How do we help our children find “the good life?” Read more books!

I recently took a week off from social media. One of my main goals with that extra free time was to get my nose back in a book again. Reading daily, not just tweets and articles, but back to my list of unread classics.

Sadly, my time spent reading has decreased dramatically with the increase in my use of social media. And I’d been feeling I needed to change that.

Before I got to my list, though, I wanted to read/listen to Ben Sasse’s new book, The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis, with our two teenage kids. The perfect opportunity to do that was while we were driving during a quick road trip to visit the Lincoln presidential museum and historical sites.

The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis. Ben Sasse. Reading. Children. Parenting. Families.


Sasse says families should develop practices to prepare their kids to become “fully formed, vivacious, appealing, resilient, self-reliant, problem-solving souls who see themselves as called to love and serve their neighbors.”

And how do they do that? Learning the value of hard work, developing multi-generational relationships, traveling and – wait for it – reading.

Coincidence? Probably not. I knew I needed to do better. And Sasse’s book reinforced that.

It’s not enough for us to encourage our children to read, however. They need to see us setting the example of being readers ourselves.

When we returned from our road trip, we all headed to our home library to pick out some books we hadn’t read yet. And a trip to the public library followed.

How to help our children find "the good life?" Read more books! And let them choose. Reading. Children. Education. Parenting.
Hunter reading one of the “39 Clues” books on the bleachers during his sister’s volleyball game.

One of the most important things I’ve discovered over the years, with two very different children, is that letting them choose what they want to read, not what we want them to read, is vital.

We struggled with our oldest and reading for years. For awhile, when I said it was time to read, he would pick up “Car Science” by Richard Hammond. He probably read that thing a hundred times. But that’s what interested him. I would ask if he’d like something else and he’d always say no. So then we started getting some car magazines for him to read through as well.

We’d go to the library and he’d pick out several books. But when it was time to read, he went back to “Car Science.”

One day, though, the summer before his 8th grade year, he checked out the first Percy Jackson book and I encouraged him to at least read the first couple of pages. He devoured it. He just kept reading and reading, past the time we had scheduled for him to spend reading. And then he wanted the next in the series and the next. It opened up a new world of him wanting to read instead of us feeling like we had to force him to read. He started taking a book with him everywhere, especially his sister’s activities, so he could read when he didn’t want to be watching her play.

Katherine Paterson, who wrote two of my favorite books, Bridge to Terabithia and The Great Gilly Hopkins, said: “The wonderful thing about books is that they allow us to enter imaginatively into someone else’s life. And when we do that, we learn to sympathize with other people. But the real surprise is that we also learn truths about ourselves, about our own lives, that somehow we hadn’t been able to see before.”

I think that’s one of the things Sasse was talking about in his book.

“Our goal is for our kids to be intentional about everything they do — to reject passivity and mindless consumption and to embrace an ethos of action, of productivity, of meaningful work, of genuinely lifelong learning,” Sasse writes. “In other words, we want them to find the good life.”

What tips and tricks have you used with your children?

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