4 Reasons You Should Read the Books Your Teens Are Reading

One of the things Cris and I really cherish as parents, is reading to, and with our girls… This past year has been such a fun year as we’ve watched Sabrina, who is in Kindergarten, discover the joys of reading by herself.  It’s so fun to witness this all over again… I remember Alexandra, who will be 16 in just a few days, demonstrate as much enthusiasm when she embarked on this magical journey herself.

When Alexandra started reading “real” books, around second or third grade if my memory is correct,
I started reading them too.  Having been raised and educated in France, I had never read most of the books she was discovering. I was curious, wanted to know what she was reading, and be better prepared to answer questions as they came up.

It was a fun thing to do, and another great way to share something meaningful.  I must admit I did not relish every book, but at least I knew what my precious daughter was consuming.

But as the girls got older, the books got longer and more complex, and when “just for fun” books were added to the list, keeping up with the girls became a little more challenging.  Especially with Natasha, my 12 year old, who absolutely devours books!  She’ll read a 500 page book in a couple of days, and try as I may, I just can’t carve out the time to read that much!  Now don’t get me wrong, I love to read as much as she does, but I have plenty of my own reading to do…

But… after reading this insightful article by our guest contributor Bruce Van Horn, I realized that perhaps it’s time to dive back into some of those books after all. As you’ll see Bruce shares some very valid reasons for doing just that.

Enjoy the read!

Shared by Bruce Van Horn

Maybe it’s because I love books and have ever since I was a teenager; maybe it’s because my wife and I were always on the same page about reading to our kids.  Since the days they were born, we’ve read books to our boys.

When they were babies, I read to them in their cribs.  As they got older, I’d sit on the side of their beds and read stories to them.  Many a night, we’d sit with a boy in our laps reading to them. What parent doesn’t love to hear the words “read another one, daddy!”?  Sometimes we’d groan and say “really? We’ve read that one 5 times already today…”  Just how many times can you read Dr. Seuss’s “The Foot Book” before you go crazy?  Nevertheless, we still have a complete Dr. Seuss collection along with Winnie the Pooh, and Peter Pan, and Goodnight Moon on our bookshelves.

It is no surprise, now that they are old enough to make many choices on their own, my boys still love books.  My 9-year-old still loves when I read to him!  Every now and then, just for fun, he’ll pull out Peter Pan and say “let’s read this again…I miss it.”

My 15-year-old, Austin… not so much, but he still loves to read… just to himself!’

It’s primarily my teenager I want to talk about in this post.

9264928_sAs Austin started to grow out of the “children’s” books and into teen and juvenile fiction, he stopped wanting me to read to him.  This was just another area in which he was starting to assert his independence, his “I can do it myself” phase.  This is a normal, healthy part of his development.

It’s often hard for parents to let go of the things we loved doing for our kids when they were little, but we must let go and let them stretch and grow new muscles.  We mustn’t get our feeling hurt when they say “no, I just want to read alone!”  He’s becoming independent and wants to explore the world of books and imagination on his own–and that’s a good thing!

However, that doesn’t mean you should just let your teens go off into the wild world of books all by themselves!  You need to be reading the same books your teens are reading!  You’ll be glad you did!

Here are 4 reasons you should read the same books as your teens:

1.  There are some great juvenile fiction books being written today!

I have been blown away by the quality of some of the teen books I’ve read in the past few years!  Because of that, I’ve gone on to read some teen books that my son hasn’t!  It has really broadened my reading horizons!

Gary D. Schmidt is an example of an author I had never heard of but have come to love.  My son picked up a copy of The Wednesday Wars and started reading it.  It looked interesting and my wife had heard good things about it, so I decided we’d read it together–well, not exactly together…he had his copy, I had mine, but we read it at the same time.  I was hooked and couldn’t put the book down.  The story was gripping from the start (as all great fiction should be), but the language, plot, character and theme development was first class!

After The Wednesday Wars, Austin moved on to another author, but I had to read more.  So I went on to read everything else Gary D. Schmidt has published and I now count him among the ranks of my favorite authors!

