Reading tips for parents of middle-schoolers

        Middle school is a time when children begin their experimentation with independence. Truth is that they are still really quite needy of their parents. It is a mistake to let go completely. And though adolescents have a hard time expressing that they appreciate your interest, they really do.

        This is particularly true when it comes to reading. The material becomes more challenging and includes a greater breadth of knowledge than was necessary to understand in elementary school. Here are some tips for parents of adolescents to consider:

  • Talk about your own reading. Include it in dinner conversation or other shared time. Explain what you find to be fascinating, humorous, or compelling in your own reading.
  • Accept what your child considers to be a comfortable position for reading. We may find that sitting upright and in total silence is the best approach for ourselves. Understand that some adolescents may prefer reclining and listening to music while reading.
  • Help your child find connections to something personal in the material. This is greatly motivating for all of us. And if the experiences of the characters are vastly different from your childís, talk about how disparate your lives are.
  • Read some of the books she brings home from school. This works equally well for non-fiction as for fiction. You can check your childís own understanding of reading material -- whether it be a novel, historic period, or scientific information -- if you ask her to explain it to you. If there are gaps in understanding, thatís your signal to take a look at it together and try to help out.
  • Buy your child high-interest magazines. Reluctant readers may be able to have a better appreciation of reading if the subject matter jibes with interests. I do have a few words of caution about this, however: excessive interest in the lives of actors, singers, and pop-culture figures is a good indication that your teenager has made someone else the star of her life.
  • Come to an agreement within your family about watching television and videos. Imposing limits may incite rebellion, while rational discussions that involve all family members are more likely to invite cooperation. Be prepared to practice what you preach! If you speak on behalf of limited time in front of the tube, your teen will rightly see you as a hypocrite if you donít walk your own talk!
  • Allow your child to put down pleasure reading that is too difficult. If the book is one chosen by the teen, it should be able to be read independently.
  • Encourage asking for help when reading is difficult. You bring a lot of wisdom and experience to your reading. You can offer the same to your teen. Be there without criticism if he needs help with reading material.
  • Listen to classic literature on tape as a family. This gives you a shared experience as well as the opportunity to explain vocabulary, concepts, or background information that your adolescent may not understand.
  • Ask for the newest adolescent literature at the library. Family visits to the library donít need to stop just because a kid is in middle school. Be sure that your teen knows where the new books are displayed and whom to ask for recommended reading. Librarians will be delighted to share their wealth of information with you.


        Jay Davidson has been teaching in San Francisco since 1969; he teaches first grade. He is the author of Teach Your Children Well: A Teacherís Advice for Parents.


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