If you read my post One note that rocked my world…for the best, you know that I was allowed to read anything I wanted. As an adult, a teacher, and still a voracious reader, I have come to realize how important reading is to education, growth, and mental development. That being said, the reasons I let my kids read anything they wanted is that I came to realize why my parents did the same for me.
Why am I worried about this, you ask? Kids today don’t read! No, no! Not so fast with that assumption! A study of more than 6,000 Americans by the Pew Research Center proves that Millennials are reading more books than the over-30 crowd. (LaFrance) My worry is that so many parents are blocking kids from reading what they want and that not only terrifies me, but it drives me crazy! Here are my reasons why:
(1) Reading teaches more than any teacher ever will.
Put your claws up, I’m a teacher, too, so I am NOT taking away anything from teachers! Teachers are amazing! But reading, well, reading is so much more!
Think about it this way. A student picks up a fiction book and starts to read. Maybe the book is set in Australia. Does he learn anything about Australia? Yes, climate, culture, the people. A whole geography lesson…and no one forced him to learn it. Another student is reading a fictional account of a girl in North Korea and her eyes are opened to other places where freedom is not something to take for granted.
There are only so many teacher lectures that will get through to students, and then they have to start seeing things for themselves and experiencing them in order to be able to really understand them. Short of traveling to Australia or North Korea (good luck with that one) reading leads them into that understanding. Even if it is fictional, it has to have a plausibility of truth and that truth is where learning lies.
(2) Reading encourages imagination.
Imagination is a good thing. Kids who have a good imagination are capable of entertaining themselves, and for tired parents, parents who need some adult conversations, or parents who don’t want children who are completely dependent on them for everything, that is a great skill to develop.
Kids who have great imaginations grow up to be adults who are capable of thinking outside the box, a skill that is highly sought after by employers.
(3) Reading helps develop better writing skills and strengthens critical thinking skills.
While thinking outside the box is a great skill, being able to write well and get those thoughts across is just as important when looking for a job. Not to mention getting through high school and college.
There are basically 6 actionable critical thinking skills for which employers look: Interpretation, analysis, inference, evaluation, explanation, and self-regulation. All of these can be fine-tuned through independent reading. Every single one. (Tilus)
(4) For readers, it is not the words, but the story.
“But some books have bad words! And what about ‘inappropriate’ content?” To this my answer has a few parts:
(a) No matter how protective you are, your child is going to hear/read/ and yes, even say those words eventually.
(b) Avid readers generally gloss over the actual words in a story and it is the content they concentrate on, not the individual words.
(c) Read the book at the same time and if there is content that makes you uncomfortable, talk with them openly and honestly about it. That is so much healthier than the head in the sand approach to sensitive topics.
Wouldn’t you rather your kids learn the truth from you rather than the generally uneducated gossiping and giggling in the school bathroom?
(5) Gives them more to talk about and encourages maturity and by the way, the world does not shield them.
Need something interesting to talk to your kids about during dinner that they won’t roll their eyes and tell you things like “I’m fine. School is fine. My friends are fine.”
Remember I said you could read the same book? Imagine the conversations from that. No eye rolling (unless you come out with a plot-spoiler).
When was the last time the public as a whole did everything in their power to shield a young child from the realities of the world? Have you seen the news? They show pretty much anything they want these days with a simple “This video may be hard for some viewers to watch” statement. Have you seen what is on TV? Oh. My. Goodness. I do not profess to be a prude by any means, but there are just some things I don’t want to see at 7:30 p.m.
Also, when was the last time you went to a sporting event? The language! So, if you don’t want your child to see and hear these things, are you going to be there with a blindfold and sound-masking headphones for your child every second of every day?
If not, then you need to teach them the good, bad and the ugly long before they reach kindergarten and keep on teaching it to them. Then trust that you have instilled in them a healthy dose of rational “this is good…that is bad…that is disgusting” ideology and let them out of that bubble!
