My son stopped reading at secondary school – but don’t blame me

Digital editor Irena Barker explains how a family culture of reading could not stop her teenage son being switched off books

boys reading books and phones

Irena Barker reacts to a recent survey of teachers that found many boys see being asked to read as “a punishment”.

There is a lot of “advice” out there about how to inculcate a love of reading in your child and, as a word addict, I’ve read it all. As a result, I’ve been reading bedtime stories to my various children for the past 14 years and my mastery of the regional accents of the British Isles is second to none.

Even on the evenings when I can barely keep my eyes open, I’m there, offering my evening performance of The Snail and the Whale or an edgy extract from 1984 for the older ones.

Family favourites have been the Greek myths, Norse myths, Grimm’s tales and The Saga of Erik the Viking. It’s been a blast, and with an 8-year-old daughter at my disposal, we have some years left.

“Coram Boy was probably the biggest hit with Kensuke’s Kingdom a close second.”

My two sons were lucky enough to have grandparents who subscribed to the “Christmas book flood” tradition, with bedroom shelves creaking under the weight.

This joyful effort did result in me having sons, in their primary years at least, who devoured books one after another. Not intellectual tomes and Dickens, but all the action adventure series with “boy covers” and a few more emotionally intelligent books such as The Wolf Wilder and The House with Chicken Legs.

Coram Boy was probably the biggest hit with Kensuke’s Kingdom a close second.

But, when my oldest started secondary school and he eventually ran out of Robert Muchamores, he simply stopped. He didn’t even have a mobile phone. My thoughtful well-chosen books stacked up by his bed unopened. Nothing appealed.

Since then, he has become addicted to manga comics, which is something – and I can get him to read the Metro newspaper at a push – but he would rather stare into space and listen to rap music. I start to wonder if my urging is having the opposite to the desired effect. He is a teenager after all.

“My thoughtful well-chosen books stacked up by his bed unopened. Nothing appealed.”

My son, now 14, does well enough at school, even though he is not enthusiastic about his lessons. Books no longer hold an allure and seem to remind him of his supposedly “boring” English lessons where he is constantly made to analyse “texts”. It’s a long way from “reading for pleasure” curled up under the covers.

It seems he is a fairly typical boy, GL Assessment’s latest survey of teachers suggests. A third of teachers say their male students see reading as “a punishment” and I think my oldest would agree.

Are boys failing to be gripped by books because of the distraction of social media, YouTube and video games alone or is it something else?

I suspect part of the reason is his non-reading peers, many of whom have not had the benefit of a live performance of Marcello Mouse most weeks since the age of three.

“The biggest worry for educators is the children who have never been read to or experienced the joy of reading.”

Or perhaps it is just part of his development – teenagers’ purpose on earth seems to be rejecting what their parents have to offer. Perhaps he will return to reading later?

Obviously, the biggest worry for educators is the children who have never been read to or experienced the joy of reading and we need to do everything we can to ensure no child misses out.

As for my non-literary son lolling in his bedroom full of books? Maybe it’s just a phase?