Friday, July 19, 2024
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Kids need to read books not look at smartphone screens


The 21st century is the proverbial best and worst of times for parenting. In the best category, consider books.

When our nation was founded, they cost more than an average laborer’s weekly wages.

Most families only owned one: the Bible. As for free public libraries, they didn’t yet exist. Although Ben Franklin famously founded our nation’s first public library in 1731, it charged a membership fee. 

Today, not only can books be obtained for free through public libraries, but the last half-century has seen a golden age of children’s literature.

Sixty years ago, children started with the Dick and Jane readers, which had scintillating passages such as “See Dick. See Dick Run. Run, Dick, Run.”

Then, along came Dr. Seuss, whose books also used a small number of short words but which were delightfully entertaining, while authors such as E.B. White, Roald Dahl, and Judy Blume wrote modern classics for older children.

And contemporary authors have continued this flowering with modern gems including “My Father’s Dragon,” “Ghost” and, of course, the “Harry Potter” series. 

Classic books such as those by Dr. Seuss remain time-tested pathways to cultivate a child’s love of reading.
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But despite this, children aren’t reading as much, which brings us to the worst of times: the distractions of the digital age. Today’s parents are the first to face this challenge.

Jefferson’s parents didn’t have to admonish him, “Tom, stop playing those damn video games already and write a declaration of independence or something.”

Lincoln’s parents didn’t have to warn him, “Abe, enough with TikTok, it’s turning your brain to mush.” 

The challenge is that digital entertainment is designed to be addictive.

Take movies.

The constant thrill of consuming new content has eroded the attention spans of young people in every element of their lives.
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The average length of a shot has fallen from 12 seconds in 1930 to 2.5 seconds today.

Older movies gave viewers time to think about what they were seeing, to wonder whether a friendly smile might be a sign of a budding romance or whether so-and-so might be the true killer.

Today’s movies are designed to overwhelm the senses with constant spectacle.

In “High Noon,” the tension inexorably built towards a climactic shootout.

In John Wick 4, the titular character goes on a 140-victim rampage. 

Children who become accustomed to watching such films or playing video games are often bored by slower-paced activities.

To fight this, you need to limit your child’s access to smartphones and computers, but that’s only half of the equation.

The other is helping your children appreciate alternative pastimes. 

Luckily there are many options.

One is watching high-quality films with your children.

My husband and I showed our children classics such as “The African Queen,” “Shane,” “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” and, when they got older, more mature films such as “Dr. Strangelove,” “Paths of Glory” and “Some Like It Hot.”

These films help children learn to become more patient and thoughtful viewers.

Moreover, watching films together on a weekend afternoon can lead to more interesting dinnertime conversations since it creates a common base of knowledge.

I was constantly surprised at how insightful my children were about the films we watched together, and the more we watched them, the more insightful they became. 

Even if kids would prefer to be on their smartphones instead of reading, reinforce books in your home to help them fall in love with literature.
Shutterstock / wavebreakmedia

Another option is listening to recorded stories, which you can do while you’re driving your kids around or making dinner.

The quality of audiobooks today is astonishing.

You can hear David Tennant read “How to Train Your Dragon,” Walter Matthau read “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” or Meryl Streep lead a full cast recording of “Charlotte’s Web.”

And when your children reach middle school, you can listen to adult stories such as the BBC’s wonderful full-cast dramatizations of the Sherlock Holmes stories, Agatha Christie’s mysteries, and, for fans of Bill Nighy, the hilarious Charles Paris mysteries. 

The author is the founder of the innovative Success Academy Charter Schools, which includes this campus in the Bronx.
Stephen Yang

Another activity is playing board games such as Monopoly, Backgammon, and Sorry.

These games teach mathematical skills, strategy, and concentration.

If you can get your kids started on these games, they’re apt to begin playing them with friends or siblings. 

If your children have already succumbed to digital addiction, they may resist at first, claiming that your proposed activity is so boring that it should be outlawed under the Geneva Convention.

This is where you need to remind yourself that Homo sapiens existed for 200,000 years prior to the invention of the smartphone and it wasn’t some dark age of perpetual boredom.

Stick to your guns and when your children realize that you won’t let them use their cell phones no matter how vociferously they protest, they’ll change their tune and, in time, come to enjoy these boring activities. 

The author’s new book touts the virtues of reading over scrolling.

Truth be told, you too may find some of these activities boring at first.

Grownups can find it hard to enjoy board games as much as they did when they were children or to appreciate the simple themes of the classic American Western.

But give them a chance.

Try to reconnect with your inner child.

Helping your children become intellectually vibrant adults is much easier and more enjoyable if you can meet them halfway by sharing in the childhood joys that existed before the smartphone’s invention. 

Eva Moskowitz is the founder and CEO of Success Academy Charter Schools. Her new book, “A+ Parenting: The Surprisingly Fun Guide to Raising Surprisingly Smart Kids,” is out now.




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