By Kevin Feldman, Ed.D.
When teenagers become resistant and won't listen to their parents, where can the family turn for help with a student's reading difficuties? Kevin Feldman, Ed.D., addresses that question in this article.
There are some things we can do. I think one thing is to partner with folks at the school or find local tutoring or clinics or other kinds of support other than the parent. The parent oftentimes can't really be the best tutor. We're so emotionally involved with our kids. We can be very supportive and encouraging, but oftentimes we really need to make sure that the tutoring is [performed by] an independent, third party who doesn't have that emotional overlay that we parents have with our kids.
Something else to do is connect our youngsters with others who are a little bit further down the line [in overcoming reading difficulties]. One of the most powerful things that I've seen is — for example, in some high schools that I've worked with where they're working with struggling readers — they'll have, say, juniors and seniors, who have already been in the reading class and either have exited or progressed to higher levels. They'll come in and they'll actually buddy up with the incoming freshmen or sophomores.
And oftentimes, it's hearing the same message, but from a messenger who's closer in age, looks more like me, who says, "You know, I was right where you were when I was 15. And I gave this thing a go and now I'm not an all-star reader, but you know what? I'm reading way better than I ever have, and I can actually do most of this work on my own. And I'm planning on going to college" or whatever it is. In other words, hearing it from another kid.
So this idea of a slightly older mentor who's been through similar circumstances. And we have a number of programs around the country where we're doing that systematically because we recognize that who the messenger is — oftentimes the message is the same — affects a young person and adolescent differently when they hear it from a slightly older adolescent, rather than hearing it from Mom or Dad.
So part of it is hooking you up with quality programs that actually work. Part of it is engaging them with other kids who've been there and can sort of provide that role model and that support. And I think the last piece is to recognize that we as parents really can't do it all. Oftentimes we're not the best tutors; our job is to really encourage and support our kids, then connect them with an independent third party, a college kid in the neighborhood, even an aunt or uncle, a next-door neighbor, somebody else who can do this more effectively than we can.
[Otherwise] we can inadvertently wind up in this adversarial relationship with our kids [when we're] coming from a place of love and support and concern. But the kids perceive it as intrusion and "They're trying to make me do something I don't want to do." It becomes a major source of conflict and frustration.
If parents want to have their teenagers tutored in reading and written language, who would they seek out? What kinds of titles and background and training do they look for?
I would recommend, for parents who are interested in [how people learn to read], a book called Straight Talk about Reading, co-authored by Susan Hall, a parent of an adolescent who struggled with reading, and Louisa Moats, one of our country's most respected reading experts. [The book includes] lots of resources and national organizations and a very specific way of thinking about this.
In general, [parents should] look for an established track record. In other words, I'd be less enamored with various letters after the name — M.A., Ph.D., Ed.D., M.D. — [than with finding] other people in the community that I could call who have had their sons and daughters engaged in this process — in this particular tutoring or at this specific clinic — that really got results. So a proven track record would really be number one. Some of these individuals are also aligned with national organizations that have high credibility, organizations like the Council on Exceptional Children, or CEC, for example, or the International Dyslexia Association, the former Orton-Gillingham Society.
But most importantly, because I live in a relatively small town myself, I really recommend both a proven track record and endorsements from local professionals. Not just some person's name on a website that is from who knows where, but somebody who is a local school psychologist or a local special education teacher or a local principal. Somebody you could go talk to and they could say, "Oh, yes, this clinic here — we've been sending kids there for the last five years, and, boy, the feedback from parents has been great." Keep it local and [focus on] people that you could talk to face-to-face, professionals, school folks, psychology folks, and other parents.