Dr. Feldman, when teenagers
become resistant and won’t listen to their parents, where can
they turn for help?
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Jan Baumel of Schwab Learning: You know, when we get older,
self-esteem and motivation become major issues for these kids
who have delayed reading skills. When teenagers become
resistant to accommodations and specialized assistance — you
know, “I don’t want to go to Special Ed. I don’t want to ask
for that accommodation.” Is there any way to turn them around
and get them to be willing to give reading a second chance?
And if so, I mean, the problem becomes very often they don’t
want to listen to Mom and Dad. So who can they turn to for
Answered By: Kevin Feldman, Ph.D.
This is question 5 of an 8-part series on helping older
struggling readers. The following is a transcript of a
conversation which took place on July 17, 2002.
Kevin: Oftentimes Mom and Dad—it’s like our IQs drop by about
100 points between about sixth grade and tenth grade, I think.
Jan: The parents’ IQs, right?
Kevin: Oh yeah, right, not the kids.
Kevin: Yeah, there are some things we can do. I think one
thing is to—again just echoing my earlier comment about
partnering with folks at the school or finding local tutoring
or clinics or other kinds of support where it’s not the
parent. The parent oftentimes can’t really be the best tutor.
We’re so emotionally involved with our kids. We can be real
supportive and encouraging, but oftentimes we really need to
make sure that the tutoring is sort of an independent, third
party that doesn’t have that emotional overlay that we parents
have with our kids.
I think something else is to connect our youngsters with
others that are a little bit further down the line. One of the
most powerful things that I’ve seen is, for example, 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 they’re at higher levels. They’ll come in, and
they’ll actually buddy up with the incoming freshmen or
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 issue 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, that oftentimes the
message is the same, but it 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. That oftentimes we’re
not the best tutors, but what our job is 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.
Jan: You know, it’s the connector role that parents play when
kids get older.
Jan: That’s great. That’s very helpful. I think too many times
parents put too much pressure on themselves to have to do it
all, and it’s okay to ask for help.
Kevin: Yeah, well and then we inadvertently wind up in this
adversarial relationship with our kids 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 this that I don’t
want to do.” It becomes a major source of conflict and
Jan: And there’s plenty of conflict around in just daily
Kevin: Oh, yeah. “Clean the room.” “I want more allowance.”
You know, “I want to use the car this weekend.”
Jan: Exactly. “Put your dishes in the dishwasher.”
Now if parents want to have their teenagers tutored in reading
and written language, you mentioned, the neighbors, the older
kid. But in terms of tutoring and say they had some money to
afford it, who would they seek out? What kind of titles and
background and training do they look for? Are there programs
or specific programs? We hear about the such and such down at
the corner that have programs available. What is designed to
help kids, and where should they look?
Kevin: Well, I would recommend that parents that are
interested in this area, there’s a book that I'd highly
recommend that’s called Straight Talk about Reading, and it's
by a parent of an adolescent that struggled with reading by
the name of Susan Hall and one of our country’s most respected
reading experts, Louisa Moats. So it’s Hall and Moats, and the
book is Straight Talk about Reading where there’s lots of
resources and national organizations and sort of a real
specific way of thinking about this.
In general, what the answer is, is 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. — as
I am about are there other people in the community that I
could call who have had their sons and daughters engaged in
this process, in this tutoring at this clinic that really got
results. So a proven track record would really be sort of
level number one. Now 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, living 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 Web site 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.” That kind of keeping it
local and people that you could talk to face-to-face, both
professionals, like I said, school folks, psychology folks and
just informally other parents. That’s really what I would look
for and then for sort of a national scope and sort of a
clearinghouse and a way of thinking about it, I would highly
recommend this Straight Talk About Reading by Hall and Moats.