I remember many times when my kids would come to me with their favourite book and ask me to read it. For a long time I knew everything my kids were reading because I was reading it to them. In some cases, I knew those books off-by-heart, because we had read them together so many times.
Of course, the real advantage when your kids are young is that the books are short, the sentences are simple, and the pictures are often very clever. I believe that writing a book for little kids is just as difficult to as writing a novel – that is, if you are tyring to write a good book!
As my kids got older, I began to wish they would get the hang of reading by themselves so I could have a break – and I got what I wished for. The down-side was that it also meant I became increasingly out of touch with what they were reading. This is especially the case for my teenage kids; and I have one who devours books like they are chocolate bars.
Intrigued by what they were absorbing into their values system through the allure of narrative, I set myself the task of reading something they were really keen about. I listened for a book (a series, as it turned out) that they talked about a lot. It seems lots of other kids were reading these books, and mine were desperate to get their hands on them.
Most important of all (for me, that is) was that the books were told from the point of view of the main character – a girl (yes, my teenagers are girls). It seemed to me that if an author was read avidly by teenagers, especially girls, then there was a good chance that the author had captured something real about the experience of being a teenage girl, or something powerful that they were aspiring to be. This first person narrative had to have that authenticity in how the main character saw the world she was living in.
Now I could (and I have) read books on raising teenagers, in order to gain insights into how the teenage mind works. But I think I learnt more from reading along with my teenage children, by reading what they were interested in. Just as when they were little, their favourite books revealed something about their character or nature, so now the books they read are appealing to them in some way. They are also shaping them, their thinking and their believing.
I guess I’m telling you this story so that you might consider doing the same thing as me. Perhaps one powerful way to connect with your teenage child is to discover something they are interested in – I think books are remarkably powerful, but I’m hoping that if your kid is not into reading, you will know of something else that really delights them or captures their interest. And I hope you will take the time to get to know that movie, sport, online game – and more importantly, you will observe some of the values and beliefs that it carries with it. Noticing these deeper things is what will provide glimpses into what might be going on inside your child.
Finally, I reckon this is something that Dads with daughters and Mums with sons ought to make a particular effort to try. We find it hard enough to understand the operating system set up in the brain of other people of the opposite gender. So when that person is also our child, our responsibility and our pride and joy, it seems to me that could go the extra mile, put ourselves out a little bit, in order to get to know their world a little bit better.