My son just ended a two week punishment of nothing with a screen. No TV, no video games, no computer, no iPad, no internet on his phone. He’s positively ecstatic. He soaked in every minute of TV he could this morning before heading off to school. But as I switched on the internet connection for his phone, he said words I love hearing: “I won’t be using it, I want to read my book on the bus.”
I’m not sure how much TV time he would have had over the last two weeks anyway. He started reading the Harry Potter books a couple of days before the punishment started. Yesterday he picked up the sixth and seventh books. The boy wizard would have been in a fierce battle with XBox and Mythbusters. Instead Harry won by forfeit, so I’ll never know. But I do know one thing: my son loves to read.
Why is this notable? Because we’ve never put many limits on how much screen time he could have. As long as his homework and chores are done, he’s always been free to spend his free time how he wanted.
Does he read less because of TV and video games? I’m sure of it. But how much less, I have no idea. Many nights I find him reading in bed long after he was supposed to be asleep. So would he read more (and get a little more sleep) if we limited his screen time? Probably. But I don’t ever want him to think that reading is some kind of punishment, something keeping him from video games.
I love that he gets excited by books. I love that he grabs his skateboard and heads to the library a couple times a week, coming back home and diving in to a new adventure. I don’t ever want him to see reading as something being pushed on him in lieu of something he wants to do more.
In 2007 the NEA looked at dozens of studies and concluded that kids are reading less frequently than ever. Only 30% of 13-year-olds read almost every day. But here’s what I found most interesting:
Possibly the most striking finding is that, regardless of income, levels of reading for pleasure correlate closely with levels of social life, voting, and political activism, participation in culture and fine arts, volunteerism, charity work, and even regular exercise.
I want that for my kids. I also want my kids to eat their vegetables. But what I’ve found is that, while I can theoretically force Jake to eat vegetables, I cannot force him to like them. And if he doesn’t like them, he won’t eat them when I’m not around. So I keep putting them out, telling him how delicious they are, modeling for him someone who loves vegetables, in the same way that he sees me reading.
If I kept all junk food away from him until he went off to college, I think it’s a good bet that he would go crazy on his own, gorging on everything that’s bad for him. I don’t want that to happen with books. I want him to read because he loves it. So far, so good. But I am very curious to see what happens over the next week, as the last two Harry Potter books do battle with all of the other things he’s been missing.
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