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How Can I Get My Kids to Read?

There's simply is nothing like getting lost in a book, and as you as you have rightly pointed out, more and more kids are turning away from the printed page in favor of tweets, posts, snippets, video shorts and sound bites. Here are my thoughts.
09/07/2015 10:31am ET | Updated September 7, 2016
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A young boy taking a picture of himself and his friend with a smartphone in a sunny garden.

One of the things my wife and I had in common when we met was our love of reading. So it is really discouraging that all three of our children -- 9, 11 and 14 -- are so completely disinterested in books. All they want to do is be on their computer or iPad. Is our generation going to be the last to love a good book?

There's simply is nothing like getting lost in a book, and as you as you have rightly pointed out, more and more kids are turning away from the printed page in favor of tweets, posts, snippets, video shorts and sound bites. Here are my thoughts:

Read! The most powerful thing you can do to inspire your children to be interested in reading is...to read. Parents greatly underestimate the influence their personal behavior has on their children. Remember: it isn't what we say but what we do that has the greatest impact on our children's values. What do your kids see you doing in your downtime? If you flip on your computer or switch on an iPad game, it's likely they will do the same. Make reading a habit and a practice, and your children will be more inclined to do the same.

Do not force your kids to read. Anytime we associate an activity with threat of punishment, it becomes something to be resisted. While I may sound like I'm contradicting myself in the next few paragraphs, the overall feel of your approach needs to be that of an invitation rather than a requirement. When my son was growing up, he was homeschooled until the sixth grade, there were no iPads, and TV time was limited. Each week we came home with a stack of library books nearly as tall as he was. But when he started school and reading became a required task, he started to lose his passion for what had been one of his favorite pastimes. Thankfully, he recovered his love of the book, but I have often seen that when we make reading into a chore to be endured, it loses its luster.

Regularly schedule unplugged time. Many kids will find their way to reading if their devices are no longer an option. Some parents establish a "digital Sabbath" where devices are unplugged from Friday night for the weekend. Others have a nightly 30 minute period during which devices are switched off. In the absence of screen time diversions, kids are more likely to read, especially if you establish a warm and welcoming family ritual where you're all together, sharing bits of stories and a big bowl of popcorn.

Head to the bookstore. As long as you're open-minded about what your kids read, there's a good chance they'll find something of interest if you head over to the bookstore. Make it a fun outing, perhaps with after a visit to the ice cream parlor. Just be sure not to criticize their choices. The may choose Calvin and Hobbes or Captain Underpants. As long as they're reading something that isn't harmful or inappropriate, you'll be going in a positive direction!

Awaken their inner author. For many kids, books are just collections of abstract words from a disembodied someone. Take your kids to a book signing event where they can meet an interesting author who might inspire them to write, or share the adventures that led to their becoming an author. While they may roll their eyes at you when you try to convince them of the joys of reading, hearing it from someone they find interesting or cool (there are many young, hip authors!) might have a different impact.

Have group reads. Enliven your family reading time with some drama. Take turns reading paragraphs, using your best accents! Encourage your kids to read in their silly voices. By associating reading with something fun that your kids do with you, it may awaken their interest.

Don't give up! For some time now, I have watched as my young clients have become increasingly less interested in the reading. It is indeed a great concern. Books can broaden our horizons, expand our minds, and open our hearts; their absence in life is a significant loss. Speak fondly of stories you have read, insights you have enjoyed, or worlds you have visited from cherished books. Reading is simply too important to give up on.

Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected and the brand new Parenting with Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids (An Eckhart Tolle Edition). She is a family therapist, parent coach and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting.

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