(June 2, 1999)

Attention, parents of teenagers: I want you to read aloud to your child this summer. That’s right, read to your 14, 16, or even 18-year-old. Today’s teens were born before “twenty minutes a day” of reading became a mantra for parents of young children. Neurological research tells us that babies’ brains develop better when little ones are read to. Teenagers’ brains are also developing; exposure to rich language and intriguing stories helps them mentally and spiritually.

Everyone enjoys hearing a good story. But what to read? Anything. Pick out a book you liked as a teenager. Ask a librarian or bookstore staffer for a recommendation. Read a best seller. Read poetry. Read a play. When Robert Pinsky was named Poet laureate, he confessed that he still read aloud to his adult daughters. Begin tonight. Don’t ask questions. Just read.

Children are robbed of the joy of reading when they are only reading books for school — for homework, to meet a requirement, to please someone else. Even children who already read for fun deserve to be read to. It’s a wonderful way for teens and parents to connect. No one can stay mad for long when they’re enjoying a book together. If it’s an especially entertaining story, teenagers will often grab the book to finish on their own. That happened in my household the last two summers when I read Philip Pullman’s fantasy/science fiction thrillers, “The Golden Compass” and “The Subtle Knife,” with my older daughters. At the end of this school year I read J.K. Rowling’s best-selling Harry Potter books aloud to my nine-year-old, and on many nights her 14-year-old sister migrated from the homework table to the edge of the couch. “Don’t stop reading NOW!” they cried at the end of an exciting chapter.

“But you have to get up early tomorrow for school,” I replied. Well, now that it’s summer we’ll have the luxury of reading “just one more chapter” many times over. Reading aloud is indeed a luxury, and also a simple, inexpensive gift every parent should bestow upon a child — and teenager.

With a Perspective, I’m Debbie Duncan.