According to the National Literacy Trust the number of children reading for pleasure every day in the UK fell by 25% between 2005 and 2012 to less than one in three.
We regularly hear statistics like this showing that children’s reading for pleasure is under threat. Or is it just changing to reflect a new media environment ? Is technology like smartphones and tablets a good or a bad thing ?
You know what, children are just the same as they have been for generations – they have unquenchable curiosity and minds wide open to experience and learning.
The change is actually what and how parents and teachers now “feed” those minds.
Modern day life has definitely increased the pace and pressure for parents, not least in terms of how to be good and proper parents (Amazon alone has over 70,000 books on parenting). Add to that the ‘always on’ pressure of smartphones and the internet making it harder and harder to escape work (remember in 60%+ of families both parents work) plus the new and increasing demands of social media.
It’s tough out there being a parent nowadays !
Relax – remember children are not changing, just technology, and the potential issues are around that technology getting in the way of adults’ relationships with children and those children’s development.
There has been a huge upsurge in the use of devices and media being given to children, not least to pacify them. Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine in the US found that children need to find ways of self-regulating their feelings rather than masking them with distracting programmes or games. Dr Jenny Radesky, clinical instructor in Developmental-Behavioural Pediatrics at Boston University, said: “It has been well-studied that increased television time decreases a child’s development of language and social skills. Mobile media use similarly replaces the amount of time spent engaging in direct human-human interaction. … Heavy device use during young childhood could interfere with development of empathy, social and problem solving skills that are typically obtained by exploring, unstructured play and interacting with friends.”
Parent’s own use of technology also risks having a negative impact on children. “When parents focus on their digital world first — ahead of their children — there can be deep emotional consequences for the child” says Psychologist Catherine Steiner-Adair in her study and book “The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age”.
What’s more given the increasing curriculum-isation of schools there is less and less time for free play and free expression. Of course it is important that children gain knowledge and learn, but children also need, and want, positive, open, interaction with the adults around them. Alongside knowledge must be activities that help them develop their emotional and social skills, as well as their imagination and creativity.
Reading has a great part to play in that.
However, that reading needs to be for pleasure, as a recent study published by Egmont says: “this is a key point: the emphasis is all about teaching to read as opposed to joyful immersion in stories”. Joyful immersion in stories brings huge benefits for a child, not just in terms of developing its imagination and creativity but also its social development in terms of empathy and understanding by putting themselves in other’s shoes, specifically the characters in those stories.
Furthermore the mechanics of reading (specifically as opposed to interacting with a screen where the content is entirely defined) means a child has to take letters on a page, recognise the words, translate those into language, explore the meaning, imagine and literally visualise the scene including the people, the situation, the sounds, etc. all of which develops the young mind. Added to which they then explore not just the reactions and emotions that story evokes in them, but also, by way of creating the story in their mind’s eye, they explore the reactions and emotions that the characters within it have as well – which may well be entirely different to their own. Altogether reading a story involves a fantastic array of mental exercises, all of which are embedded in an activity that is essentially pleasurable to most children … given half a chance.
Encouraging a child to read themselves is a fantastic gift to give them – why not do that this Christmas ?
What’s more reading to, or with, a child is a wonderful way to simply create quality time developing that unique bond with a parent. How many of us are lucky enough to be able to look back on listening to our parents reading us stories.
… wasn’t it just the most magical thing ?
All those stressed parents out there should also realise that reading can offer some very effective respite for themselves. According to a recent study led by cognitive neuropsychologist Dr David Lewis: “Reading worked best, reducing stress levels by 68%” which compares to: video games only 21%; a walk 42%; and, even a cup of tea only 54%.
So, go on, make time for stories and reading in your family life !