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Are Teens Reading? Should They Be?

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It's not unusual to find a group of teenagers sitting quietly, all of them with their heads looking down, shoulders slumped, as they silently tap away at their smartphones. Many of them are texting each other (some sitting right across from them), catching up on social media or watching YouTube videos.

It's natural for parents to be concerned not only with what the screen time is doing to their child's concentration, studies, and vision, but also if it is taking away from other activities that they could be engaging in.

I spent much of my adolescence with my head buried in a book (still do) maybe because we didn't have the same distractions. I wondered if today's teens could be convinced to do the same.

Can we get our teens to turn away from screens and turn their heads towards reading more? Do teens actually want to read?

Bestselling young adult author Helaine Becker certainly thinks so. "Contrary to what many adults think, young people are actually avid readers -- if they have material to read." She says. "The number one way to encourage kids and teens to read is to give them access to a wide selection of titles. Then let them choose! (You don't want your reading list selected by someone else, do you? Neither do they.)"

Since time began, teenagers have been concerned about what their peers are doing, and whether they fit in. This phenomenon is true about the books they're reading as well, says Becker. "What their friends/peers are reading is important to them too -- reading is social! So encourage kids to talk about what's on their own TBR lists, or use online resources where teens discuss their favourite books."

One of the best ways to engage your teen in reading is to incorporate technology as well. But isn't turning them from one screen and onto another, like an e-reader or tablet, still concerning in terms of screen time? Is it really helpful to get them off their phone at night, and into some reading on a different screen (versus a paper book) before they go to sleep? "Depending on what kind of bedside light you have, I'd prefer you to read on a device, and one that eliminates blue light (like the Kobo Aura One eReader, for example) is excellent. It's especially important for teens who are much more photo sensitive than adults," says Colleen Carney, Associate Professor and Director of the Sleep and Depression Laboratory at Ryerson University.

What should a teenager be reading? "Don't worry about what they are reading -- it can be fluff, it can be a graphic novel, it could be something you think is "unworthy." But reading widely is what allows us to develop taste. That takes time to develop. The key point is that reading is a great leisure activity, and it's our role as adults to help kids cultivate the habit, not determine the content," Says Becker.

Show them a good example, Mom and Dad; put down the phone and pick up a book. Who knows, you might even start your own in-house book club.