Most Saturday afternoons you will find my youngest son and me at the laundromat. While the machines are doing the heavy work, you will hear me reading to my son. You may recognize Jules Verne, Louis L’amour, or J.K. Rowling. My fifteen year-old is long past Dr. Seuss, not that we don’t occasionally reread our favorites.
I read to my children when they were little. However, like most parents I stopped when they began to be able to read for themselves. At the age of ten when my middle son began to help me with the laundry, I suggested filling the down time with reading and he was amenable. At sixteen his life was full of school and friends, so my youngest took his place on the laundromat bench. With the college years came long road trips between home and school. My young adults found themselves in the middle of Mom and Dad’s road trip reading tradition. Sometimes they put on their headphones and ignored me, but other times they listened. Reading to my teenagers happened accidentally, but I wish I’d been wise enough to plan for it and use it more.
Most of the discussion about reading to children deal with very young children. Reading proponents declare it is never too early to start reading to a child. There are many discussions and studies about the benefits of reading to young children, but much less is said about reading to older children and teens. I couldn’t find any studies about parent-teen reading, though I hope there are some.
I don’t need a study to tell me there are benefits to reading with teenagers. A man we encountered at the laundromat told us about his mother reading to him. He believes the books she read helped him succeed in college. When her daughter is unmotivated to begin an assigned book, one wise mother reads the first chapter to her to arouse her interest in the story. Another mother believes that reading and discussing books as a family helped her children have confidence in their own opinions and be able to defend that opinion. My sons agree that reading with mom opened their imaginations and developed a love for language. The youngest, who detested every part of writing from physically picking up a pencil to composing a decent paragraph, has spent the past summer writing a book. Even advanced students benefit from sharing books with the adults in their lives.
However, as a parent I have bigger concerns than academic success. I want a strong family that sends people of good moral character out into the world. Reading can help accomplish both of these goals.
When I asked my sons about reading with mom, their first responses were about relationships. They didn’t just spend time with Mom, they learned to know me as we shared stories and talked about them. They know I enjoy a good fantasy as much as they do and I am inspired by biographies of good people. Likewise I gained insight into their thoughts. My youngest son’s interest in science is not a casual thing. He eagerly listened to extensive lists of sea creatures in Twenty-thousand Leagues under the Sea and the scientific journaling of Sir Earnest Shackleton’s South.
When you talk about stories you can’t help but talk about good and evil, about choices, and about virtues. Every story contains conflicts and choices. Every character has virtues and weaknesses. “Do you think the character made the right decision?” “Wow. I really admire the way the compassion of that character.” “What do you think the character learned by that experience?” We have learned important lessons and met some incredible heroes.
Educators and child development experts will tell you it’s never too early to start reading to your child. My experience demonstrates it is never too late to start.
Rabe, B. (1978) I have a question: How can I be sure my children are reading the right kind of books. Ensign retrieved from https://www.lds.org/ensign/1978/04/i-have-a-question?lang=eng