So, if you’re a reader of fiction, come down off your throne of “grown up” fiction or, heaven forbid, “literature”, and read some teen fiction.  You won’t be disappointed.

2.  You can see what subjects your teen is encountering through books!

This is where some parents start to get very nervous and, I’ll go ahead and say it, a bit over-protective.  We don’t want our children exposed the subjects and themes they may not be mature enough to handle.  I agree!  We can’t just let our teens walk into any bookstore or library and come with any book they want!  We still have to be the parents and sometimes say “No way, mister!  Put that one back!”

However, your teens want to and need to come out from under your protective wings and grow some wings of their own.  This is healthy!  Help your teens make good choices and then give them a little extra rope as they demonstrate their ability to make good choices on their own.

That being said, when your kids do pick a book, you should read it too!  Maybe you should even read that book you made him put back because of the questionable cover art and book jacket summary.  You might find out that your teen was right and it wasn’t as “racy” as you thought it would be.  Even if it does turn out to be as bad as you feared, you can then speak to the subject with experience and not be accused of “judging a book by it’s cover.”

Teens today are growing up in a very different world than the one you and I grew up in.  Reading current teen fiction has opened my eyes to their world and the kinds of subjects and themes our current culture is throwing at them.

Information is king! The more you know about your teen’s world, the better you’ll be to help them through the rough spots.  [Tweet this!]

As a side benefit, I get to learn and practice (to my son’s indelible embarrassment) some of their “cool” new language!

3.  It gives you an easy way to start up a conversation with your teen!

This point really should be obvious and springs from Reason 2.  If you have a teenager, you know how difficult (dangerous even?) it can be to start up a conversation!

Reading the same books simply gives you something to talk about.  Duh!

You might get surprised by a conversation turn-around, too!  I sometimes think it’s going to be me initiating the conversation by saying something like: “hey, what did you think about the car that guy was driving..” or something lame like that.

Every now and then, Austin will come to me with something like this, while reading a book in which the main character lives in a very difficult family situation: “Dad, it really bothers me when Doug’s father gets drunk and hits his mom.  What would ever cause a man to do that?”  Wow!  What an opportunity to connect with my son and address some very real-world issues!

Reading the same books can create amazing connections with your teens!

5939322_s4.  It will show your teen that you care enough to participate in his or her world!

Some of the problems in parenting teens can come from your teen feeling that you are completely disconnected from his or her reality.  That’s why we sometimes get the glare that says “you have no idea about my life, so don’t even bother!”  Sometimes they are right!  Ouch!

We have to be very careful to not make our teens feel like their world is immature or insignificant or something they will just out-grow in a few years.  Remember back to when you were a teen apply the Golden Rule of Parenting Teens:

The Golden Rule of Parenting Teens: Treat your teen how you wish your parents had treated you! [Tweet this!]

Reading the same books your teen is reading gives you a chance to break through that wall.  It shows your teen you are interested in their world and their issues.  You don’t have to like the books or endorse some of the activities or thoughts described in the books.  But if you take the time to read them, it shows you care.  It gives you some common ground to stand on and talk about (Reason 3).

Sometimes it’s best to not be obvious about reading their books.  Do it without their knowing it.

Occasionally, Austin will read a book and I don’t create a lot of fanfare to announce that I’m reading it too.  I might read it a week or a month after I know he’s finished it.  Maybe it was a book I wasn’t thrilled about him reading but let him do it anyway.  If something from the book comes up in conversation, I can simply say “oh, yeah, I read that, too.”  He’ll look at me quizzically and say “really? I didn’t think you cared for …”

Now he knows that I may not care for the book or the subject matter, but he knows I care enough about him to experience some of his world!

So, there you have it.  Bruce’s 4 Reasons You Should Read the Books Your Teens are Reading.

Like so many other aspects of parenting, try to make it fun for both of you!  Don’t turn it into a competition! Give your teen some room to breathe and grow.  Use it as another way to connect and to help foster in your teen a love for books! You’ll wind up reading some pretty good books alone the way.

