Are You Sabotaging Your Child's Healthy Reading Habits?

Shutterstock 504254305
Shutterstock photo

Two-tenths of an hour. That’s 12 minutes. And that’s how much time teens ages 15 to 19 spend reading for pleasure per day, on average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Apparently, it’s not because they lack the time, according to the bureau’s findings.

Somehow they can find several (7-9 hours a day) hours a day to play their games, watch TV and surf social media, but no time for book reading. At Families Managing Media, in our work with families, this lack of interest in reading seems to be a big problem for today's digitally distracted kids. 

Let's take a look at some ways that we parents may sabotage our children's chances to develop healthy reading habits without even knowing it.

1. Make sure there are no age-level pleasure novels/books in the house.

Have you taken inventory lately of the age-appropriate books in your home, especially in your child’s room? Do a quick check: Your child should have at least five to 10 age-appropriate unread books in his room to choose from.

2. Enforce homework reading but don’t encourage pleasure reading.

If your children only read books that they must read for school, chances are they won’t develop a love for pleasure reading — even if the school assignments are novels. By only focusing on school reading, you send a message. Everyone in the house should always have a non-school book to read.

3. Set the kitchen timer for reading time.

Any use of the kitchen timer can make some kids feel like they are being punished; never make reading feel like a punishment for your kids.  Think of other ways to get the block of time in. For example, try saying, “Let’s all grab our books and meet in the den and read for an hour before we go out to dinner.” Not only is that fun but it also gives you something to talk about at dinner!

4. Never have books in the car.

When you allow screens instead of books in the car on trips, during errands, and at doctor’s appointments, you miss a huge opportunity to tell your child that down times and wait times are the perfect time for pleasure reading. Just reading for 15 minutes a day will add up to more than 1 million words read this year! That will increase his vocabulary, increase his brain connections and continue to build a valuable reading habit—all while you’re doing errands. If your child experiences motion sickness, as many do, choose audio books rather than screens for the car ride.

5. Never read in front of your kids.

If you never have a pleasure reading book in your lap, how will they know that you think reading is important? Your bright child easily picks up on the importance of reading by your actions.  And they need to see real books in your hands, not just e-readers or smartphones.

6. Never give books as gifts, but put a screen their rooms instead.

We give things we value to our children. Give them a book instead of another screen this next birthday and Christmas. Jot a personal note in the inside cover to make it even more meaningful.

7. Never act interested in their reading or ask questions about their books.

Do you ever have book discussions at dinner? If you go around the table, asking each family member about what they are currently reading, children will feel significant as they contribute to the conversation. Want to really boost her reading interest? Ask to borrow her book when she is done.

8. Never take your kids to the library or bookstore.

Never let them spend a few hours reading in the quiet, soothing, therapeutic atmosphere of a quiet public library or bookstore. You won’t be alone: apparently, more than half the U.S. population didn’t set foot in a library last year. A 2016 Pew Research Center Survey said “nearly half (48 percent) of Americans visited libraries in the past year. Roughly a third (32 percent) say they had used libraries at one time or another, though not in the past 12 months. Additionally, one-in-five (19 percent) said they had never (italics mine) visited a public library or a bookmobile. This has been a persistent trend in Pew Research Center surveys for five years.”

9. Never read aloud with them.

Your children will never outgrow the need for hearing you, their parents, read to them. When you put emotion into the characters, when they hear your tone and your “immersion,” they follow along and absorb many reading benefits, not to mention the emotional benefits of spending quality time with you. A study released in January 2015 by Scholastic, the children’s book publisher, found that “reading aloud through elementary school seemed to be connected to a love of reading generally. According to the report, 41 percent of frequent readers ages 6 to 10 were read aloud to at home, while only 13 percent of infrequent readers were being read to,” according to an article in The New York Times. The 2014 study also found “some consistent patterns among the heavier readers: For the younger children—ages 6 to 11—being read aloud to regularly and having restricted online time were correlated with frequent reading.”

10. Offer screen time as a reward for reading time.

In all of our work with families in screen overuse conflicts, this ranks as the No. 1 way to kill your child’s love for reading. When you allow children to trade reading time for more screen hours, you send the wrong message. Book reading time should never be used as currency for video game or screen time. Period. Sorry, Mom and Dad. If game time always trumps reading, reading will quickly lose esteem in their eyes.


Developing reading habits during childhood is an investment with immeasurable future payoffs and benefits.  If you have a child who loves books, you are on the right path. If you don’t, keep at it! The best way to increase healthy reading habits is to strictly limit your children’s access to free-time screen play. You can nurture the love of reading in your child; I know it’s possible as I turned one of my non-reader boys into a wonderful reader simply by spending more time with him in books!  

If you need help reducing the screen conflicts in your home, please reach out to us we can help. We have tips and solutions for fixing screen problems and reclaiming childhood.