How parents influence children’s attitudes to reading

How do parents act as social influencers in encouraging children’s reading attitudes and behaviours? An Australian study investigates.

An Australian study has looked at the relationships between reading frequency, gender, and parental encouragement – and how these findings might inform approaches to supporting reading in the home.

The study collected survey and interview data from children ages 8-12 from 24 Western Australian elementary schools, totalling 997 survey respondents and 47 interview participants. Key findings of the study included:

Encouragement from parents has an impact

Just over two-thirds of students reported receiving encouragement from parents or other adults in their life.

Common types of encouragement included verbal encouragement, such as placing value on the literacy skills, learning benefits, and respite from screens that reading offers. Encouragement was also perceived through parental actions – including through providing access to books through purchasing and gifting, and establishing expectations around reading for children.

Shared reading was perceived as a particularly important form of encouragement involving both parent and child in the social experience of reading, with the report stating: “Shared reading builds a sense of self as a reader.” 

Children are aware of parental hypocrisy

Of significant note was the finding that children are keenly aware of parental hypocrisy when it comes to reading. While parents can actively attempt to foster interest in reading for children, the report observes “if they are not readers themselves, it may not yield any positive influence on children’s attitudes to reading”.

In other words, children are asking the question: ‘If you’re not reading, why should I?’

As such, the researchers suggested that – in addition to encouraging reading to children – parents wanting to shift children’s attitudes towards reading will have greater success if they are demonstrating reading themselves. 

When looking at how these findings might be used by libraries, the researchers recommended that any interventions to improve young people’s reading engagement should also focus on improving parental reading attitudes and behaviours. However, they stressed that this message needs to be communicated in a way that prevents parents with low literacy from feeling marginalised.

Gender bias exists in encouraging reading

The report showed that girls received higher level of encouragement on reading than boys. Researchers surmised that this is likely to be reflective of gender-based assumptions which lead to lower expectations being placed on boys.

This finding ties into a growing body of research that investigates the disparity between boys and girls reading engagement. In their 2021 report, Deloitte Global predicted that boys and men in almost every country will continue to spend less time reading books, and read them less frequently, than girls and women.

As such, the researchers suggest that there is more to be done by both parents and the broader industry in combating harmful gender-based stereotypes about boys’ and girls’ reading identity, to ensure that boys continue to receive encouragement, and that both support and “expectations are not withdrawn from them based on that literacy and reading is deemed feminine”.

Reading attitude has the greatest impact on reading frequency

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the research found that “reading attitude was the strongest predictor of reading frequency” in children. In other words, if children don’t perceive reading as valuable and enjoyable, they are less likely to do it. 

Parents can assist in shifting attitudes towards reading through providing encouragement and modelling positive reading behaviours themselves. 

Furthermore, the researchers suggests that focus on improving attitudes should be paramount in library-based literacy interventions to encourage young people to read with greater frequency.

Read the full research article here, or explore further research into the benefits of shared and family reading via our website.