One problem you might have with this idea is time.  Parents are busy.  I get that.  Where do you find the time to read their books?  I’ve said this in other posts, but I do most of my “reading” by listening to unabridged audiobooks.  I don’t have much time to sit and read, but I can listen to several books a month on my iPhone while I’m driving or running.  Give audiobooks a shot if you don’t have time for traditional reading.

I hope you found something in this post useful for your role as a mom or dad.  If so, please let me know by leaving me a comment or by sharing or liking or tweet this post to your friends.

P.S. I asked Austin if he would read this before I posted it.  He did and said “this is pretty cool” and then just walked away without further commentary.  A typical teen-boy response…  I’ll take that as a favorable review!

P.P.S. At the time of this writing, Austin and I are reading 11/22/63: A Novel by Stephen King.  And, yes, there is some language and subject matter I’m uncomfortable with him reading, but we are talking through it. Oh, and it’s a really good book!


About the Author:

IMG_0119Bruce Van Horn has been married for 21 years to his wife Sandy, with whom he has been friends since they were 11 years old! He is the father of two awesome boy, a marathon runner, musician, avid reader, writer, teacher, speaker, cook, dishwasher… and let’s just say a pretty amazing dad!

He is also the co-founder of CompanyBE, LLC (www.companybe.com), a company that strives to help businesses BE what they want to be through the development of custom software solutions. You can read more from Bruce on his blog at http://www.brucevanhorn.com.

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  1. Valerie, thank you so much for posting this to your site! I hope your readers enjoy it and take away something that they can use with their kids. My boys are a year older now, but I’m still reading the books my 16-year-old, Austin, is reading and I’m still reading to my 10-year-old each night before he goes to bed. We are almost done with “War Horse” by Michael Morpurgo. I highly recommend this book for both boys and girls! I love your blog–keep being Scrumptious!

    • Thank you Bruce for letting me share this with my readers! You’ve given us a lot to think about.. “War Horse” sounds like the kind of book Natasha and I would love! we are both horse lovers.. thanks for the recommendation. Do you always read the “real” books, as in hard cover or paper back? Or have you read some of these books on a tablet like the Kindle?

  2. Cherrel Underwood says:

    Might I add that grandparents can be involved in this process too? Since my grandkids were in elementary school, they have been curious about books I’m reading and each of them—at one time or another—have wanted me to read books they have enjoyed. They seem to enjoy discussing books with me (needless to say we often have different perspectives!) and I certainly love hearing their viewpoints! The most recent books my fifteen-year-old grandson recommended to me was The Hunger Games. During a recent visit, my five-year-old grandson (who lives in another state) laid three of his books on my bed each night for me to read before going to sleep; the next morning he quizzed me to be sure I’d read them!! — Grandparents often have more time to read and discuss books with their grandkids. This certainly does not take the place of parental involvement in reading but I believe it adds another dimension of growth—for both the children and us seniors!

    • Cherrel Thank you for your comment. Yes I love when grandparents get involved in this process! What a beautiful bond you have created with your grand children 🙂 My 12 year old had “The Hunger Games” as part of her assigned reading this year. What did you think? I’m sure that book led to some very interesting conversations. It certainly has in our home! Your five year old grandson sounds like a delightful and wise young man! The roles of grandparents and parents is indeed different, and as you say, grandparents often have more time to indulge in activities such as reading, and the beauty is when everyone participates as we all bring something different to the table 🙂 Have a blessed day!

  3. Bruce, thanks, great info here. LOve the part about how this can be a conversation starter with your teen. Parents need tips like this because they often feel they have nothing to discuss with teens. One word of advice for parents: I find it soooo helpful to let these conversations come spontaneously or in passing, such as: “I loved chapter 8 of xxxyyyzzz, I stayed up late wanting to know aaabbbccc.” (At breakfast.) AND, let it go if the teen doesn’t go all radiohost into a babbling conversation.

    Keep it up Bruce!


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