Every year teachers hand out summer reading lists. The lists are long and the required books tend to be “boring” classics. It’s just then, when it’s time to buckle down and read, that things seem to go awry. Your teenager has his friends, his computer, his music, and...it’s summer vacation. There’s the heady feeling of freedom, a sense that school doesn’t really exist any more. Nor do books. And this is a child that used to enjoy reading! Parents tend to despair: what do we do now?
We’ll need to distinguish between two issues: on the one hand, our desire to see our child with her nose in a book, and on the other, the summer reading list at hand. Reading is communication. If our child isn’t interested in any of the books on the list, it doesn’t mean she’s hopeless or not smart. It just means that, at the moment, the author of a given book is not the person our child wants to “converse” with. That could very well change a few years down the road.
Or it may not.
In any case, a parent’s power of influence is limited here.
At a certain point, it becomes ever harder to tell them whom to be friends with (or not), how to speak and behave. The same happens when it comes to books. Rather than being the rule, it’s quite the gift of fate when our teenager shares our reading interests or values our opinions’ on books. We can comfort ourselves with the thought that we read to him when he was little. The books read in childhood are now his cultural heritage. Now it’s up to him to decide how to expand or shape that gift. He’ll be the one choosing how to communicate.
If it's the Internet, movies, and music (rather than, say, recently joining a gang) that are pushing books to the wayside, the best strategy is to just be patient and continue to read books yourself. Our persistent cultural preferences inspire respect. It’s a strategy that might work—provided, of course, that you have a trusting relationship with your child.
As for that required reading list, look over it together and see what your teenager might find interesting. Have three or four books be his responsibility. Together, come up with a timeline for reading them. You’ll have to monitor that commitment. But it’s an agreement with personal choice at its core. In the meantime, don’t forget about film and theatre. Taking in the classics (at least in part) from movies and plays is an excellent strategy.
And then there are audiobooks. They may be the best alternative of all, better even than plays.
You can listen to them on the road, in line, or even in the bathtub. And would it be so bad if our kids suddenly start taking more baths?
Translated from the Russian by Alisa Cherkasova
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