I love teenagers. Really… no sarcasm font required. They’re such a fascinating mix of bravado and vulnerability, developing their own sense of self and sense of humour. They’re fun and funny… but they are not communicative. Without real effort on my part, I think my own teen boys could devolve from full sentences to caveman grunts in a matter of hours.
Books are a great way to communicate with your teenager, and these are my top five tips for making that connection.
Take interest in what they’re reading and poke your nose into their books. I’ve ended up reading interesting autobiographies of baseball players, and I read To Kill a Mockingbird for the first time in 30 years. More importantly, I’ve ended up talking to my sons about those books. What’s on their reading list at school? Grade 8 students read The Outsiders… it’s the perfect way to relive your own teenage angst.
I remember my own parents trying to discourage me from reading Go Ask Alice when I was a teen. They thought it was inappropriate and too dark. If they’d read it at the same time as I did (because of course I did!!!) they could have discussed it with me, and it would have opened up some conversations about subjects that are so tough, but so important to talk with teens about (drugs, sex, mental health). I encouraged my own sons to read a book All the Bright Places because I knew it could help us to talk about suicide and mental health issues without it becoming too personal a talk.
Sure, you can call it bribery, but I love our tradition at the beginning of every summer holiday of heading to a bookstore and setting the kids free to roam. They each choose one book they’ll read over the summer holidays, and then we head to Starbucks for a ridiculously overpriced milkshake for them and a ridiculously overpriced shot of caffeine for me. Also, shop for them when they’re not around. A book is a wonderful “just because” gift.
Their favourite athlete has written a children’s book? A celebrity they admire is going to star in a movie version of a bestseller? One of their favourite authors is signing books at a local store? Talk, talk, talk. Teens only listen to about 1% of what their parents say, but some more of that 99% is absorbed by osmosis, I’m convinced. It’s so easy to follow their favourite authors on social media, and you’ll get an insight into their interests, but also have conversational fodder.
So many Young Adult novels are being adapted to the big screen these days from Twilight to The Hunger Games, The Fault in our Stars to Paper Towns. Encourage your teen to read the book first, and then try to convince him or her to see the movie with you (again, not that I promote bribery, but the promise of an extra-large popcorn and candy may motivate even the moodiest teen to sit through a film with their mother). Even if you’re not seeing the movies together, see it yourself and talk about it with them. Ask whether they thought the casting was good (who would they have cast?). Did they enjoy the movie as much as the book? Did it translate well to the screen?
Make sure they see how much you enjoy reading. Sometimes they’ll express actual interest (my eldest son picked up The Hunger Games after I raved about it), but more importantly it’s critical to me that my kids see how much reading adds to my quality of life. I love it when they see a book I’ve been reading in the newspaper, in someone else’s hand or in the bookstore and grunt, “Huh…didn’t you read that?” They’ve noticed that I have a life, and they’ve commented on it!