Literacy · Teaching Reflections · Topics for Parents and Students

An Open Letter to Parents: why your teenager needs to read

Hi parents of teenagers, it’s me – an annoying teacher trying to tell you how to raise your kids. Well, it’s not all that bad, actually; I’m just telling you that you need to do one thing: get your teenagers to read. It’s REALLY, REALLY important. Actually, research shows that it is the single best predictor of academic success. It makes sense, doesn’t it? Reading is the basis of any classroom – from manuals in auto class, to textbooks in math and even articles about health in gym class.

But hey, your teen can read, right? Isn’t that enough? What about all those long hours spend in grade 3 reading mini books. Haven’t you put your time in already? Sorry, but no – it’s not enough because your  teen isn’t reading enough now. If they aren’t reading at home for at least 20 minutes a day, they aren’t increasing their vocabularies beyond their current level, developing any reading stamina or ability to focus. Without practice, this won’t magically change when they enter a post-secondary institution or a workforce that requires basic literacy skills. Short answer – they’re in trouble. For example, if your teen is in grade 11 now and never reads, how are they going to suddenly acquire the skill to read a minimum of 100 pages a week when they go to a post secondary institution in two years? Got your attention, didn’t I? See, this is our problem as teachers – we can see this future for our students, we know what’s coming and we’re scrambling to prepare them.

I teach teenagers everyday – lots of them, and I’ve been teaching them for over a decade. In that time, I have noticed a significant decline in their reading time and skills. Many of my colleagues across North America have felt the same way and as a result many teacher leaders have tried to develop a new take on reading at school: make it meaningful and accessible to kids. So, a bunch of us have started focusing on independent reading time in the classroom, conferencing with our students about their reading habits, choices and strategies. We’ve also been trying to teach kids why reading is so important to their academic future and lives in general. When something becomes important to teenagers, we know they’ll do it; we’re working really hard at teaching them why reading is important as well as modelling it in our daily classroom practice.

But that doesn’t seem to be enough. Year after year, I feel like I’m re-teaching my students why reading is important, because it’s not to them. They tell me that straight out (most of them, anyways). So that’s where you come in, parents: I (we) need you on our side. We need to you teach your kids why reading is important; we need you to talk to your kids about reading and find out what their interest are and make reading materials available in your home.

Most of all, though, we need you to read too – in front of your teenagers, as often as  you can. Here’s the thing about teenagers – they’re very perceptive and you’re their primary role model. They will follow your lead, and if you don’t provide that lead they’ll call you on it. I guess you’ve figured that one out already, though, right?  If reading is important in your home, to your family, then your teenagers will read too. They may need you to do more than just model – some kids also need you to make adult decisions for them since their brains aren’t quite ready to do it for themselves. You may need to ask your teens to read along side you for a short period of time each day until you think they’ve mastered the habit on their own. This is called ‘scaffolding’ in the teaching community, and I think you’ll be surprised at how well it works if you choose to put the work in.

The best part about reading is that it’s so easy to get better at it: all you need to do is read. I tell my students this all the time and they laugh – because it’s so simple. It’s like anything else in life, the more you do it, the better you’ll get at it. Sure, some kids will progress faster than others, but all will improve with time.

If you’d like some great ammunition to support you in the fantastic family dinner discussion you’re going to have tonight about why reading is important I’ve got you covered! Check out the following links for some great statistics and arguments:) I know you’ve got my back on this one and please know I’ve got yours. Together, we’re going to make your teen a reader.


Your teen’s English teacher

Resources about Why Reading is SOOOOO Important:

Why Read? Infographic by Kelly Gallagher

10 Benefits of Reading: why you should read everyday

The importance of instilling a need to read

Why Read 20 minutes a day: youtube video

Why Read 20 minutes a day: infographic






3 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Parents: why your teenager needs to read

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