I enjoy reading. I go through periods of time where I blaze my way through multiple books a week. Sometimes it’s a good mystery, sometimes it’s good historical fiction, and sometimes it’s a classic that I’ve read before.
I typically try to finish any book that I start. Sometimes, it’s hard. The story is slow moving, and life around me is more interesting. And I’ll admit, I’ve been known to change character names in my head if I don’t like the name the author picked out. A good book is one in which you can see yourself in the story and relate to the characters. You become invested in their lives and their stories. But let’s be honest. Who can relate to someone named Gus or Ignatius? Or Canary Blume?
My kids are slowly becoming readers. I’ve never wanted to force reading on them or use reading as a punishment. I want them to develop a love for reading and not associate reading with something they are forced to do.
Over quarantine, my kids did not read enough. I’ll admit that. Our lives were turned upside down, and we struggled to find a routine and groove that served us well. So, unfortunately, they watched way more television than they should have, and didn’t read or play outside nearly enough. But despite our struggle, somewhere along the way, my son discovered a book series that he enjoyed. And when the book club brochure that was sent home from school had the first 29 books in a bundle, he begged and begged to have it. But when I looked at the price, I will admit that my first thought was “that’s a lot of money for BOOKS!”
I told him I’d talk to his dad about it. Sometimes I use that line just to buy a little bit of time without my kids asking the same question repeatedly. But other times, I use it because I need to balance my tendency to always say “yes” with his tendency to look objectively at the request, and gauge and analyze the potential benefits and setbacks (seems like a lot to consider in regards to buying a few books). After talking with my husband, we determined that was a pretty large sum of money to spend, especially with Christmas not too far in the future.
I did struggle with that decision just a bit, because in my mind, if a kid wants to buy a book because they enjoy reading that series, you buy the book. If a kid would rather sit with his face in a book instead of in a cell phone or video game, you buy the book. You always buy the book. So we worked out a plan that would get him the books, but would make him a part of the process.
He did extra things around the house (my kids don’t get paid to do chores. They are part of the family, so they are responsible to help with the things that keep the family running). He collected pecans to sell. He cleaned mortar off of old bricks. And I’m going to cut him a deal and sell him all the books for the price of half of them. Partly because I do want to reward his hard work, but also because he’s nearly made it through the first 14 books already.
Where am I going with this? There is a very distinct difference in my son’s behavior after an hour of reading verses an hour of watching television. The American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that the average child spends seven hours a day looking at a screen. And that estimate came before virtual school put children in front of a computer for hours on end.
What impact does a screen have, exactly? Screen time has been linked to school problems, aggression and other issues as well, including anxiety. Screens can cause children to become overstimulated, which can impact sleep, mood regulation and stress management. A study reported by the AAP found that regardless of how physically active a child is, more than two hours a day of screen time leads to greater psychological difficulties.
What does too much screen time look like for my kids (and many other kids as well)? Irritability. Tantrums and mood swings. Defiant behavior. Easily frustrated. Inability to focus on something outside of a screen. Lack of short-term memory.
But what about reading a book? What behaviors can we link to an increase in reading books? Studies have shown reading books helps kids develop stronger social skills, as well as strengthens vocabulary and writing skills. It helps a child to work their way through more complex ideas. Another study done by the AAP found that reading by a child, and even reading to a child, actually exerts a positive effect on the developing brain. And here’s a final interesting fact. For teens that participate in pleasure reading, they are able to more clearly express their career goals and understand the consequences of risky behavior.
I’m not anti-screens. And I don’t always do it right. I’ll admit, sometimes it is much, much easier for me to turn on a movie so I can get some things done around the house. I don’t always make the best decisions, even when I know the consequences. But the satisfaction of immediate peace in my house seems to overshadow the impending difficulty and meltdowns that happen when I do shut the movie off (even I’m a victim to immediate gratification sometimes, but that’s for another column). But I will readily admit that I have times as a parent that I need to do better about enforcing moderation when it comes to screen time.
There’s always room for improvement. And as I’ve said before, change isn’t easy. And as a parent after a long day at work and an even longer 2020 (is this year ever going to end?!?), I often want to take the easy way. But it isn’t always the best way. All that to say if your kid is begging you to buy a book series they really want to read, buy the book. Always buy the book. Turn off the TV and buy the book. Everyone knows the book is always better than the movie.