Beyond Academics: Encouraging Teens to Read for Pleasure

Beyond Academics: Encouraging Teens to Read for Pleasure

Federal data released this week reported on the continued decline in 13-year-olds’ math and reading scores. One aspect of this disappointing report that caught my attention was that fewer students said they frequently read for fun, which is associated with higher achievement. As an avid reader, I found this particularly disappointing, although not surprising.  

In today's fast-paced digital world, where teenagers are inundated with social media, video games, and streaming services, encouraging them to read for pleasure may seem like an uphill battle. However, nurturing a love for reading in teens is essential for their personal growth, cognitive development, and overall well-being. 

Reading for pleasure offers a variety of benefits in the classroom, from enhancing language skills, vocabulary, and grammar, to enabling teens to express themselves more effectively. Regular reading also expands their knowledge base, exposing them to diverse perspectives, cultures, and ideas, which fosters empathy and understanding.

Pleasure reading has also been linked to improved cognitive abilities, including critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity. By immersing themselves in various genres and narratives, teens develop their imagination, enabling them to think outside the box and approach challenges from multiple angles.

Removing academics from the equation, reading for pleasure is quite simply an excellent stress-reliever and a source of relaxation. It provides an escape from daily pressures, allowing teenagers—and adults of all ages—to unwind and recharge their minds. The act of reading can also promote better sleep, as it encourages a break from screens and stimulates the brain in a more calming manner.

Recognizing the power of a good book, Merion Mercy Academy teachers encourage students to read beyond classroom assignments, but even within those assignments, faculty are intentional in requiring reading that will broaden their students’ view of the world. Through a variety of relevant and relatable topics or the works of culturally diverse authors, required reading is certain to make a lasting impact. 

This summer, assignments include:

Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee, which tells the story of a Chinese teen girl in America in the 1960s, a time of prejudice and discrimination

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak, a best-seller set in Nazi Germany

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo, a Dominican author whose coming-of-age story reflects her culture

Pride: A Pride and Prejudice Remix by Ibi Zoboi, which reimagines the classic, tackling gentrification, Blackness, and romance with honesty, humor, and heart

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, which is set in an elite boarding school and deals with issues of feminism

When the Emperor was Divine by Julie Otsuka, about a Japanese American family sent to an internment camp in the Utah desert during World War II

Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, about the emotional turmoil of adolescence, the powerful bonds of family, and the bright promise of freedom in Nigeria

Plus, classics like The Catcher in the Rye, Much Ado about Nothing, Pride and Prejudice, Anna Karenina, and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

English faculty have also invited the students to read a novel, non-fiction book, and recent release of their choice for several of their assignments.

And this is just for summer reading! When reviewing the school year requirements, I found more classics, like A Raisin in the Sun, The Great Gatsby, Of Mice and Men, and Romeo and Julie, along with more recent award-winners like Between Shades of Grey by Rura Sepetys, The Round House by Louise Erdich, and Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro.

My research for this blog post has given me several new titles to add to my Goodreads list, which I confess has more than 1,000 books saved for later reading. If I live to be 200, perhaps I’ll get close to finishing them!

If you’re reading this post—thanks!—and wishing your daughter took the time to read for pleasure, here’s some advice:

  1. Be a reading role model: Let teens observe your love for reading by setting aside dedicated time for it. Seeing you engrossed in a book can pique their curiosity and demonstrate that reading is a pleasurable and valuable activity.

  2. Create a reading-friendly environment: Designate a cozy reading nook at home, stocked with a variety of books to cater to their diverse interests. Encourage teens to personalize the space with pillows, blankets, and good lighting, making it a comfortable and inviting place to curl up with a book.

  3. Encourage book discussions: Initiate conversations about the books you and your teen have read. Share your thoughts, ask for their opinions, and recommend titles that align with their interests. Engaging in meaningful conversations around literature can deepen their engagement and develop their analytical skills.

  4. Give teenagers the freedom to choose their own books: Let them explore different genres, authors, and formats such as graphic novels or audiobooks. Allowing them to select books based on their preferences will increase their motivation and enjoyment.

  5. Incorporate reading into daily routines: Encourage teens to dedicate a specific time each day for reading, such as before bedtime or during their ride to school. By making reading a regular part of their routine, it becomes a habit that they are more likely to sustain.

  6. Leverage technology: While excessive screen time can hinder reading habits, technology can also be utilized to promote reading. E-books, audiobooks, and book-related apps can be engaging alternatives for tech-savvy teens. Encourage them to join online book clubs or follow literary influencers on social media for recommendations and discussions.

Reading for pleasure offers teenagers a gateway to personal growth, expanded knowledge, and improved cognitive abilities. By fostering a love for reading, we empower them with the tools to navigate an ever-changing world. With a blend of role modeling, supportive environments, and interactive discussions, we can encourage teens to embrace the joy of reading. Let's inspire them to embark on literary adventures, where their imagination can soar!

And finally, if you have recommended reading to add to this list, please share in the comments below!