(6) I would rather they know what they are reading is allowed and they can (had to) discuss it with me.
I have a student (I’ll refer to her as Suzy) who loves to read and loves to discuss books with me. One day one of her parents called to tell me that Suzy was far too young to have checked out a certain book and could not believe that it was even an option in the school library.
Parent: That book is full of sex scenes and profanity and people having affairs. I am appalled that you have the nerve to even own that book!
Me: So, you’ve read it, then?
Parent: No, my spouse read part of it and it was so terrible, it was not even finished.
Me: I was wondering, because I have read it and I don’t remember any sex, there were no extra-marital affairs and very little profanity, that I remember.
I then explained the “Not the words, but the story” theory. The parent stated that this 11th-grade student was not mature/smart enough to understand that “real people don’t act like that.”
In the end, Suzy was not allowed to have the book checked out, even though her prior conversations with me about the book allowed me to know that she did, in fact, know that it was a work of fiction, that what they were doing was morally wrong and that, yes, in fact, some people do act like that.
One of my initial reactions is to think “Wow, you don’t have any faith in your own parenting skills, do you?”
Trust your child. Talk to them about the book. Explain why you have reservations, and allow them to make their own decisions. I mean, surely no one reads a book about a fictional bank robbery to learn to become a bank robber. Do they?
(7) Reading fiction promotes empathy.
A study by P. Matthijs Bal and Martijn Veltkamp entitled How Does Fiction Reading Influence Empathy? finds that reading fiction allows us the ability to empathize with others, which improves our social interactions.
This, my friends, is a total parenting WIN-WIN-WIN situation! Are you wondering how this could be? Follow me here.
First, teenagers are still working on the whole empathy thing. They don’t really have their full-tilt, completely functioning, everything works as it will in a few years brain yet. So, eye-rolling is going to happen, but with empathy, perhaps they can start to see your side of the argument about things like curfew, as well.
Second, the more empathy they learn, the more likely they are to consider the feelings of others. Not just other students, but their teachers, their siblings, their parents…see where this is headed?
Third (and there are probably more), they begin to see how their actions affect those around them. How many of you see a piece of paper on the floor at work and leave it there? How many teenagers leave it? Most of them do. But people who empathize with others may look at that and think, there is no reason why I can’t pick that up. There is one company that leaves a piece of trash on the floor as a test. If the applicant doesn’t pick it up, they don’t get the job. This shows both the level of empathy and work ethic of the applicant. In other words “It is my job to help everyone else around here.”
Whew…that’s a lot of reasoning! So, yes, I was allowed to read anything I wanted to read. Yes, my kids were allowed to read anything they wanted to read. Yes, they had to read…even during the summer. But I also read with them and to them and I read my own books while they were reading. We have even had great road trips with audio books for company. Also, they had to discuss their reading with me as they read. This encouraged conversations with them then and now about anything and everything.
So I hope that you will keep on reading, and I hope that you will encourage your kids to read anything they like. Because if they like it, they will read it. Then they will keep going back for more. The more you/they read, the more you/they benefit.
Let me know what you think! Do/did your kids read anything and everything? And what about when you were growing up?
3 Simple Steps to A Well-Read Life. (2016, August 11). Retrieved September 05, 2016, from https://www.bookofthemonth.com/magazine/post/159
Bal, P. M., & Veltkamp, M. (2013, January 30). How Does Fiction Reading Influence Empathy? An Experimental Investigation on the Role of Emotional Transportation. Retrieved September 06, 2016, from http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0055341
LaFrance, A. (2014, September 10). Millennials Are Out-Reading Older Generations. Retrieved September 07, 2016, from http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2014/09/millennials-are-out-reading-older-generations/379934/
Tilus, G. (2012, November 12). 6 Critical Thinking Skills You Need to Master Now. Retrieved September 07, 2016, from http://www.rasmussen.edu/student-life/blogs/main/critical-thinking-skills-you-need-to-master-now/