What Your Kids Are Reading Part 4

Last week Part 3 (WYKAR3) was about how a parent can use simple questions about books to give an indication of what is going on in their teenager’s life. Young adults are a puzzle to their parents, and even a non-answer can help parents learn about their offspring. But an actual answer can be an indication of the child testing the water for a conversation.

HOW TO DISCUSS BOOKS WITH YOUR TROUBLESOME TEEN?

As I mentioned before, a parent asking their teenager for help or advice can be a good thing. Yes, the kid might refuse to answer… but if they give a reply, a parent needs to know what they should do.

Taking the same question, “I need a new book to read, what do you suggest?”. This isn’t something that will have an immediate result, they might not answer the first few times. You shouldn’t give up, but you should probably only ask this question every couple months at the most. Otherwise, your teen will realize you are just using it as a gimmick to worm your way into their lives, rather than being truly interested in their opinions.

If your kid does, in fact, eventually give you a title you need to be sure to listen to what they say. Write it down, send yourself a reminder text, have it tattooed on your forehead, but whatever you do make sure to remember what the book is called.

And then read it.

Chances are it is just the first book that popped into their head and your teen is just using it to give you a quick answer so they can go on with their lives, but by showing them you actually listened to what they said, they may realize you will listen to them about other things. If your kid is just giving you random titles to get you to leave them alone, eventually they are going to have to start researching books to tell you.

They might do an online search for random or obscure novels, which could eventually lead them to find something of interest to them and thus starting a love of reading. If you can’t find their book suggestion, be sure to ask them where you might get it or how they found it. This might lead to them showing you how to do effective Internet searches and the start of “lessons” for you with your kid, your discovering they have a proficiency in electronics that you can encourage, or the planning of a road trip together to go buy the book.

On the other hand, they might ask their friends to give them suggestions, which will get the teenagers discussing books among themselves. At worst, the friends will raid their parents’ shelves for titles and then you will know a bit more about their friends’ families that your teen would otherwise not bother to mention. Then again, it also might cause your kids and their friends to become more interested reading novels –even inappropriate ones- than an interest in going to wild parties or trying drugs. Even if your own teenager doesn’t become a reader, it just might influence someone else’s kid to be.

Your offspring might give you a name of a book as a test, telling you something they may or may not have read themselves but feel you will not approve of. By reading that novel you will know what kind of knowledge your kid is being exposed to without trying to pick their brains and causing an argument about invasion of privacy. Even if the book is inappropriate, don’t freak out at them, as that will only cause them to feel vindicated for their attitude rather than discovering they can talk to you about various subjects without an imminent explosion.

Eventually, your kid may begin to give you book suggestions that truly matter to them. Novels that deal with issues they are also dealing with in their own lives, topics they want to learn about. If you have seen your kid reading many of the books they are now suggesting to you, see it as a way they are opening up to you and letting you into their lives little by little.

In fact, your offspring might start to take the time to think about you. They might learn that you are an individual who has thoughts and feelings and preferences, rather than just an evil pod person bent on destroying their lives. Your teenager might start looking for books they think you will like, so they can show you that they love and care about you too.

No matter what your kid suggests, even if you think you will hate it, try to read it anyways. At least your teenager will know you are making an attempt, and you also discover interest in a genre you would never have considered on your own. Once you read that book be sure to show a willingness to discuss the book with them, even if you just say one sentence about it at the dinner table.

If you couldn’t get past the second chapter, say so and tell them why. Don’t hesitate to make a fool of yourself by saying a book freaked you out or made you uncomfortable. They might laugh at you, but you could always ask them to suggest a different type of book. This will require them to give a little more consideration about their next answer.

Hopefully then your kid will realize they can talk to you, and you might begin to have discussions about what you are both reading.  By being willing to share an interest with them, they will feel more confident in being themselves and not feel the need to be secretive. Then, you might be surprised: your little rebel just might open up to you and have a conversation about other things that matter to them, too.

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What Your Kids Are Reading Part 3

In part 2 of my series (WYKAR2) I mentioned a way to make time for your kids –if only to discuss books- and how that could impact their lives for the better. But if you have older children who are asserting their independence a different route may become necessary.

HOW CAN YOU USE BOOKS TO LEARN ABOUT YOUR TEENAGER?

I was considered a rebellious teen. And before you think I snuck out of the house to drink, do drugs, or mess around with boys, you can think again. My doting parent freaked out if I wanted to wear skirts above the knee, date boys, go out with friends for karaoke or dancing, and reading the Harlequin novels.

