4 Reasons You Should Read the Books Your Teens are Reading

Maybe it’s because I love books and have ever since I was a teenager; maybe it’s because my wife and I were always on the same page about reading to our kids.  Since the days they were born, we’ve read books to our boys.

When they were babies, I read to them in their cribs.  As they got older, I’d sit on the side of their beds and read stories to them.  Many a night, we’d sit with a boy in our laps reading to them. What parent doesn’t love to hear the words “read another one, daddy!”?  Sometimes we’d groan and say “really? We’ve read that one 5 times already today…”  Just how many times can you read Dr. Seuss’s “The Foot Book” before you go crazy?  Nevertheless, we still have a complete Dr. Seuss collection along with Winnie the Pooh, and Peter Pan, and Goodnight Moon on our bookshelves.

It is no surprise, now that they are old enough to make many choices on their own, my boys still love books.  My 9-year-old still loves when I read to him!  Every now and then, just for fun, he’ll pull out Peter Pan and say “let’s read this again…I miss it.”

My 15-year-old, Austin… not so much, but he still loves to read… just to himself!

It’s primarily my teenager I want to talk about in this post.

As Austin started to grow out of the “children’s” books and into teen and juvenile fiction, he stopped wanting me to read to him.  This was just another area in which he was starting to assert his independence, his “I can do it myself” phase.  This is a normal, healthy part of his development.

It’s often hard for parents to let go of the things we loved doing for our kids when they were little, but we must let go and let them stretch and grow new muscles.  We mustn’t get our feeling hurt when they say “no, I just want to read alone!”  He’s becoming independent and wants to explore the world of books and imagination on his own–and that’s a good thing!

However, that doesn’t mean you should just let your teens go off into the wild world of books all by themselves!  You need to be reading the same books your teens are reading!  You’ll be glad you did!

Here are 4 reasons you should read the same books as your teens:

1.  There are some great juvenile fiction books being written today!

I have been blown away by the quality of some of the teen books I’ve read in the past few years!  Because of that, I’ve gone on to read some teen books that my son hasn’t!  It has really broadened my reading horizons!

Gary D. Schmidt is an example of an author I had never heard of but have come to love.  My son picked up a copy of The Wednesday Wars and started reading it.  It looked interesting and my wife had heard good things about it, so I decided we’d read it together–well, not exactly together…he had his copy, I had mine, but we read it at the same time.  I was hooked and couldn’t put the book down.  The story was gripping from the start (as all great fiction should be), but the language, plot, character and theme development was first class!

After The Wednesday Wars, Austin moved on to another author, but I had to read more.  So I went on to read everything else Gary D. Schmidt has published and I now count him among the ranks of my favorite authors!

So, if you’re a reader of fiction, come down off your throne of “grown up” fiction or, heaven forbid, “literature”, and read some teen fiction.  You won’t be disappointed.

2.  You can see what subjects your teen is encountering through books!

This is where some parents start to get very nervous and, I’ll go ahead and say it, a bit over-protective.  We don’t want our children exposed the subjects and themes they may not be mature enough to handle.  I agree!  We can’t just let our teens walk into any bookstore or library and come with any book they want!  We still have to be the parents and sometimes say “No way, mister!  Put that one back!”

However, your teens want to and need to come out from under your protective wings and grow some wings of their own.  This is healthy!  Help your teens make good choices and then give them a little extra rope as they demonstrate their ability to make good choices on their own.

That being said, when your kids do pick a book, you should read it too!  Maybe you should even read that book you made him put back because of the questionable cover art and book jacket summary.  You might find out that your teen was right and it wasn’t as “racy” as you thought it would be.  Even if it does turn out to be as bad as you feared, you can then speak to the subject with experience and not be accused of “judging a book by it’s cover.”

Teens today are growing up in a very different world than the one you and I grew up in.  Reading current teen fiction has opened my eyes to their world and the kinds of subjects and themes our current culture is throwing at them.

Information is king! The more you know about your teen’s world, the better you’ll be to help them through the rough spots.  [Tweet this!]

As a side benefit, I get to learn and practice (to my son’s indelible embarrassment) some of their “cool” new language!

3.  It gives you an easy way to start up a conversation with your teen!

This point really should be obvious and springs from Reason 2.  If you have a teenager, you know how difficult (dangerous even?) it can be to start up a conversation!

Reading the same books simply gives you something to talk about.  Duh!

You might get surprised by a conversation turn-around, too!  I sometimes think it’s going to be me initiating the conversation by saying something like: “hey, what did you think about the car that guy was driving..” or something lame like that.

Every now and then, Austin will come to me with something like this, while reading a book in which the main character lives in a very difficult family situation: “Dad, it really bothers me when Doug’s father gets drunk and hits his mom.  What would ever cause a man to do that?”  Wow!  What an opportunity to connect with my son and address some very real-world issues!

Reading the same books can create amazing connections with your teens!

4.  It will show your teen that you care enough to participate in his or her world!

Some of the problems in parenting teens can come from your teen feeling that you are completely disconnected from his or her reality.  That’s why we sometimes get the glare that says “you have no idea about my life, so don’t even bother!”  Sometimes they are right!  Ouch!

