series that author has written and start those, or find out what other authors that author recommends and get one of those books. Or read the series all over again.

14. Don’t negate the graphic novel or comic book.

Just because it has a few words per page doesn’t mean your kids aren’t using all those reading skills.

15. Make bedtime reading cool again.

Help them wind down their day by having bedtime reading. And you do it, too.

16. Realize that during the school year, kids might not have time to read for fun.

That’s OK. Help them find something to read during the breaks.

17. Read books about somewhere you’re going on vacation.

Heading to Disney World? Read guidebooks or books inspired by Disney.

18. Pull out the Wi-Fi.

“What? It must be on the fritz again,” is what you can say when they are on hour five of watching TV or playing video games. “Guess you’ll have to read a book.”

Turns out, your kids might be reading more than you thought, but you can help encourage them to do a little more. Happy reading.



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