Mind, Motherhood

Using the ‘Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass’ to open the lines of communication

Narrative of the Life of Frederick DouglassAs a mother of a teenage melated man child, it is of the utmost importance to us that he enter this cold and biased world equipped with the tools he needs to survive. One of those tools is a knowledge of self. How can we possibly know who we are if we have no clue about our history? With this thought in mind I decided to assign a summer reading assignment. My son was charged with reading the Narrative of the Life Frederick Douglass. Not only would he read the text, but he would have to discuss the text with me. Yes, I was reading it along with him.


I was inspired by an article featured on Urban Intellectuals, which articulated the reasons why black people are still slaves. One of the reasons was “our” refusal to read.

Read more: https://urbanintellectuals.com/2013/06/10/they-are-still-our-slaves-a-white-mans-perspective-on-black-people/#ixzz4r9vBTAzx
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They have gained the opportunity to read any book on any subject through the efforts of their fight for freedom, yet they refuse to read.

Next, I was inspired by a video of a young guy who explained why his father chose not to pay him for completing chores. Instead, the father paid his son handsomely for reading books and reporting on those books.

These two sources of motivation led me to action. I informed my son that he had an opportunity to make money over the summer and implemented the plan. While the goal was to read several books, we only completed this one text and I am grateful for the experience.


As a teenager, I realize that my son’s primary mode of communication is through emojis and text. Rarely is he placed in a position where true conversation skills are required. Conversations where eye contact and non-verbal communication are very important. This was my chance to teach these skills.

I created a timeline/reading log as well as wrote progress bars on our chalkboard to trigger the sportsman in him and stir up a bit of motivation. When we both finished the book we sat aside time to discuss the text. He came in prepared to do a book report. I shared with him that this was not the intention, asked him to have a seat and have a conversation with me about the book. Oh, how I enjoyed that moment!

To tap into the mind of my teenage son and hear him articulate his thoughts, opinions and responses to this text was remarkable! You know I am big on keeping things sacred, so I will not delve into the details of his responses. What I will do is share how much we appreciated this exercise. I was able to compliment him on his articulation. Through the hour-long conversation I was able to gently correct him, ensure him that I was not judging him, inform him that his opinion is neither right nor wrong. There were so many life lessons packed into that conversation.

I am seeking out our next good read and looking forward to the conversation it yields.

Parents of teenagers, it is still appropriate to read together. While it is no longer a nighttime story, we can still be have a connection to our children no matter the age. Since reading this text together I have noticed more in depth chats with our son. His responses are not simply “Yes”, “No” or “Good”. I like to think that this exercise gave him a voice and let him know that it is okay to use it.

Do you read with your teen? Do you have any recommendations for our next reading adventure?



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