How to Destroy Your Child’s Love for Reading
By Melanie Hempe, BSN, Founder of ScreenStrong
Did you know that 80% of U.S. families did not buy a book last year and 33% of high school graduates never read another book for their entire life?
If you are like most parents, you may struggle with getting your kids, especially your boys, to read for pleasure. They can find time to be on a screen device–new statistics say 7-9 hours a day is the average time our kids spend in front of a screen, but they can’t seem to find time for book reading. In my work with young families, this lack of interest in reading seems to be a big problem for today’s “screen happy” kids. Let’s take a look at some ways that we may be sabotaging our children’s chance to develop a healthy reading habit without even knowing it.
10 ways to ensure that your child will NOT develop a love of reading:
1. Make sure there are no age-level pleasure novels/books in the house.
Have you taken inventory lately of the age-appropriate books in your home, especially in your child’s room? Even though you want to keep picture books for sentimental reasons, your 6-year-old should be outgrowing them. Do a quick check: He should have at least 5-10 age appropriate unread books in his room to choose from. Don’t have a budget for books? Goodwill and your local library are great options. Let your child select some but also choose some interesting books for him and place them not only in his room, but also in other strategic places throughout the house like the kitchen table or den. (See our book list under our Practical Solutions tab.) Oh, and don’t get rid of childhood favorites, keep reading them just be sure to keep adding more.
2. Make him read only for homework and don’t encourage pleasure reading.
If your child only reads books that they must read for school, chances are that they will not develop a love for pleasure reading–even if the school assignments are novels. If you only focus on school reading, you send a message that reading is a chore, only a homework assignment and not necessarily fun. Everyone in the house should always have a non-school book to read.
3. Use the kitchen timer when they are reading.
Any use of the kitchen timer can make some kids feel like they are being punished; never make reading feel like a punishment for your kids. Think of other ways to get the block of time in. For example, “Let’s all grab our books and meet in the den and read for an hour before we go out to dinner.” Not only is that fun but it gives you something to talk about at dinner!
4. Never have books in the car.
When you allow screens instead of books in the car on trips, during errands, and at doctor’s appointments, you are missing a huge opportunity to tell your child that down times and wait times are the perfect time for pleasure reading. Just reading for 15 minutes a day will add up to more than 1 million more words read this year! That will increase his vocabulary, increase his brain connections and continue to build a valuable reading habit all while doing errands. If your child experiences motion sickness, as many do, choose audio books rather than screens for the car ride.
5. Never read in front of and with your kids.
If you never have a pleasure reading book in your lap, how will they know that you think reading is important? Your bright child will easily pick up on the importance of reading by your actions. And they needs to see real books in your hands, not just e-readers. Creating times during the week for family reading ’roundups’ (see #3) not only creates great readers but wonderful family attachment memories as well.
6. Never give books as gifts.
We give things we value to our children. Give them a book at every birthday and every Christmas. Jot a note in the inside cover to make it even more meaningful.
7. Never act interested in what they is reading or ask questions about their book.
Do you ever have book discussions at dinner? Go around the table and ask each family member about what they are currently reading; they will feel special and important as they contribute to the conversation. Want to really boost his reading interest? Ask if you can borrow his book when he is done.
8. Never take your kids to the library or bookstore.
This is one sure way to kill their love for books. Make sure they don’t know their way around the library or know what it is to spend a few hours reading in the quiet, soothing, therapeutic atmosphere of a quiet public library or bookstore.
9. Never read aloud with them.
Age doesn’t matter, your children will never outgrow the need for hearing you (the parent) read to them. When you put emotion into the characters and they hear your tone and your ‘immersion’ they follow along and get tons of reading benefits not to mention the emotional benefits of spending quality time with you. Read the first chapter of a new book aloud to get them going. Trust me on this one. Don’t forget to have your older kids read aloud to the others as they need the practice.
10. Offer screen time as a reward for reading time.
In all of my work with families in screen overuse conflicts, I believe that this is the number one best way to kill your child’s love for reading. When a trade is made of reading time for more screen hours, you send a very clear, wrong message to your child. Book reading time should never be used as currency for video game or screen time. Period. Sorry, Mom and Dad. If game time always trumps reading, reading will quickly slide out of the esteemed place it needs to be.
Developing reading habits during childhood is an investment with immeasurable future payoffs and benefits. If you have a child who loves books you are on the right path. If you don’t, don’t give up. Keep at it! The best way to increase healthy reading habits in a child is to strictly limit their access to free-time screen play. You can build the love of reading in your child, I know it is possible as I turned one of my non-reader boys into a wonderful reader. Please email me if you still have questions. I would love to share how I did it!
Melanie Hempe, BSN, is the founder and executive director of ScreenStrong, a national nonprofit organization that offers a countercultural approach to eliminate childhood screen dependency, but one that just might save your kids. Melanie has developed cutting-edge programs that empower parents to pause video games and social media for kids and teens through late adolescence. Her three books can be found on Amazon: Will Your Gamer Survive College?, Can Your Teen Survive—and Thrive—Without a Smartphone? and The ScreenStrong Solution: How to free your child from addictive screen habits.
ScreenStrong is committed to rescuing this screen-driven generation, one family at a time.
Photo by Tookapic