In some states, the percentage of boys proficient in reading is more than ten points below that of girls. The male-female reading gap is found across the board—in every socioeconomic and ethnic category.
Everyone agrees boys don’t read enough. But why? The disparity dates back to 1992, coinciding with the proliferation of video games and other kinds of electronic communication. Some independent studies suggest electronic media is the leading competitor for boys’ attentions.
Dumbing Down Literature Doesn’t Work
In his Wall Street Journal article, Thomas Spence of Spence Publishing Company believes some current ideas to alleviate this literacy trend are “perfectly awful.” Some teachers and librarians believe we must meet boys where they are when it comes to literature, and this means we must give them more books that appeal to their love of “gross-out” humor. Why give them Robinson Crusoe when you can have them read The Day My Butt Went Psycho? Why read Treasure Island when you can throw “grossology” parties at the school library and give the boys Sir Fartsalot Hunts the Booger?
This “just get ’em reading” philosophy is not only sub-par, it simply won’t compete with electronic diversions. Another approach is needed.
Spence rightly points out that real education involves the training of manners and taste. He argues this gross-out philosophy “is more suited to producing a generation of barbarians and morons than to raising the sort of men who make good husbands, fathers and professionals. If you keep meeting a boy where he is, he doesn’t go very far.”
Trading Tech for Text
What’s the answer, then? Pretty simple: unplug the video games, limit time spent on the Internet, and then (to echo Thomas Spence), “fill your shelves with good books.”
Easier said that done. Half of young teens in the country are home alone about seven hours a week (before school, after school, at night) because parents are working. Teens spend an average of 31 hours a week online. More than 50% of teens and 30% of children are able to surf the Web without any supervision at all.
Reversing these trends in our homes might be harder for some families than others. Many parents simply don’t have the time to spend with their kids making sure they are reading, or at least engaging less in mind-numbing activities. I could be idealistic and recommend each family reassess its values, reexamine time spent in trivial matters, and drastically alter budgets so higher incomes weren’t needed. I’ll refrain. I would rather offer some baby steps:
- Lead by example. Are you concerned about the amount of time your kids spend online? Watching TV? Playing video games? Then lead by example and start unplugging from gadgets yourself. Assess how much time you needlessly spend with technology and make a conscious commitment to cut this time significantly. Spend that time with your family. It is easier to insist that your children spend less time online when you are doing the same.
- Work with your school. Be a proactive parent and share your vision with your child’s teachers. Express your desire that your child be challenged at school and at home to read good literature. Your child’s teacher may have some ideas. You may be able to supplement your child’s curriculum with other reading that will develop their proficiency.
- Wean your kids off the gadgets. Set time limits. Set times of day when the Internet and games will and will not be used. If this sounds like a daunting task, start small and work your way to a desired goal. Take gadgets out of your kids’ bedrooms. As you do this, replace electronic time with more reading.
- Be prepared for resistance. Kids who have grown up titillated with electronic media typically aren’t enthralled with the idea of reading. But remember: you are the parent, they are not. Be consistent with them. Set expectations and stick to them.
- Use technology to help you. Most game systems have parental controls on them. Make use of these systems to limit when your kids can use them. This way, if you aren’t around, you won’t have unmonitored game use. On your home computers, use Covenant Eyes Accountability Service to keep tabs on when your kids are online and what they are doing. This will enhance communication and help you to talk to your kids about appropriate ways to use the Internet.