The generation gap is an American institution. Every generation experiences it and technology exacerbates it. We don’t talk about the impact the generation gap has on our perception of children nearly enough. Specifically, we need to start talking about how our generational bias is impacting our perception of literacy.
We think of the classics as the books that have been loved for generations. And we think of it as a tragedy if these books aren’t being cherished by new generations. But we create readers or nonreaders by what we provide. They might not care about the Babysitters Club, and aspiring author and tomboy Jo March might not speak to your favorite 12 year old. Some kids need Harry Potter in their lives, but some will reject the entire wizarding world. All of this is fine. The very idea of a “good” book is subjective. And honestly, as a collective group, adults need to accept that kids don’t have to like what they liked. They can fall in love with texts that we don’t even realize are possible.
When we as parents, educators, and adults in general disparage children for not reading anymore, we are missing the point. Kids still read. Teens still read. We are in a renaissance of young adult literature. Teen Lit is a real and marketable genre. If you don’t believe me, ask John Green, Suzanne Collins, and Rick Riodan: literary celebrities raised up by teens and preteens. Even if you don’t know Sara Sheppard or Cecily von Ziegesar, I bet you recognize the titles Pretty Little Liars and Gossip Girl. In fact, young adult literature is part of pop culture in a way that bestselling adult literature simply is not. And all of this is by choice.
Growing up, I didn’t have unlimited access to movies, music, and television shows by the season. I couldn’t binge watch anything, or chat with my friends for hours; my video games weren’t interactive or portable. So I frequently read because I was bored. Kids today don’t have to read to avoid boredom. They have choices. And they ARE choosing to read. But there is a pervasive idea in our society that teenagers are on the verge of illiteracy, understanding only online abbreviations and abhorring the printed word.
So, if the child, or teen, or adult in your life isn’t reading, it’s not their fault—it’s ours. But we can change that. It’s about putting your ego aside and realizing that we grew up in a desert of amazing teen literature. That desert no longer exists and that’s something to celebrate. We need to start over and find new books to recommend. If we want to create a new generation of readers, we need to realize that we’re the only ones holding back a generation of readers by denying them the autonomy to determine what is great literature. It’s possible, and it’s necessary.