Because my every action was met with lectures and yelling and grounding and more rules I found absurd, I did not feel like I could talk to my parents about anything and didn’t bother trying. I found myself with no one to turn to for reasonable and responsible conversation, and that could have turned out rather badly… but thankfully I buried myself in books, and learned a lot more that way than my close-minded parents could have taught me.

Other teens like me could feel it impossible to discuss things with their parents, or find themselves too embarrassed to voice their concerns face-to-face, or they just may think it “uncool” to talk to their parental units. What you need to do is find a way you and your offspring are comfortable with to keep an ongoing dialogue. Plenty of kids have an obsession with the Internet, so you could use that and consider writing emails to each other or even suggest that they start their own book blog! Just be open to whatever they have to say and be willing to discuss it reasonably.

If your kids are starting to distance themselves from you don’t pester them, but leave their special time (see WYKAR2) free for when they are ready to come to you. Just let them know you truly are always available when they need you, and keep the airways open by asking the right questions.

If your kid doesn’t respond or gets mad when you ask things about them, like “how was school?” or “how did soccer practice/debate club go today?” or “how were things at your job?” it is time to try something new. Try finding a way that they can help you so they still feel a part of your life without feeling like you are invading their privacy.

“I need a new book to read, what do you suggest?” is a pretty decent question to ask and can tell you a lot about what is going on in your child’s life.

If your kid refuses to answer:
(a) They are still mad at you for the fight you had recently.
(b) They have interests outside of books, and can’t believe you’re ignorant of that.
(c) They don’t have a favourite book because have trouble reading.

If the answer is Option A you and your kid have obviously left something unresolved and a discussion about that is needed. Yes, teens are far more likely to think their parents are being unreasonable, but teenagers need to know the why behind your decision, and not just a “because I said so”. If you do, your kid will feel you’re being hypocritical for various reasons. First, because they have to explain their actions to you but you don’t feel like you need to explain yours to them. And if you’ve ever pulled out the “would you jump off a bridge if they asked you?” in regards to peer pressure, well, what about parental pressure? You’re essentially asking them to do something they think is crazy because you haven’t taken the time to explain it with them.

Option B means you need to take the time to discover your child’s likes and dislikes, so they know you care enough to learn about their preferences. That way you can give them the encouragement and support they need, rather than making your kid feel like you are trying to force them into being someone they are not. Also, try to find a way to share that interest with them in a non-invasive way. If they like athletic activities you could attend their games, competitions, or recitals. If they are into cinematography, let them hold monthly “screenings” in your living room for their friends and family. If they want to be an author, take them to book fairs and author signings.

Or with Option C, you can subtly take the time to discover if a reading impairment is the reason they dislike books, are slower then their peers in class, why they are getting failing grades. A lot of literacy issues go unnoticed because no one takes the time to find out why youngsters do or act the way they are. Then, if your kid has a difficulty you can find them the help they need to overcome it and support them through it all.

NEXT WEEK: How to Discuss Books with Your Troublesome Teen (WYKAR4)

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What Your Kids Are Reading Part 2

In Part 1 of my series (WYKAR1) I talked a bit about book banning and what could happen if a rating system was placed on books. Personally, I felt doing so was a disadvantage to young readers and that kids should basically be allowed to read what they want to in order to learn. This week is more about how parents can be less afraid of what their children are picking up.

HOW CAN YOU DISCUSS BOOKS WITH YOUR CHILDREN?

When I have kids, I am not overly worried about what my children may or may not read as long as they do read. I believe I would honestly be more concerned about them if they did not pick up a book, because I know how much you can learn from novels.

No matter what subjects were raised in the novels I was reading while growing up, I was never encouraged me to try out things I knew were immoral or illegal, so why shouldn’t my children know better too? In fact, I was less likely to do dumb stuff from what I learned in books and the occasional talk with my parents.

If I do decide to read the same books as my (future) children, it will be more likely because I want to share a love of reading with them, to converse about something we both enjoy doing, rather than because I want to stifle their independence and growth as a person.

As it is, adults fail to fully comprehend the different environment that kids today are growing up in, how different it is than that of generations past. Personally, I feel halfway between what was and what is in a changing world, so I can imagine how much more difficult it is for today’s parents and children to overcome that chasm.

But by maintaining an open dialogue with their kids, parents will have a better idea of their child’s maturity level, causing them to be less afraid of what their child is reading as they will have a better idea of what their offspring are being exposed to in today’s society. This should not only cause less stress for the parents, but possibly a better relationship with their family that could last a lifetime.

Before anyone says how hard it is to be a working parent, how tiring and time consuming it can be, really think about what that means. You are basically saying that you have no time whatsoever for your child and that begs the question why you bothered to have one in the first place if you can’t be bothered to raise them.

