I was recently talking to a friend of mine who is struggling to get her son to read. It got me thinking. The truth is that hardly anyone, adults or children, has time to sit down and read these days. Of course people do MAKE time to watch American Idol, or Lost or CSI or whatever other empty TV show. Yes, sorry, I mean this. These are 3 examples but there are many more. I am talking about TV programs that either show the worst possible side of human beings or that give people a completely distorted version of reality. If I watched the local news, I would never come out of the house. People overseas have called me to ask if I was OK after hearing some news on their local TV… Across an ocean, thousands of miles away. What is the point of that?
So yes, it is a shame that people don’t read much because I do believe that there are a lot less mediocre books than mediocre TV shows. But here we are, that’s the reality and there is no doubt that children respond a lot better to TV and iPods than a good old bunch of pages. Note that it might have to do with the fact that most parents who want peace and quiet at home have a tendency to just sit their kids in front of the box from a very early age… You can’t blame the little darlings.
So let’s make the most of this situation. Ultimately, why do we want kids to read? Just for the skill or for the content of what they read? Past a certain age, it has to be for the content. The actual skill should be drilled early on and if you have teenagers who can’t read, that’s another problem and not the topic of this article.
A couple of years ago, I was given an iPod. I had never wanted one because I don’t listen to music much and I couldn’t imagine myself walking around with my earphones jamming to my songs. But then I was introduced around the same time to audio books. Wow! What a discovery! My iPod follows me everywhere. I hardly ever watch TV and whenever I am doing something that doesn’t require a high level of concentration, like cooking, ironing, cleaning the house, sorting out mail, etc, I just put the iPod on and I just “read”. I mean I am listening really, but as I am not prepared to make the time to actually sit and read. I just kill two birds with one stone. I have “read” dozens of books in the last couple of years and have learnt so much! It has been the best education of my life. I have grown in ways I didn’t think were possible.
Now I am sure that your kids have an MP3 player of some description. Have you thought about looking into audio books for them. Or simply some audio files that they can have in their iPod and that they would listen to. Have a mix of some music and some educational stuff. Do the same yourself: when you are driving somewhere, let the whole family listen to your favorite audio books, have a discussion about what is said. Get your kids into it from an early age.
The same applies to TV. Yes, there are a lot of useless programs on TV in my opinion, but there are also good ones, that actually bring knowledge. Some kids’ programs are very educational and then you have the Discovery Channel, the History Channel, etc. Instead of quietening your kids with mindless cartoons, try a Discovery program on sea life. Don’t get me wrong, I love cartoons too, every now and then. Some are better than others. But there has to be variety. Children, like all people, respond to what they are given. If you feed them violence from an early age, they’ll enjoy it because it will have become the norm for them and they will want more. If you feed them knowledge, instruction, education from an early age, they will want more of that.
Games consoles are the same. They have games that require some thinking and others that consist of shooting, or racing or pretending you are playing sport. If the weather is good enough to go outside and you like soccer or football or baseball, go and play it, do the real thing. If it is too cold or rainy and you are stuck inside, pick a game that will teach you something, about finances for instance or managing your future, or building a business. There are games like that.
Computer use also needs to be taught to kids early. Mastering Microsoft office is a must. Get them to write their journal on the computer for instance, get them to play around with PowerPoint when they have school projects, show them Publisher, etc. All these are essential skills. The Internet is also a great source of good or bad and you have to pick and choose. There are a lot of interactive sites for kids that can be great. All the communities are good too if they are used for a reasonable amount of time per day. It is very easy to get carried away on the net and spend hours literally wasting time. But there are also a lot of things to be learned. even just the technical aspects of using a computer. Teach your kids to be wise on the net: for instance, make sure they select what pictures they put in their profile and teach them about the kind of image they want to project. They can also learn about advertising themselves or an event on one of those communities. It can teach them about marketing at an early age.
Technology is full of riches. It has to be used wisely and kids have to be shown – ASAP – the positive, educational ways they can use it so that they will ask for more. Don’t blame violent TV or games, worthless TV shows etc for children’s lack of interest in school. Take your part of responsibility: you are the ones to decide what your kids do or don’t. Then work with what you have got and use this great tool that we call technology to your advantage.