Reading and resilience

Reading can help build resilience, but how do you get your kids to do it in a world of on-screen entertainment and does it matter if they don’t?


How do you get kids to read these days? The competition is fierce from screen-based entertainment. It’s not that they’re not learning stuff from Minecraft and the like. When my son has explained what he is doing it sounds like there is a lot of calculating and thinking going on. It’s just another type of thinking from that involved in reading a book and trying to understand yourself and your fellow humans.

Maybe I am biased and attempting to impose my own interests on them [but isn’t parenting essentially about them soaking up all that stuff, even if only to reject it outright?], but for me books are a kind of resilience tool. They give you a way of understanding and expressing yourself. They give you time for quiet reflection in a world of constant movement. They ward off overwhelming feelings of loneliness because you find other people have thought similar things to you, even if you can’t find those people in your immediate surroundings. In short, they help you through life in a way I don’t think computer games do.

I have spent a lot of time trying to get my kids into reading, which has probably had the opposite effect, even if I think I am being fairly subtle or at least not demanding they read every day. In the early days of primary school – before they became ‘free’ readers, they had to read, in any event, and they loved all kinds of stories, including made-up stories. Over the years that the kids have grown up the internet, social media and computer games have been developing in terms of their addictive properties. I can trace it in some ways in the different ages of my children, although each is a complex individual with their own reasons for turning to or resisting books.

Daughter one, for instance, lived inside books. She had a book in her pocket wherever she went and loved debating about ideas. Daughter two was mostly into the Argos catalogue and Horrid Henry plus Diary of a Wimpy Kid in the early years, but has always been very expressive in other ways – painting, creating things and, most of all, drama. At one point she took my and daughter one’s books and put them in her room at one point to ‘make me look smart’. But by the end of secondary school she had got the reading bug and she now has books on the go all the time, mostly religious or spiritual tomes. She is highly influenced by George Harrison, but also her own deeply questioning mind.

Daughter three was initially a big reader and had a whole collection of sleepover-related books [and her own website], but then she went into a fallow period where trying to get her to read anything was a doomed project. I tried biographies of people who had overcome the kind of challenges she was facing. The trouble was there weren’t that many at the time. Now she does English A Level and got a really high mark in her coursework on a book about music [music has been her main source of comfort in recent years]. Her teacher even said she should be a writer because of the way she expresses herself.

Then comes only son. Since a brief foray with Diary of a Wimpy Kid, he is totally resistant to any attempt to get him to read. He has grown up in the age of Youtubers and computer games. He knows every single fact about Pokemon, which in a way is a kind of fictional world akin to Harry Potter, which he briefly showed a keen interest in [mainly the films]. He got a book voucher from a relative and impressively chose Edgar Allan Poe, possibly due to a tip-off from a Youtuber, but I don’t think he has got past the first pages. I’ve tried journalistic works. He showed a little bit of interest in foreign news reports as he likes geography and current affairs [but not anything related to British politics], but it only lasted a few days. Not to be outdone, I tried Agatha Christie. Only son likes puzzles and he loves mystery-type films. He’s at chapter five of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and getting him to read a chapter – they are around five pages max – involves such an intensive form of bartering and bribery that I have all but given up.

My next ploy is to combine his interest in music – specifically Radiohead – and reading. It may well be a waste of time. Only son gets a lot of his information from the internet. He watches endless analyses of films and music online. Maybe he – and many others – learn better through listening rather than reading and maybe that’s a good thing. Listening is a vital skill after all. But I still feel kind of sad that I can’t convince him on the book front, to give himself over to hours of reading rather than constant multi-tasking [he plays games while listening to Youtubers] and hopping from subject to subject.

I know he is not me and I am not him. We enjoy different things in different ways, but I would like him to at least experience some of the wider benefits of reading. It’s not just about learning and knowledge. It’s about thinking and focusing and imagining and many other vital, valuable things that help to keep us sane and able to cope with the challenges the world throws at us.

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