Yes, life is hard, but a measly fifteen minutes a week to talk about life and novels with your kids just might make all the difference in the world…

Let’s say you have three kids. Give each kid a designated week each month to have alone time with you for the aforementioned fifteen minutes and reserve the last week for a family discussion. Create a calendar for this purpose and keep it somewhere that all of you can see. (It also wouldn’t hurt to put a reminder on your computer and on your phone so you don’t miss your meeting together.)

In giving your children pre-arranged alone-time with you, they will see that you care about them as an individual and they will not feel quite so ignored compared to your other kids and feel less like you are playing favourites. It can make them feel special and loved, knowing that you notice them and want to take time to be with them.

By having a designated time for the family as a whole it can promote sibling relations by having book debates and discussions with each other, or you could just use the time to read a book together as a family. People are never too old to have books read to them, if they were audio books wouldn’t be so popular. Allow each person in the family to choose a book that you can all enjoy together (and keep track of it on the calendar to prevent arguments about whose turn it was).

If you start this practice while your kids are young then the teenager-to-come may still want to come talk to you, as they know you truly care about what is going on in their lives.

NEXT WEEK: How to Use Books to Learn About Your Teenager ( WYKAR3)

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What Your Kids Are Reading Part 1

DO BOOKS NEED A RATING SYSTEM?

I recently found a couple posts by other book bloggers discussing the banning of books and what a rating system for books could entail. It was mentioned that some parents are worried about what their kids are reading and this leads to banning books either on a large level -city, province, country- or on a more personal one of just not allowing your own children to read about certain things.

Someone suggested that instead of banning books, why not have a rating system similar to movies or music? That way parents wouldn’t have to read the books themselves, they can just check the rating and decide whether they would allow their child to read it. But that could cause problems, too…

Stores could refuse to stock books with the higher ratings like NC-17 or R because they are “family-friendly” businesses. And what if all stores decided not to stock a certain book, what difference is that to book banning? In fact it would be worse, because as far as I know there hasn’t been a single book to be banned world-wide, copies are still floating around out there. But if all companies refuse to stock certain books then some stories would never get told and the world could unknowingly loose a treasure.

Parents could prevent their kids from reading certain books they feel inappropriate, no matter what the kid is mentally or emotionally capable of handling. This could cause a child to loose interest in reading because they are not permitted to read what they will enjoy; they are not being stimulated by the written word. This would lead to more illiteracy rather than less, it could lead to less books sales rather than more. Then what would be the point in becoming an author? In starting a publishing company? In owning a bookstore? They would no longer be needed and then unemployment could rise and another economical crisis could ensue.

A child’s mental and emotional grown could be stunted if a legal guardian is super-strict or has certain prejudices. People read because they can live vicariously through the characters, readers are getting important life lessons without ever having to personally experience them. Many books show the consequences of things like unprotected sex or underage drinking or stealing, the rippling effect of murder or lies or bullying.

What if someone was only allowed to read books like The Help* but not ones like Harriet’s Daughter? The kid would only be exposed to white people treating black people like second class citizens and feel it is okay, rather than knowing the horrors of slavery and the wars fought for equality among all people. It could perpetuate racism and chauvinism and discrimination rather than help eradicate it due to not being permitted to learn about both sides of a situation.

(* I have not read The Help yet myself, I have only heard that it is about a white children being raised by black servants and then treating them like second class citizens when they grow up just as their parents do. If I use this example inaccurately I deeply apologize for the error.)

Worst of all, parents would no longer need to talk with their kids. From what I’ve seen, parents rarely give their kids enough credit for knowing right from wrong, and in doing so they could cause the child to live down to their parents’ expectations so the attitude the children are receiving is at least deserved. If legal guardians just sit down and have an open discussion about things like relationships, prejudices, morality, and books it would help show a child they have someone they can talk to about anything without fear, that they have a support system behind them.

If adults feel a rating system is truly necessary, a different system is needed than that of movies because novels are a different medium. It would be rather difficult to have a universal system considering societies and countries and religious all have various ideas of what is appropriate. And even within those broad divisions, there are various branches that have varying levels of strictness or latitude within them.

Books used to have a reading level printed on the books, something I rarely see anymore. Though that system was a little generalized considering that people learn at different rates, it used to be a pretty good indication of appropriateness because if a child is no where near capable of understanding the words in a book then it is obviously not for someone that age.

Kids are sent to school to learn from books and classroom discussions, so why are parents refusing to allow them to do the same at home?

NEXT WEEK: How to Discuss Books with Your Children (WYKAR2)

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