My son (no longer) reads… and now what do I do?

According to data from the Barometer of Reading Habits and Book Sales of the Publishers’ Guild Federation… 85.2% of children from six to nine years of age read up to three hours a week in their free time, 70.8 % of 10 to 14 year olds maintain this “good habit”.

The children of our country read. They read a lot. They are the ones who read the most. Especially the girls. No doubt. It is a social achievement to be proud of. According to data from the Barometer of Reading Habits and Book Sales of the Publishers’ Guild Federation… 85.2% of children from six to nine years of age read up to three hours a week in their free time, 70.8 % of 10 to 14 year olds maintain this “good habit”. And yet when they reach the critical age -so vilified, so misunderstood- of adolescence… the percentage falls by half and only 44.7% persevere in the reading habit (many more, moreover, than adults who say they keep doing it for pleasure).

Experts agree (almost) always in pointing out the factors that accompany this collapse: In Primary, the support of teachers to reading is greater and more systematized, while in Secondary, the specialization of disciplines means that reading is relegated to the area of language and literature with not very successful practices in many cases; the irruption of social networks and the immense audiovisual offer that assails adolescents; and the relevance that the group takes, social relations, at this stage of development complete a panorama -which seems- discouraging.

However “other experts” and those who are (we are) in constant contact with young people say: Adolescents DO read, of course they do. It is possible that they do not read what we would like, it is probable that many of their readings are superficial and too practical, it is certain that many things are lost along the way… But they read. Wow, they do read!

Wattpad is a reading and writing app that already has over 500 million stories and they all have readers! Millions of young people around the world share their stories and read those of other young people (and not so young) elevating them to the category of best-sellers. But it’s not enough. Of course that is not enough… and many adults open our flesh when we see that our young people (and our fellow citizens) spend their time glued to screens for hours and hours with fragmentary, banal, superficial, ephemeral messages…

But what to do? What can I do to get my child to read again?

There are no magic formulas, no tricks, and we have long been aware that more or less ingenious “slogans” do not “make readers”.

From my experience in classrooms, in libraries, in physical and virtual spaces where I have been meeting young readers and non-readers… there are keys, strong ideas, convictions that work… if they are applied with honesty and perseverance…

The first and the most obvious. For them to read… let us read. That the example is an overwhelming educational force is beyond any doubt. But sometimes we try to get our students, our children, to do things that we don’t do… We want them to read, to enjoy, to learn from reading. But we find a thousand and one excuses not to do it (the same ones as them, on the other hand: that if I don’t have time, that if the books don’t hook me, that if I get home very tired…)

And even more, let’s read “what they read”. Children’s and youth literature in our country enjoys good health, prestige and a moment that could well be described as the Golden Age. Rare is the year that one of our LIJ writers is not nominated for the prestigious Astrid Lindgren Prize (the Nobel Prize for Children’s and Young Adult Literature). And yet… how many parents still read the books their children read at 15, 16 years old? If we want to bring them closer to the best literature, let’s start by reading the “best literature written for them” (and the one that is not written for them too, of course).

Let’s read, reread, recover those novels that marked us, those that left their mark. Let’s reread Sallinger’s The Catcher in the Rye or Kafka’s Letter to the Father, the best books by Verne or Dumas and those like Steppenwolf or The Little Prince that will never be read the same as in adolescence. The best campaign to encourage reading in front of a teenager is a parent or a teacher reading in front of him… Or much better still: reading WITH him.

And after that? Then… let’s share with them the “benefits” of reading (and the difficulties, and the tedium, and sometimes laziness…). Let’s offer them reading, let them read, let’s present them with options, alternatives. The best. Just as we teach them (or at least we try) to eat, to try new flavours, to appreciate what is good, to play sports, to like beauty, to enjoy music… Let’s give them to read. Offering reading involves making it present: having a small library at home, supplying one in your room, or on your own shelf, suggesting, recommending, inviting… Offering reading involves making it visible: that the center of family life is not the television or the personal screen of each one, but the shelf, the shelf, the bookcase.

And to close the circle, so that the flame does not go out, so that the effort is useful for something… LET’S SHARE what we read. Thousands of people go every week in our country to reading clubs to comment on their latest reading. Let’s do it in the classroom, at home, at work. Let’s talk about books, as we talk about series, sports, politics and entertainment… Let’s recover reading as a provocation, as a social fact. Let’s make reading a topic of conversation… Let’s talk first and listen to what young people have to say (I’m sure we’ll learn a lot)

And so that this article does not remain as a desideratum, a declaration of (good) intentions or a toast to the sun… here are some very, very specific suggestions.

If your child/student is sullen, surly, closes the door in your face, no longer looks you in the eye and walks ruminating his emotional discomfort by pushing… have authors like Peter Cameron and his Someday all this pain will be useful to you or León Kamikaze by Álvaro García Hernández.

If your child/student is aware of the difficulties of being different, if they have already had to face prejudice and the pressure of the establishment. If at any time you have had the feeling that adolescence “hurts him so much that he would want to skip it”… be sure to offer him and read Nando López’s books with him, anyone: The age of anger, Nobody hears us, In the networks of fear… or go together to one of his plays (Malditos 16, for example).

If your child/student still fondly remembers any of Jules Verne’s books, if he or she gets hooked on the Indiana Jones sagas and the more esoteric ones of the Mummy… without a doubt, look for one of Cesar Mallorquí’s books, Secret Calligraphy or especially Bowen’s Island… and you’ll see what it’s like to pass the hours without raising your head… If mystery, emotion and cinematographic rhythm are your thing… Hyde, Valkyrie or Unknown by David Lozano are safe bets, very safe.

If your child/student is addicted to series and platforms, if they have been hooked on Sex Education and Elite… get hold of any of the titles by Alfredo Gómez Cerdá or Gemma Liennas, or Maite Carranza or Care Santos.

If you are sure that your child/student contains a sensitivity that hides under layers and layers of indifference and apathy… if you have discovered him enraptured looking at a painting or admiring a dance, a phrase, an image… any book by Mónica Rodríguez will be a real depth charge… A sparrow in the hands, Biography of a body… Gonzalo Mouré, Rosa Huertas, Ana Alcolea… in all their stories the adolescent will find accurate analysis, risky proposals, challenges to his intelligence and sensitivity.

And if the thing is about sensitivity, if you live with a son/student with raging hormones (everyone is, right?), if a look from their boy or girl can change their mood for the whole week, if they have been accumulating emotions under the blush of their shyness for years… the novels of Begoña Oro, Patricia García-Rojo, Javier Ruescas and many others… will be the perfect love manual for them.

Reading a lot. Read with them. Talk about what you read. Know what they read. Offer them good and varied readings… From this handful of authors or others, national or foreign, classic or modern… that connect with their interests and present them with challenges, challenges, that open doors and windows for them, that show them the endless potential of the reading.

Professor of Language and Literature for 21 years at the Santa María del Pilar School in Zaragoza. He coordinated the school libraries of the 17 schools that the Marianists have in Spain (1 in Brazil).

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