Solitary reading is a recent pastime. Traditionally, a book was read to an audience. Since people could speak they have gathered around fires exchanging stories. Wonderful family traditions can be built on communal reading – I read a Victorian ghost story to the family every Christmas Eve. We sit by the fire in a candle lit room and collectively enjoy the atmosphere. It’s very Charles Dickens.
Poster promoting reading by Charles Dickens in Nottingham (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Great literature wrestles with difficult subjects. Sometimes when we try discussing a subject with our teens, it can sound like we are preaching and our well meant words fall on ear phone ears. However, when we read to our teens, difficult subjects arise naturally and we can talk about them as part of our reading experience. For instance, in Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Doctor Jekyll takes chemical substances which change both his appearance and his behaviour. In effect, it ruins his life. When we chat with our teens about their opinion of Doctor Jekyll, we usually find that they have already made up their minds about him and his actions.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde poster. Converted losslessly from .tif to .png by uploader. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Schools do not have time to cover a full novel because of their tight curriculum. At this point, I expect parents are wondering, who does have time to read a full novel to a teenager especially as they could read it themselves. To cover the last point first, many great novels are being overlooked because teenagers are not being introduced to them. Many teenagers read novels from our literary heritage because they have to to pass exams. This gives out the wrong message about these great works of fiction. If we offer lounging on the sofa, having a piece of cake and being introduced to the world of Laurie Lee’s “Cider With Rosie”, without having to write an essay on it, it’s an appealing proposition. As for the time factor, reading sessions can replace: watching programmes which nobody really wants to watch, time spent complaining of boredom, time spent squabbling or staring at a computer screen because there seems nothing more interesting to do.
Cider with Rosie. This rather overgrown cider press is just off the B4070, where the path leads up to Wickridge Hill. It's only a quarter of a mile from Slad where Laurie Lee, of "Cider with Rosie" fame was a regular at the Woolpack Inn (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Reading to our teenagers aids bonding. Before our children can read, most of us, read them bedtime stories at least. The beaming child’s face gives us the sense of joy which only parenting can release. The child gets to a certain reading stage though and we feel that we no longer need to read to them. Often, parents and teenagers can seem to grow apart because although they share a home, they live in different worlds. Reading to our teenagers gives us something to share with them, therefore something to discuss. I love Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”, my teenage son doesn’t. We have stimulating arguments about it. It’s better than quarrelling over the fact that he hasn’t put his dirty socks in the wash.
Promotional photo of Boris Karloff from The Bride of Frankenstein as Frankenstein's monster. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Reading to our teens balances the relationship between child and parent as it empowers them to read to us. If we read to them, after a while they will choose books, stories etc to read to us. It gives them self esteem and therefore balances the teenager/parent struggle. Teenagers who have a sense of control in their lives are easier to live with. Having their parents listening to their choice of literature gives them a feeling of autonomy.
Teenagers are the adults of the future and we need them to embrace our great literary heritage. We need them to read to their future children. By reading to our teens we are promoting a love and understanding of literature. We are sending out the message “do as I do, not as I say.”