We have to be very careful to not make our teens feel like their world is immature or insignificant or something they will just out-grow in a few years.  Remember back to when you were a teen apply the Golden Rule of Parenting Teens:

The Golden Rule of Parenting Teens: Treat your teen how you wish your parents had treated you! [Tweet this!]

Reading the same books your teen is reading gives you a chance to break through that wall.  It shows your teen you are interested in their world and their issues.  You don’t have to like the books or endorse some of the activities or thoughts described in the books.  But if you take the time to read them, it shows you care.  It gives you some common ground to stand on and talk about (Reason 3).

Sometimes it’s best to not be obvious about reading their books.  Do it without their knowing it.

Occasionally, Austin will read a book and I don’t create a lot of fanfare to announce that I’m reading it too.  I might read it a week or a month after I know he’s finished it.  Maybe it was a book I wasn’t thrilled about him reading but let him do it anyway.  If something from the book comes up in conversation, I can simply say “oh, yeah, I read that, too.”  He’ll look at me quizzically and say “really? I didn’t think you cared for …”

Now he knows that I may not care for the book or the subject matter, but he knows I care enough about him to experience some of his world!

So, there you have it.  Bruce’s 4 Reasons You Should Read the Books Your Teens are Reading.

Like so many other aspects of parenting, try to make it fun for both of you!  Don’t turn it into a competition! Give your teen some room to breathe and grow.  Use it as another way to connect and to help foster in your teen a love for books! You’ll wind up reading some pretty good books alone the way.

One problem you might have with this idea is time.  Parents are busy.  I get that.  Where do you find the time to read their books?  I’ve said this in other posts, but I do most of my “reading” by listening to unabridged audiobooks.  I don’t have much time to sit and read, but I can listen to several books a month on my iPhone while I’m driving or running.  Give audiobooks a shot if you don’t have time for traditional reading.

I hope you found something in this post useful for your role as a mom or dad.  If so, please let me know by leaving me a comment or by sharing or liking or tweet this post to your friends.

P.S. I asked Austin if he would read this before I posted it.  He did and said “this is pretty cool” and then just walked away without further commentary.  A typical teen-boy response…  I’ll take that as a favorable review!

P.P.S. At the time of this writing, Austin and I are reading 11/22/63: A Novel by Stephen King.  And, yes, there is some language and subject matter I’m uncomfortable with him reading, but we are talking through it. Oh, and it’s a really good book!

21 Responses to 4 Reasons You Should Read the Books Your Teens are Reading

  1. Anonymous June 29, 2012 at 10:15 PM #

    This is a great post; full of really very helpful ideas about how to draw your teens into a love of reading, while at the same time connect with them. Good avenue to learn more about their world than THEY will ever tell you. You’ve given excellent examples of why parents should read what their kids are reading. Thanks for the info. Bravo.

    Really enjoying your blog. You’re a very gifted and talented writer. Blog on!

  2. Bruce Van Horn June 30, 2012 at 11:28 AM #

    Anonymous, thanks for posting your comment. I’m happy you found this post helpful. I hope you keep reading and keep commenting… but use your name so I can thank you personally! ;-)

  3. Jeff Goins July 8, 2012 at 12:26 AM #

    Interesting! How’s he liking King?

  4. Bruce Van Horn July 8, 2012 at 12:55 AM #

    Hey, Jeff, thanks for taking the time to read my post. I know you’re super busy with your new book launch and new baby, so it means a lot to me that you took the time to read it.

    Austin liked King’s book a lot. He’s really into history, so this historical fiction book was a good fit for him.

  5. Laura@OutnumberedMom July 9, 2012 at 6:54 PM #

    I’d say “This is pretty cool” is high praise from a teenage boy!

  6. Bruce Van Horn July 9, 2012 at 7:14 PM #

    Laura, thanks! I love your OutNumberedMom.com site.

  7. Bruce Van Horn July 14, 2012 at 12:48 AM #

    Kathleen wrote: “Bruce, I’m sure you have read it, but “The Cay” and “Timothy’s Cay,” by Theodore Taylor are great books for the third to seventh grade crowd – boys as well as girls. My son read it in 4th in Enrichment, and I enjoyed it very much. This is probably old news to you, but I just thought I would mention it.
    Kathy Smith”

    Kathy, no I haven’t heard of these. I’ll check them out for Carter, my 9yr old. He’s enjoying reading now, too. Thanks for the tip!

    I’m currently re-reading As I Lay Dying and just finished Bonfire of the Vanities. I haven’t read either since college! Remember college..? Long ago!

  8. Anonymous October 5, 2012 at 4:19 PM #

    Loved this post!

  9. owlcreekbreadworks October 30, 2012 at 5:54 PM #

    ‘So, if you’re a reader of fiction, come down off your throne of “grown up” fiction or, heaven forbid, “literature”, and read some teen fiction…’

    Great quote. Some of the finest fiction I’ve read has been written for teens and young adults. Marcus Zusak is a current favorite author. He’s known for ‘The Book Thief’ and ‘I Am The Messenger’.

