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Is Screen-Time Robbing Your Child of Reading Time?

Parents and teachers frequently lament that today’s kids are not reading as much as they used to.  And this conversation often leads to, “Back in my day…”


But this is more than just a nostalgic claim.


As the video below exemplifies, reading traditional books has become somewhat of a foreign experience for some children.



And the latest research confirms parents’ and teachers’ complaints. Kids aren’t reading as much as they once were.  There has been a drop in children’s reading rates over time. And this worries both parents and teachers alike. And rightly so. Reading is a critical life skill.


A 2014 report by Common Sense media, Children, Teens and Reading, revealed some interesting trends when it comes to children reading:


*Only 53% of 9 year olds are now daily readers.


*Girls read on average for 10 minutes more than boys.


*The proportion of children who say they “never” or “hardly ever” read has tripled since 1984.


And screen-time is often blamed for the demise of reading.


The conversation often goes, “Kids these days spend too much time in front of a screen and not enough time with a book in their hands.”


And for some children this is true.  Screens have superseded books for some children. Some, but not all children.


I acknowledge that technology is to blame in some instances for a drop in reading rates.


Technology can have a displacement effect. The more time a child spends on one activity, the less available time they have for other activities. So the more time they spend with devices, the less available time for reading.


But it’s not always a simple equation.


And it’s not always technology to blame. Yes, it is sometimes. But not always.


A 2013 study, conducted by Optus and The Smith Family, revealed that 64% of today’s parents admitted that they read to their child less than once a week, by the time they turned five.  And for the parents surveyed, a lack of time was cited as the reason for not spending time reading to their children.


Today’s parents, in many instances, are time-poor.  Changing work patterns and broader societal changes have meant that many parents have limited time with their children. And sadly, reading slips off the radar.


So should you reduce children’s time with technology to increase their reading rates?


Yes and no.


Yes, if your child’s screen-time is excessive or is encroaching on them engaging in other  activities like reading (or playing outdoors, or playing with friends), then you may need to reduce their time with technology. If the pendulum has swung too far towards time with screens, then yes, you may need to reduce screen time and try to replace that time with reading pursuits.


However, if on the other hand, your child is using technology AND also engaging in a host of other activities, such as reading and playing and interacting with peers, then I don’t think there’s any need to restrict children’s use of media. It would appear that you have a balanced approach to technology use (and hopefully some healthy reading habits).


Reading in a digital age


We also need to remember that technology can also be a wonderful way to entice and engage readers.


Book apps can entice reluctant readers, particularly boys who often hit the Year 4 ‘reading slump’ and become disinterested in reading. There are some brilliant book apps that can inspire reluctant readers to engage in reading.


Yes, they are digital books. And yes, we know that the reading process is different when children read book apps compared to paper-based books. But at the end of the day we have reluctant readers reading. And that’s a win for everyone. Parents. Teachers. And most importantly, children.


The National Literacy Trust recently suggested that touch screen technologies such as iPads and Kindles can offer a “route into reading” for 3-5 year olds to read. Almost 75% of today’s pre-schoolers have access to a touch device at home. So it makes sense to promote book apps and other online reading programs. Yes, it’s screen-time. But they are still reading. And that’s important.


So what can parents and teachers do?
1. Model reading habits.

Read everything and anything. On-screen and off-screen. Children not only inherit our reading habits but also our media habits. Again, balance is critical.


2. Set aside time for reading.

Again, it doesn’t matter what you’re reading, just so long as you read with your children. Research has shown that children whose parents are avid readers, also have children that are avid readers. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
3. Tap into your child’s interests.

Find books, book apps and reading material that is of interest to your child. I was speaking with a Dad last week who told me that his 8 year old son loathed reading, but had spent an entire weekend reading a Minecraft PDF document full of tips and shortcuts to improve his performance on Minecraft.


I’m not suggesting that young children shouldn’t still pick up a real book and read with their parents/carers. That is essential. But we have new technologies, like the iPad that mean that we can read in new ways, anywhere, anytime. Surely, that’s a good thing?


So tell me below in the comments, do you worry about technology changing your children’s reading habits?


I’m Dr. Kristy Goodwin

Researcher, speaker, author, and mum - and not only do I GET it, I’ve dedicated my entire career to helping my fellow professionals and parents explore this exact digital dilemma.

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