I recently received an email from a PR person touting the success of electronic devices giving parents some time to themselves. This is true. But it doesn’t only apply to electronics. It also applies to books.
When I was a kid, there were electronics, but they required dinosaur toenail clippings to run. (Little joke there.) I spent plenty of time in front of a screen, usually a television, because that’s what we had. I also owned a lot of handheld games, like this miniature Pac-Man machine. Eventually I had a TRS-80 Color Computer which I used to play games and also write programs in BASIC.
But before any of that, I read books. So many books. The Hobbit. Lord of the Rings. Bored of the Rings. A Wrinkle in Time. The Fletch and Flynn series by Gregory MacDonald. (I was too young for those but I read them anyway.) Agatha Christie. Sherlock Holmes. Comic books.
Reading gives parents a break as much, if not more than, electronics do. I’m not anti-screen time. I try to manage it, and I recommend that parents with very young children manage screen time closely, mostly because I don’t see any reason for a 6 month old to be playing with an iPad. But as a kid who grew up watching a lot of TV, it would be hypocritical of me to say that I’m anti-screen.
But a good book will always trump electronics. A good book — I’m talking about a really good book — is hard to put down. Sometimes it is impossible to put down. “Just one more chapter. Just one more page.” Sound familiar? Sure, the same can apply to a video game. “Just let me beat this boss.” But it’s not the same thing. A book requires imagination, and therefore uses more of the brain than anything involving a screen does. (Kindles count as books, although there is an argument to be made that plain ol’ paper books are more involving because it’s just the book, no buttons, no screen. It’s not necessarily an argument you will win, but you can make it, and I’d back you up.) (Note: the statement “uses more of the brain” sounds like I’m making a scientifically proven statement. I’m not. I think it’s likely that my statement is correct, but I don’t have the science to back it up.)
Not all kids are readers. I was, and luckily so are my kids. I like to believe that because they grew up in a house where reading was a regular activity, they naturally became readers themselves. I have no idea if this is the case, and I never will. Maybe I just got lucky. But I can confidently say that once your kids learn to read, it has the potential to be life changing… for you.
Kids who love to read get involved in their books. And when they’re reading, they don’t ask you to look up a walk-through so they can beat a section of the game they are playing. Also, reading is a quiet activity. Books don’t make noise. And readers rarely make noise when they read. (Occasional exclamations of surprise and/or joy don’t count, although they are wonderful to hear.)
Again — I am not knocking screens, literally or figuratively. Heck, unless you printed out this blog post, you’re reading it on a screen. And video games are fun. My point is simply that back in my day, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, books provided a service to parents that electronics do now. And they still can.