  10. Bruce Van Horn October 30, 2012 at 10:09 PM #

    I agree with you. Zusak is a great writer. I very much enjoyed The Book Thief and am about to read I Am the Messenger. Thanks for your comment!

  11. Carol December 29, 2012 at 3:41 PM #

    I’m a literacy coach at a K-8 school. I love, love, love that you, as a dad, are working so hard to connect with your sons in this way. And while I think that middle school can be kind of dicey, in that kids come across books with questionable subjects, I love that you are allowing your son to read some of these books, but reading them with him, so he has a chance to process his thinking and develop his opinions with input from you. It seems like that kind of processing could be a really good way to help him explore questionable topics. I wish more Christian parents would approach books in this way; it seems like the typical spectrum is to either ignore or censor. I don’t think either of those is healthy.

    Your post was really timely for me. I am currently involved in a really interesting book study group on Facebook- we are studying a book called Book Love by Penny Kittle. If you are on Facebook, you might want to check out the discussion.

  12. Bruce Van Horn December 29, 2012 at 5:02 PM #

    Carol, thanks so much for your comments. It’s great to connect with parents who think alike. I agree with you that too many parents ignore or censor instead of explore and evaluate.

  13. Anonymous January 4, 2013 at 9:47 PM #

    I learned this the hard way. I DIDN’T read my teen daughter’s book choice. Then, while helping proof her school book review, (I believe the book was a Gossip Girl novel) I was shocked to discover the moral of the story, which my daughter perceived, was that if you don’t have the right clothes or drive the right car then you don’t matter. Not exactly the message I wanted my daughter to receive, nor the message that I received I was a teen reading Jane Austen! The world has changed. I was shocked! But, I learned my lesson. We made a trip to the library and found some outstanding books for her to enjoy and also had some great topics of discussion thereafter.

  14. Dr. Par Donahue June 6, 2013 at 1:25 AM #

    This is the first time I have read your blog, but it won’t be the last. You are so right!! On a bigger scale, your kids will enjoy doing what you enjoy doing. In this case reading. Find the things you both like and you will build a great bond with your kids.

    I released a parenting teens book in 2010 and a couple of my high school grand kids picked it up. They loved the stories and the lessons. One 10th grader wrote his book report on it. He will go to Notre Dame this fall so I was pretty thrilled that a smart kid like him would enjoy a parenting book written by his grand par.
    Thanks for this great post! I am a pediatrician and find things like this post very helpful! -fun too.

  15. Bruce Van Horn June 6, 2013 at 8:50 PM #

    Dr. Donahue, thank you so much for your kind words. With your experience with kids/teens, it means a lot to know you found this helpful!

  16. Valerie Remy-Milora June 6, 2013 at 9:46 PM #

    Great post with lots of good ideas. My husband and I have always loved reading with our girls, and I’m always baffled that my oldest (15) does not like to read! I devour books!! My 12 year old is the same way, and my 6 year old is learning to read and absolutely loving. Since my oldest started reading novels for school, I’ve tried to read everything she reads, in part because I grew up in France and haven’t read most of the books on her reading list. With my 12 year old keeping up is much more challenging… she can read a 500 pg book in a couple of nights! I agree that reading what your teens read gives you great insight into their world and wonderful conversation points. I like your suggestion to get the audio version. I do so much driving that would be a great way to catch up!! I publish a newsletter for moms and would love to republish this article, with your permission of course.

  17. Dr. Par Donahue June 6, 2013 at 10:16 PM #

    You are so welcome. I as just so glad to see others who are interested in kids, parents, and families! You might enjoy visiting my blog: http://www.parentingwithdrpar.com/posts
    Be in touch, I’ll continue to follow you! Par

  18. OneNeata July 8, 2013 at 7:30 PM #

    Wow! Are you me? Loved this post!

  19. Rhea and Rory James August 23, 2013 at 4:15 PM #

    Wonderful article, Bruce! As a mother and high school teenager I completely agree with you! So many parents feel out of touch with their teenagers. Reading is a great way to enter their world. I read with my 7 year old every night, and while I may not always be hanging on the edge of my seat while reading her Daisy Meadows novels with her, I enjoy being able to talk to her about the fairy world she loves so much!

  20. Suzanne Adair January 18, 2014 at 6:24 AM #

    Excellent post. For my sons, now 18 and almost 21, I’ve found all of the above points were true. In their case, two other benefits emerged from reading books together. Our discussions of books became reviews that highlighted the strengths and weaknesses in each book, and as a result, my sons can objectively critique books and movies. They’re also the first readers of my manuscripts, and wow, are they ever *tough* editors!

  21. E.S. Ivy March 23, 2014 at 4:43 PM #

    I agree that reading what your kids read is a great way to connect! I do have trouble keeping up with three readers :) and I’ve found reads4tweens.com to be a great resource when I need to know if I need to hurry up and read something they’re reading. They have great reviews with thoughtful comments about anything a parent might/might not be concerned about.

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