Why I Still Read Out Loud to My Teenagers

Bridge to Terabithia
By Katherine Paterson

When we talk about reading out loud to our kids, we take for granted that the children in question are in their preschool or early elementary years.

However, our family has never completely outgrown the read-aloud, even though our youngest is 13.

Here are the unexpected benefits and reasons why we continue to read aloud with our teens - and why you should too:

Connections and shared experiences 

We have discussed, debated, laughed, and cried over the books we've read together. There wasn't a dry eye in the house during Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson, The Education of Little Tree by Forrest Carter, or A Big Little Life by Dean Koontz - after which we had to read everything Trixie ever 'wrote'.

We have spent hours laughing at the adventures of Calvin and Hobbes, and this cartoon duo is still a favorite re-read. We still talk about the hysterically amusing series Blogging Twilight by Dan Bergstein on Spark Notes, even though we read it five years ago:

I picture Carlisle, Esme, and Rosalie as a crimefighting team. When confronted with a bad situation, Carlisle shouts, "I'll use my compassion to stop the army of evil robots. Esme, use your power of love to free the prisoners, and Rosalie, use your stubbornness to thwart the mad doctor. Cullens attack!" And then all three are killed instantly. from Blogging Twilight Part 12

Just reading that makes my sides hurt.

When we connect with the characters and events in a story, we share not only the story, but the experiences of those characters. These shared experiences form connections that are strong and lasting. We enjoy our private jokes and references that only we understand. Sometimes it just takes a line from a book to communicate a complex thought or feeling.

Shared knowledge

Because we've read so many books together, we have a pool of shared knowledge about different topics. This makes conversation easier because we aren't spending time having to explain things to each other - in other words, we can take some things for granted. This doesn't mean we are a pool of shared ignorance, however. Any time one of us reads a book and talks about it, it isn't unusual for everyone else to pick it up as well because we are so accustomed to this level of shared knowledge and understanding. 

There may be some sibling rivalry going on there too, but hey- sibling rivalry over books? Gets my vote!

A love of audiobooks

I think our love of read alouds made the transition to audiobooks nearly seamless. When we read to our kids, we seem to have an instinct to not just read the story, but tell it in a way we don't do in other situations. A good audiobook narrator also reads with inflections and voices and emotions that help you move past the narrator and into the story.

Although my kids enjoy listening to music on their computers and phones, they have never stopped listening to audiobooks as they do chores, relax in the evenings, drive here and there. . . and, of course, we pass around the audiobooks just like we do print books. 

Learning opportunities

I choose books to give my kids - and myself - new perspectives. We've read for fun and pleasure, and we've read Shakespeare, classics like Dracula and Tom Sawyer, and the poetry of Robert Frost. But I've either read the entire book or selected chapters from:

to mention a few. The book we are currently reading is Monkeys on the Interstate by Jack Hanna, and next book on my read aloud list is An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth by Colonel Chris Hadfield.

Family bonding

After reading this far I think it will be fairly obvious to you that reading together strengthens our bonds of family and friendship. The kids might not be cuddling on my lap, but we still have feelings of affection and closeness when we sit together and read. We reminisce about our favorite reads - who and where we were in our lives during those times.

It also creates a comfort zone of easily sharing our personal lives, our thoughts and feelings, our interests, even our differences. We've spent time debating a variety of topics, and learning how stick to the issues at hand with a respectful tone and open mind.

It doesn't feel at all strange that we still enjoy a time of reading out loud together. I don't know if I can imagine life without spending time in books with my kids.

Some key findings of a survey by Scholastic and YouGov about "family attitudes and behaviors around reading books for fun": 

Reading Aloud at Home

See the full data
  • More than half of children ages 0–5 (54%) are read aloud to at home 5–7 days a week. This declines to only one in three kids ages 6–8 (34%) and to one in six kids ages 9–11 (17%); four in 10 children ages 6–11 who were read books aloud at home (40%) say they wished their parents had continued reading aloud to them.
  • When it comes to being read aloud to at home, more than eight in 10 children (83%) across age groups say they love(d) or like(d) it a lot—the main reason being it was a special time with parents.

Don't stop reading aloud when your kids learn to read on their own. Keep that habit going for as long as you can, and reap some amazing and unexpected benefits.

Do you still read aloud to your teens? What are some favorite books you've shared?